Prescription – How to get work/life balance

Work/life balance is one of those elusive mysteries that we seem to constantly be chasing regardless of our particular season of life. And like unicorns, leprechauns and mermaids, there are legends of those who have actually found it, but for most of us, those stories are simply that – stories. Consider this prescription as your guide to finding work/life balance for you.


It would be premature to give any treatment plan without first assessing and diagnosing one’s current condition. To that end, work/life balance can easily been grouped into three assessment categories:

  • Your work life
  • Your family life / personal relationships
  • Your physical health

What you need to ask yourself is very simple: how are you doing in each category? Can you give yourself an “A+” in each domain of your life or is something currently suffering? Balance is essentially trying hard not to fail any “classes” in life. An “F” in any of those big domains above means you might want to get some help and put forth some extra “study time.” If you simply aren’t sure, consider this quiz.

Regardless how your self-assessment turns out, just promise me that you are being honest with yourself and not trying to pretend that things are o.k. when they really aren’t. Gut-level honesty is at the heart of any real change. Consider this post as a tough wakeup call.

Treatment Plans

There are two treatment plan options for you to choose from in order to restore work/life balance. The first option is less invasive, but may not get to the heart of the problem. The second option guarantees solving the problem, but recovery may be a long road. In the end, it’s your choice which path you prefer.

Option 1: Modifying Your Lifestyle

You may say to yourself, “things aren’t really that bad. And I don’t really want to quit my job or make any major life changes. I just want things to get a little better.” If this is you, this first option is your best strategy. This option is about reprioritizing what is important to you and setting up healthy boundaries to protect those important things in your life. Whether it’s time with your children (or significant other) or simply time to exercise and take of your physical health, setting boundaries is critical. To effectively execute on this treatment plan, you need to do the following:

  1. Prioritize what is important to you and set boundaries (ex: times of the day you are unavailable for e-mail / work commitments).
  2. Be prepared to say “No” when asked to break down those boundaries. You have to defend those walls against any attackers. Saying “no” effectively can stave off any advances (for more, read here).
  3. Continuously manage expectations. In order to avoid the subtle creep of responsibilities and expectations, you’ll have to constantly check in and clarify what your “boss” / others need and want of you. Unspoken expectations and avoiding clarifying conversations are the beginning of the end to work/life balance

Option 2: Surgery

Option 2 is much more invasive and intrusive. This is the right option if this is what you are saying to yourself, “my life is so out of balance that I just don’t see an easy way out AND I don’t think I can take any more of this.” In other words, the price you are paying for your out of balance is so high (lost relationships, failing health, sliding career), that you need to hit the reset button. This option entails reclaiming big chunks of time immediately to reclaim balance. This often entails quitting or significantly reducing one’s work load to get everything else back in order. While a more extreme option, for many it is the right one. And if you choose this path, consider this guideline on how to quit your job the right way.

In the end, work/life balance is simple in concept. It is about prioritizing what is important to you and then allocating time to those priorities that are not being fed accordingly. In other words, if your health is important to you and you see it slipping, watching one more episode of Modern Family isn’t going to help you reclaim much balance. You’ll need to sacrifice some activities in order to get you the time you need to address the areas that are out of balance.

The good news is that I know you can do it. It may be scary, it may feel uneasy, it may even feel safer to stay in a place of pain and unbalance for fear that change will make things worse. What I can tell you is that deep down you know what you need to do. Take that first step, and I promise you won’t regret it. And just in case you need an extra hand, you know where to find me.


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4 replies
  1. Adrian Pyle says:

    One piece of language I’m trying to reform is the use of the term “work/life balance.” If language shapes our reality even just a little bit, then “work/life balance” – although its meant to be have positive connotations – must be reinforcing some negative views of life for all of us. Work and life are not somehow distinct “realities” that we can balance. “Work” is surely not meant to be devoid of “life.” Equally, considered, engaged and relational work can surely be part of a highly connected, health-ful life (even potentially a very big part of it). I know the term is coined to try to get us to live in a more “balanced” way but I suspect it simply allows those who see “work” and “life” as mechanically disconnected realities, to continue with that problematic viewpoint – and to continue tinkering with work to make it a “bit more friendly” rather than reforming the notion of work and its part in a whole life..

  2. Brandon Smith says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your very astute perspective. Work/life really is one in the same reality. I think where this notion of separating or decoupling work/life helps us most is that it reminds us that in the end, it is up to us to be intentional about our reality and not let it evolve unintentionally. In other words, if we don’t set the proper boundaries to preserve the elements that are most important to us in our work and life, they will get gobbled up by someone else’s priorities. No one wants that!

    Thanks again for your spot on comment!

  3. Bridget McCarthy says:

    I am actually sitting on a diversity and inclusion panel at work this coming week the question i am challenged to answer is about work-life balance. What i love is the concept of “work-life integration.” i think this speaks more realistically to the ever changing business world. We work more virtually, more project based and companies need to work to keep up to attract and retail great talent! Thus, balancing may not be possible, but thinking about how to integrate the two is critical to being successful. Thanks for writing about it.

  4. Brandon Smith says:

    Thanks for your great comments and kind words. Keep ’em coming (the great comments that is)… Ha!

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