When an angry man in Alberta chastised my definition of work-life balance, I stared at him like a doofus with nothing to say in response. And as I discuss in my latest guest post on Tiny Buddha, it wasn’t until I was half-way to Regina that I figured out what I should have said…
By Josh Martin
Badge of Awesome is all about doing cool things and being more active. But how do you live a more “active” life when every hour of your day already overflows with activity? How do we “suck the marrow out of life” as Thoreau describes in our go-go-go world?
We’ve all got full plates. But it’s not about squeezing more things into your already jam-packed schedule. It’s about making changes that allow you to spend your time in more meaningful ways. It means assessing how you spend your time and figuring out ways to adjust your lifestyle to make room for the things that matter most to you.
In fact, a lot of times, “sucking the marrow” may actually mean cutting back on activities in order to make room for more meaningful experiences. The old “less is more” approach.
I discuss this idea in my book, “Balancing Priorities and Prioritizing Balance: How to make room for what matters most in life” (get your free copy when you subscribe to the Badge of Awesome newsletter). Here’s an excerpt:
The Suitcase Scenario
Picture yourself getting ready for a big trip. It’s time to pack. On your bed rests your trusty suitcase. Next to your bed stands a mountain of items you are trying to bring with you. As you stand there, tapping your foot, hands on your hips, you consider your options.
Many of us face this same dilemma when it comes to things like work-life balance. We have a seemingly impossible pile of stuff for which we need to make room. And our capacity to do so (our suitcase) is limited by the number of hours in a day, the amount of money in our bank accounts and how much energy we can expend before collapsing.
In the case of the suitcase, as in the case of life, there are three options to make it work:
a) Squeeze. Cram the items into the suitcase.
b) Stretch. Get a bigger suitcase.
c) Simplify. Unpack some of the stuff to make more room.
The suitcase scenario is a metaphor for the challenge of life balance. We often find ourselves neglecting priority areas of our lives (exercise, eating right, spending quality time with family and friends, time to ourselves, etc). We then set goals and look for ways to fit these areas into our already full lives.
All three of the above-mentioned options can appear to be reasonable solutions. Options A and B seem to be the most common approaches these days and they can be useful from time to time. However, I believe that Option C—a simple living approach—offers the best and only sustainable solution to this problem.
Here’s how the three different packing options typically play out:
Option A – Squeeze them in.
What it is: Rather than change anything (like Options B and C), Option A finds ways to creatively cram these neglected areas of our life into the nooks and crannies of our suitcase.
What it looks like:
- Not getting enough exercise? Take the stairs at work.
- Not spending enough quality time with a friend? Meet them at the grocery store and chat while you shop.
- Need to get more work done? Work on the bus or carpool and work during the ride.
- No time for breakfast? Eat on the road or go to the drive thru
Why it’s not a great solution: Option A doesn’t get to the core of the problem. It simply adds more stuff to an already overstuffed suitcase. Trying to squeeze family time, time for yourself or your hobbies into a few spare minutes here or there is not a quality investment of your time. In regards to friendships for example, Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely said, “Friendship should be surrounded with ceremonies and respects, and not crushed into corners. Friendship requires more time than poor busy men can usually command.”
Option B – Get a bigger suitcase.
What it is: The dimensions of our suitcases are represented by Time, Energy and Money. Option B attempts to stretch these dimensions in a few different ways. It’s about increasing capacity.
What it looks like:
- Increase the amount of time you have in the day by going to bed later.
- Increase your energy levels via caffeine and energy drinks.
- Increase the amount of money available to you by getting another credit card or getting a higher-paying (and potentially higher-stress) job.
- Retrain (expand your capacity) and get better and more efficient at what you do through professional development.
Why it’s not a great solution: With the exception of the Retrain example, Option B is unsustainable. Losing sleep, taking on more debt and using false energy supports like drugs and caffeine will eventually catch up with you. It’s bad for your health, can lead to burnout, energy crashes, bankruptcy and high levels of stress. This approach still doesn’t get at the core of the issue of there simply being too much in your suitcase.
Option C – Pack less in the first place.
What it is: Balance via simplicity. It’s about unpacking some of the stuff (hours at the office, hours in commute, how much we buy, time spent in front of the TV, etc.) in order to make room for other things you’ve been neglecting.
What it looks like:
- Take a job with lower stress/shorter hours (even if it means less pay – this will mean a change in your spending habits too)
- Set boundaries
- Live closer to your job and commute less/telecommute
- Value experiential over the material
- Buy a smaller home
- Fill your home with less stuff
- Watch less TV/spend less time online
- Cut back on the extracurricular calendar (kids and personal)/learn to say no
- Embrace a “no rush” attitude
Why it works: This solution has the best chance of being sustainable. It addresses the root of the problem of there simply being too much in your suitcase. It’s the option least likely to have your suitcase burst because you packed it too tightly. Or fail to fit in your overhead compartment because you got one that’s too big.
Balance is not about squeezing additional things into an already crammed suitcase—it’s about unpacking some of the stuff in order to make room for other things you’ve been neglecting.
In other words, simple living is an approach that reduces and replaces, rather than adds, as a way of achieving balance. It’s balance via simplicity.
In the following section of the book I go on to provide some concrete examples of implementing Option 3. Check out the book for the full scoop!
Is life balance a challenge for you? What techniques do you use? Add your ideas in the comment section below.
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