By Brooke Christofferson
In the wake of the pandemic, many professionals are struggling to manage priorities in their jobs and personal lives and find a happy “work-life balance.” Here’s how to stop focusing on “balance” and start focusing on “fit” to make your life and your job work together.
The Work-Life Balance Fallacy
As leaders, we are constantly bombarded with social media articles about how to manage work and life in order to achieve the perfect balance. But here’s a different take on this theme: Work-life balance is a myth that sets everyone up for feelings of failure or guilt. While these feelings impact all working professionals, they are particularly prevalent among working caregivers.
For stressed caregivers, the idea of achieving a state of perfectly balanced priorities at all times is an alluring prospect. In reality, this equilibrium does not exist, and the unattainable ideal of work-life balance often serves to accelerate feelings of guilt.
As a metaphor, work-life balance sees work and life as counterweights, and a happy equilibrium exists when each is prioritized the right amount. In reality, various aspects of our lives, including work, family, and personal well-being, will require more or less of our focus and attention at any given time. Rather than striving to achieve a perfect balance of priorities at all times, a more achievable goal is to find your work-life fit. Finding your fit means proactively connecting work and life priorities in a way that lets you succeed at both.
Flexibility = Fit
In the wake of the pandemic, people have become comfortable working from home and are blurring the lines of work and life more than ever. Some companies have embraced this as the workplace of the future while others are more hesitant and pushing to return to the old norm. Whether a workplace is fully virtual, in-person, or hybrid, flexibility is the key to finding fit and technology has empowered people to access work seamlessly from anywhere, at any time.
Even before COVID, I led a remote team that was distributed across the country. I realized the ability to find the right fit between work and life was a valuable tool to engage the high-performing, tenured employees on the team. Whether someone worked in the office or out of their home, the flexibility to manage their work around their personal life was a win for them and caused no disruption to productivity.
As a leadership coach, I help professionals understand their work priorities, which allows them to feel confident designing a work plan and schedule that fits their life.
Team members might leave work early a couple days a week to pick up their kids or take a long break in the middle of the day to connect with a friend, then catch up with work in the evening. Each team member was empowered with a clear understanding of our team priorities and objectives, which helped them design their own work schedules accordingly. As a leadership coach, I help professionals understand their work priorities, which allows them to feel confident designing a work plan and schedule that fits their life.
Design a Schedule That Works for You
I discovered how to find my own work-life fit when I was leader at a large national media company. I worked across every time zone, and had to figure out what work I needed to get done and when and how to fit in my non-work priorities. Here’s an example of how I made it work:
I have a chronic back issue, and moving my body every day is key to keeping it in check. Hitting the gym isn’t a luxury but a requirement, and I am better when I can do it earlier in the day.
I was able to design my schedule to accommodate my personal health needs, my work, and my family by working early in the morning then taking a break to get my young kids ready for the day, attending a couple key meetings, then taking a break for the gym. In the afternoon, I would attend more meetings but made a goal to end my meetings by 4 PM so I could spend waking hours with my twin toddlers.
After putting the kids to bed, I would return to work on projects or follow up on email. By the end of the day I may have worked more than 8 hours, but not all of those working hours fell between 8 AM and 5 PM. It worked for my life and it worked for my job. I was a successful leader building culture and driving results, but I was also a well-adjusted new mom taking care of herself and her family.
I learned out of necessity how to proactively structure my work day outside the standard 8-5, and it’s a lesson that has helped me ever since. Now, I encourage friends and colleagues struggling with busy schedules to take a proactive role in designing their days to work for all aspects of their lives.
How Will You Find Your Fit?
As we continue to navigate shifting work norms, integrating life and work responsibilities in a way that fits our lives will become ever more crucial to our personal well-being and ability to thrive in our careers. Achieving work-life fit requires diligent prioritization and willingness to shift away from the mindset and routines of work routines you may be used to. But it’s worth it! What will you do to find your fit? And as a leader, how will you build a culture that embraces it?
About the Author:
Brooke Christofferson, ACC, is a Leadership Coach at ExecOnline. Brooke spent the majority of her career in a large media company going through mass disruption and transformation, building resiliency and fostering innovation. Her specialties are helping grow leaders from managers to directors to executives. She works with leaders at all phases of their careers, understanding corporate complexities and market dynamics. She has a passion for EQ and work/life fit. She consults with start-ups on go-to-market planning and non-profit organizations on strategy and leadership development.