I’m not going to beat around the bush. This is not a post for the lazy reader. If you are looking for something light, sweet and fluffy you may need to sample something else off of my proverbial menu. This post is designed to pack a punch. Fair warning, you could finish this post feeling anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to standing in the middle of an existential crisis.

“Why so serious?” you might ask. Simple. If we are committed to achieving work/life balance in our lives we have to be willing to look at ourselves in the mirror. We have to confront the gap between what we say is important vs. what we do. Not a comfortable gap to look at.

The Mirror

As I alluded to, the first step is to identify what’s important to you in your life. Look at the following list and rank order each item based on how important that particular category is to you at this point in your life. If something is not applicable to you at this time, simply prioritize it last.

  • Work (ranging from “needing to work” to “loving my vocation”)
  • Intimate relationship w/ significant other (spouse, partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc…)
  • Time with your extended family (parents, siblings, relatives, etc…)
  • Time with your children (or grandchildren)
  • Time with friends
  • Pets
  • Exercise
  • Spiritual life
  • Travel (ranging from vacations to incorporating travel into your everyday life)
  • Downtime (time for yourself to do very little. Ex: watching a movie, reading a book, taking a nap, etc…)
  • Hobbies / Interests (things NOT included in the items above. Ex: woodwork, “foodie,” collecting Hummel figurines, etc…)
  • Sleep
  • Other (anything I left out that is particularly important to you)

Got your list? Good. Now comes the tough part. Start over and re-rank your list based on how much time you spend on each item annually (or any other period of time you prefer). Be gut-level honest with yourself. The more honest you are with yourself, the more likely you are to see reality. While painful, we can work with reality.

Got your new list? Put them side by side and look at the similarities, but more importantly the differences. Notice:

  1. Work is likely #1 on your “time spent” list. No shocker there. Unless you are working part-time, are seeking employment, are retired or don’t consider your job “work,” work will be far and above all of the other items simply because of the sheer volume of time we spend working. However, if work is more than 2x all of the other items combined (excluding sleep), it may be gobbling up too much time. Work may be the problem.
  2. At least one item on your lists will likely have a significant gap (i.e. you placed it high on your list of priorities but it ended up at or near the bottom of your “time spent” list).

Rob’s Story

This happened to Rob. He said his grandkids were the most important thing in his life. He filled out his list and ranked his grandkids (and his kids for that matter) #1. Rob looked at me with this big smug smile, feeling quite proud of himself as a noble and good grandpa for ranking grandkids #1. Then came Rob’s second list. Naturally, worked popped up #1 on the second list. Rob still had a few more years to go until retirement. Then came his spouse and her wishes. Unfortunately, Rob’s relationship with his spouse was not healthy. To avoid her historic temper tantrums, Rob gave his spouse whatever she wanted. Next came Rob’s pets – his three dogs. After that came Rob’s health. After all of those demands pulling on him, he needed time for himself so he ran several times a week and focused on reading one book a month. Then came Rob’s lifelong friends. He would visit them about once a quarter to “get away.” In the end, Rob saw his grandkids about once a year for a day or two. He spoke with them maybe 3 or 4 times a year over the phone. Confronted with the stark reality, Rob’s smile vanished.

Are you like Rob? Are you kidding yourself? Saying something is important to you is different than showing something is important to you with time and effort. It’s just as true with work just as it’s true with our health. And trust me, if you want others to know you love them, words just aren’t going to do the trick. Show them with time and effort.

Work/life balance is first and foremost about choices and tradeoffs. My goal is to move you towards balance one step at a time. As a good mentor of mine used to say, “change is hard. What is the easiest way to get there.” Look at the item on your lists with the biggest gap between “importance” and “time” and ask yourself:

“What’s that gap costing me in my life?”

“How can I start to close the gap?”

Change is hard. If you are afraid to make change, check out this post on overcoming fear. Most importantly, I KNOW you can do it. You have everything you need inside of you. You just have to reach deep down, find that ounce of courage and take one step at a time. Before you know it, you will look around and realize you’ve arrived in that wonderful, comfortable and peaceful place we call balance.