How do I find work-life balance?
Here’s a different perspective on the topic of work-life balance.
Everyone wants it, yet no one seems to have it.
Could it be that concept of work-life balance is unrealistic, especially in this high paced digital era? And is there an easier, more realistic way to achieve personal and professional satisfaction?
Luckily, there’s a new approach within the four burners theory.
Here’s how it works…
The Work-Life Balance Myth Explained By the Four Burners Theory
Take a few seconds to imagine a cooking stove with four flames or burners on it.
Each burner represents a major area of your life.
Now imagine that there’s only a limited amount of ‘gas’ to use for each of the burners, such that not all burners could be equal.
You would need to sacrifice one of the burners to make room for another burner to burn stronger.
This is the premise of the four burners theory which suggests that “in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners.
And in order to be reallysuccessful you have to cut off two.
In other words, if say you wanted to become very successful at your work or career, you’d have to sacrifice a combination of either your time with friends, family or health.
There is some truth to the four burners theory.
If you look back into your past to recall a personal major achievement in your academics, sports, career and so on, you probably sacrificed one or more of the major areas of your life.
At least speaking for myself, every major achievement in my life has required a sacrifice in the friends burner.
Apologies to any of my friends who read this.
The necessity of sacrifice for success is one of the downsides of work-life balance, which underestimates the high volume of hours required on a daily basis to become a top performer in any field.
However, the implications of the four burners theory may seem extreme, since it suggests that you’d have to cut off key areas of your life.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be the case in reality.
Here’s a better way to think about the four burners theory.
Imagine you’re a juggler who could only hold two balls in your hands at any given point in time.
Each ball represents a key area of your life.
No matter how many balls you’d like to juggle, you can’t hold any new balls without tossing one of the other balls up in the air temporarily.
A bunch of different scenarios could play out.
For example, if you always hold unto one ball, you’d be limited to how many balls you can juggle, so you could release more.
Likewise, some people would be able to juggle more balls than you or hold more balls at a time.
You could also juggle with someone else or pay someone else to juggle for you.
The key point here is that we don’t have to completely cut off key areas of our lives, but, we should acknowledge that success and work-life balance can’t work together because of the limited time and energy available on a daily basis.
Successful People and Work-Life Balance
I’ve researched and written quite a bit on the daily routines, mental models and habits of highly successful entrepreneurs, writers, athletes and so on.
Although they all have different routines and habits, there’s one common trend I’ve noticed during my research.
It’s that at some point in their life journey, they’ve sacrificed one or more key areas of their life to achieve success.
Seriously, I’ve yet to come across a story of a high achiever with work-life balance.
For example, billionaire entrepreneur and CEO of Space X and Tesla, Elon Musk, has stated during interviews that he works at least 100 hours every week.
In order for Musk to achieve his current level of success, Musk sacrifices his family burner i.
his time spent with his five sons.
At south by southwest in 2013, Musk mentions that this quality time with his sons on the weekend is also spent replying to work emails.
“Because they don’t need constant interaction, except when we’re talking directly….
I find I can be with them and still be working at the same time.
The interviewer interrupts Musk during the interview and asks him, “Are you saying you can do e-mail while you’re with your children?”
“Yea, absolutely…I mean, not all the time, but a lot of the time… in the absence of that I would not be able to get my job done.
Considering the average employee works an average of 6.
3 hours per day (8.
8 hours excluding weekends), Musks’ average of 12 hours per day is almost twice the average.
Another example in the writing and creative field is the famous writer, Haruki Murakami.
In the book,
I’m not sure we can ever find a *perfect* balance—so much depends on how demanding our job is, and on the other end, how demanding our family/non-work life is.
What we can do is make an effort to cut out everything that either isn’t necessary or doesn’t really make us happy or fulfill us.
Doing this gives us more time to dedicate to the things that really matter.
Paring down to what matters makes us feel like our lives contain more space—we feel freer, more relaxed, less hectic.
For me, what worked was to make a YES LIST—a list of the things I *had to do* (like work, laundry, housework) or *wanted to do* (like seeing certain friends, reading, exercising), and then to write out a separate NO LIST—a list of time-killing activities and people that didn’t make the first list.
I didn’t want to continue filling my precious spare hours on things that ultimately weren’t important to me.
My job made the YES LIST of course, because I needed to work.
My husband made it too, as did my children, exercising, and certain good friends.
But distant acquaintances didn’t make it, nor did any task that took me away from my family in the evenings (school/church/civic committees, for example, or certain volunteer positions).
After I made the lists, it became so much easier for me to guard my limited free time.
When someone asked me to join a certain committee or go to dinner, etc, I would mentally scan my YES and NO lists—if the requested activity wasn’t on the YES LIST, I gave my polite regrets and kept the hour or evening for the things I had decided were more important to me.
Once I had pared down my life to only those things on my YES LIST, my work/life balance seemed pretty good.
My life was no longer bursting at the seams with obligations and social events that made me feel rushed but didn’t make me feel fulfilled.
I had narrowed things down to what really mattered, and in doing that, I allowed myself to add some space to my days and weeks.
Suddenly, my life felt easier, and far more balanced.
“You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life.
Make sure you love what you do
The first step towards achieving the right balance between work and life is loving what you do.
Many people seem to get satisfied making a decent living out of their job, but there is a more important and meaningful purpose behind having a job or owning a business.
No matter how much money you make or how successful you get in life — if you don’t love what you do, you’re just wasting your time.
In today’s high-pressure lifestyle, our work consumes over 50% of our lives, or maybe much more.
Now, if you’re not enjoying it, then what’s the point of investing so much time and effort.
Is it worth taking time away from your family and from other things you love? — the choice is yours.
Don’t be afraid to unplug
Since we are living in the era of technological evolution, we are all surrounded by various kinds of devices and smart gadget.
Now, pretty much every piece of technology we use has an off button and there is no harm in using it a few times.
For a start — stop bringing your smartphones and laptops to the dining table.
Also, if you’re on a vacation with your family or friends, unplug all devices and step back.
Yes, it’s not easy, in fact, this is one of the hardest things to do these days but it brings many rewards over time.
Learn to let go of things
If you’re saying “yes” to every task/role that is being offered to you, the chances are that you’re making your life more stressful than you have realized.
This is an area I’m extremely passionate about.
Technology is obviously one huge factor that makes creating work/life balance an issue.
We are always on, always available, no matter where we are.
So it’s up to YOU to create the boundaries and the space you need.
The trick is to demonstrate flexibility, while also creating boundaries.
This is where thinking like a startup makes good sense.
So for instance, perhaps there is a major deadline or project (not just everyday business as usual) — that’s a good time to step up, to be present, to go the extra mile, even if it infringes on personal time.
But when that is complete, it’s ok (and advised) to revert back to your boundaries and the balance you need.
If we don’t take time to recharge, our work suffers.
Workaholics don’t create better work.
It’s about working smartly and keeping a dynamic schedule — not one that is obsessive or one that does not acknowledge that sometimes you do need a little imbalance to eventually capture the lifestyle you need.
Time management is also important.
One of the overarching principles I advocate is eliminating choice where it doesn’t bring you immediate joy or learnings.
So, for instance, I eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch everyday, and I don’t spend time staring at my closet because I operate primarily from a tight capsule wardrobe, so everything is complementary and flexible.
Too much choice doesn’t make us happy and you can get decision fatigue, which leave you with less energy and time for the things that really matter.
Forget work-life balance, work now and reap the rewards later
A model asked me to go out with her on a Friday night.
I told her I couldn’t.
When she asked why, I said I wanted to stay in and work instead.
She has not asked me out since.
Depending on your existing viewpoint on work-life balance, I’m either the best or the worst person to talk about this subject.
I am going to assume that you run your own company, have equity in the company that you’re working for, or you’re part of a small, growing team on a mission.
In any of the cases, I’m going to (hope) you care about what you do.
If you work for a startup I’ll presume you hold ambitions of starting your own company one day, or have an interest in your career.
Your work should be so enjoyable that it is your life, making the point about work-life balance largely redundant.
Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham said it best: “You have to make a living, and a startup is a way to get that done quickly, instead of letting it drag on through your whole life.
Entrepreneurs live for a few years like most people won’t, so that they can live for a lifetime like most people can’t.
I’ve recently written about how burnout is good, in short because the alternative is, where most people sit, not doing enough.
Here are some things that have happened to me on my entrepreneurial journey, and likely have happened/will happen to you if you have no money and are building a business from scratch:
Your girlfriend will shout at you to get a job/will discuss leaving you if you don’t.
Your parents won’t think you can do it and/or you will have to go back to them after you’ve moved out and ask them to give you money to live on (this was one of the hardest things I ever had to do).
People with steady jobs will look down on you (Rohan Silva wrote an excellent post on how British people (and the British establishment) look down on entrepreneurs).
Your electricity will run out/get cut off or you will face other problems with bills.
When considering the above, why wouldn’t you forego things you don’t really need on the way to becoming what you want to be? Either be fully on or fully off.
I used to work dead-end jobs, daydreaming and living a wild life when I left the office.
My work-life balance was great: I did no work, then balanced meeting new friends and going out, with drinking the colours of the night-time (sometimes all at once).
If you’re running your own company or building a career, “life” can wait.
Anything you spend money on to enjoy will generally always be there.
Things can move real quickly if you put the hours in.
Two-and-a-half years ago I was signing on at the Jobcentre.
A couple of months ago The Duke Of York invited me to St James’ Palace and I got to try and charm Princess Beatrice (mission somewhat complete, maybe).
Earlier in the summer I partied with millionaires paying for all my drinks in the best clubs in Las Vegas after being asked by SXSW V2V to give a talk out there (I later found out it was voted best talk of the conference).
Get your ass in the chair and work.
“Life” will come and find you if you do good things, trust me.
And that life is unbalanced, but it will give you more than you could ever believe was possible when you first started out.
My main tip is that anything life-related that is truly important to you needs to be added to your calendar as if it’s a client deadline.
If you are having a hard time incorporating exercise into your routine because you’re always behind on work and there is always some errand to run, you have to pretend that hour of yoga is an important meeting that you don’t have the ability to reschedule.
If Client A asked for a meeting when you already had a meeting with Client B, you wouldn’t contact Client B to reschedule because Client A was being pushy.
You have to be firm but polite and say “I have a prior commitment at that time, would X time work instead?”
It’s important to be empathetic to everyone’s unique work/life setup.
We are not all perfectly healthy childless 25 year olds with endless energy and the ability to survive on 3 hours of sleep.
Establish rules that work for you and stand by them when scheduling projects.
I have a relatively strict rule of No Monday Deadlines because they imply weekend work.
If I work on the weekend, I do so because I CHOOSE to not because I HAVE to.
It’s quite difficult for me to work on a weekend now that I have a child, so I only do so in emergency situations, not as a default state of being.
I can’t work in the evening like I used to, and I’m not afraid to tell clients that.
If we are honest about our particular set of parameters in a no-nonsense unapologetic way, people listen.
If I tell a client that I’m only available between 11am and 4pm for phone calls it’s not something that they can disagree with—they can only say if it does or does not work with their schedule.
If they send me art direction at 5pm and expect revisions at 8am, I tell them it isn’t possible and that the earliest I could turn them around is early afternoon.
There are the rare times when the revisions are truly needed at 8am (to make a print deadline), but you’re usually aware of that in advance and can at least warn clients about your availability (“Whatever we can do to get art direction to me by 1pm at the latest the day before this goes to press would be great—It’s very difficult for me to work in the evenings so I’d want to get it handled before EOD that day.
Maintain professionalism but stand your ground.
Work/Life balance for me used to mean that work and life were completely intertwined—I worked whenever I felt like it, at all hours, integrating social time when I could or creating social time that was also work time (like sharing a studio with others, or going to design events).
Now, work and life feel quite separate.
I don’t really prefer the separation, but I have no choice.
Part of it is being a parent, but part of it is living in a place where people keep regular office hours.
I don’t have dozens of friends working at all hours of the night anymore, and it’s way less fun to work at midnight when you don’t have a few friends on iChat to pass the time with.
By creating an embracing