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Work/Life Balance Is the Wrong Paradigm

Posted by PointA_PointB on August 29, 2011

Many of my clients want to discuss work/life balance and how they might possibly be able to achieve that. They feel stretched too thin. They think they should be able to “have it all.” They get stressed out trying to fit relaxation into their schedule! They feel guilty that somehow their life should be different or that things would be better if they could…

If this sounds like you, I think I may have figured out what the problem is. Work/Life Balance is the wrong paradigm and sets you up to feel like you are failing. I want you to consider for a minute the word “balance.” Actual balance can be measured in seconds and sometimes minutes but never over the longer term.

Maybe you remember the first time you tried to walk the length of the balance beam with your arms out, catching yourself as your weight shifted too far to the left or too far to the right. Or maybe you have done a yoga pose on one foot or some agility exercise and thought to yourself, “Balancing is hard!” Balance might also imply that you should be giving equal weight to everything, which is often impossible.

Instead, I would like to ask you to consider Work/Life Allocation. This is not a fleeting instant that you struggle to hold onto or recapture. Allocation is deliberate and done with forethought and planning. Allocation puts you firmly in control of how you choose to spend your time. You can go through a process and decide what your top priorities are and how you will spend your valuable time. Your allocations will change over time depending on your priorities.

When you are launching a product, friends and even family may take a backseat temporarily – and that is OK. You made a conscious choice to allocate more time to certain priorities for a specific timeframe. You allocated your time appropriately given what was going on in your life. After your product is launched, taking care of yourself and recharging may become your top priority, and some other aspects of your life may have to wait. How you choose to allocate your time is much different now.

I like the concept of allocation because it is fluid and will change over time, will be different for everyone, and puts you firmly in control.

What do you think? Does that feel more doable? I would love to hear your thoughts about balance vs. allocation. Please leave a comment below!

18 Responses to “Work/Life Balance Is the Wrong Paradigm”

  1. samantha borland said

    I like the word allocation but I hope that society gravitates to allowing people to allocate their time. Work used to allocated to 9 to 5 but now with cell phone work come with 24/7. For me I choose sometimes not to look at my emails or text on Saturday’s and that is how I allocate away time for thinking but that is not always received well with clients, friends or people trying to reach me. I don’t do this all the time just when I know what tasks I have on my plate and the timeline of those projects. When I can I take the leave. I need it for my mind and sole.

    Great article. Sam

    • Thanks, Sam. You are right that setting boundaries can be tricky and that some people do not react well. However, I think we all need to do this in order to have good relationships and to keep our sanity. Being on call 24/7 may be necessary in life-threatening situations, but certainly isn’t required most of the time. It’s tricky but sometimes you need to draw a line in the sand, while still trying to serve your clients to the best of your ability.

  2. I think it’s all about choice. I like to talk about taking ‘intentional action’ rather than just letting your life (or business!) run on autopilot. Like you say, Catherine, we need to exercise that conscious choice to work, or to take the time off – so often we are too tough on ourselves!


    • Agreed, Cathy. Conscious choice is important. It empowers us and we are less likely to suffer from overwhelm if we take the time to plan and prioritize. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  3. Anna Sanko said

    I think this concept is brilliant! I’m a busy woman – full time job, one high energy toddler, a husband, and a dog (who is at the bottom of the totem pole but still remains incredibly loyal). Time allocation makes me feel less guilty. I can’t give them all equal amounts of time but I can certainly allocate to them as needed.

  4. Catherine, it’s also important to remember the other side of the equation: it’s not just that WE’RE allocating time based on availability, priorities, whatever … but those receiving our attention are also in an ebb and flow. Their needs and wants are shifting as well. So in the end, it’s a dance. I think the solution comes when you all have your antennae up to feel when something is out of alignment, and adjust accordingly. The greatest problems arise when communication is hampered in any way.

  5. Susan Kim said

    As someone who used to be a gymnast, I think bringing in the balance beam is a great analogy. It take a TON of effort to stay balanced and if you’re just the tiniest bit off when doing any tricks you end up with huge bruises, bumps, or scrapes. Figuring out life/work is enough without constantly trying to calculate balance. Catherine, great post! And Sharon– I agree, it’s more of a dance!

    • Truth be told, Susan, I think whoever keeps perpetuating the myth that we need “balance” in our lives should be stood in the corner and given a long “time out!” They do women, in particular, a huge disservice as we try to integrate more and more into our lives … and then try to do it in an inflexible framework.

  6. I agree with you completely, Catherine! There really is no one-size-fits-all solution. To me, balance means being fair to myself and to the people and areas of my life that are important to me. Circumstances typically dictate which area needs more attention at a given time, and I try to respond to that need.

  7. Sondra Wright said

    Wow! Thank you for giving it a name. Time is the one thing we all have the same amount of. How we “allocate” it – makes all the difference in the world. And one of the common characteristic of successful women in business is how they allocate their time.

  8. I really really really like this. So.. you’re saying that it changes, right? And you need to sometimes go through the process of re-allocation, to ensure, based on your objectives, that you’re putting the right amount of time (or whatever works for you) toward those objectives, and your down time?

    Because if so, I’m so aligned with that. This is such an important thing and yea, I’m definitely hard on myself, like the rest of us, for taking down time but as we know, it’s extremely important for renewal and other things.

    Really like this, Catherine.

    • Hi Ryan, that is exactly what I am saying. I am trying to help people feel like they have more control. The term balance never really worked for me so I am proposing an alternative. So glad you liked it!

  9. Catherine,

    Timely and thoughtful post here; you blend reality and kindness with pragmatism. Well done. I suggest this self-care consideration to compliment the mindset that you have offered: when we have a foundation of basic health-sustaining choices included in our busy day, the allocation of our time and energy will flow more smoothly. Our energy will be higher, our mood will be more stable, and our thoughts and decisions will be more clear when we choose to allocate adequate sleep of good quality, small meals that provide nourishment and satisfaction, physical activity to enhance glucose metabolism, and a few mindful moments throughout the day to dissipate adrenaline/catecholamine hormones. In terms of our ability to go with the ebb and flow of business and personal considerations, taking care of our own basic physical and emotional needs will make all the difference in our ability to do so kindly and effectively.

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