Better Work-Life Balance is Complicated with COVID-19

We all know about the need for work-life balance. We know it’s good for us.

And since COVID-19, the need for work-life balance has taken on a new importance as the lines between work and home are more blurred than ever. The ‘Zoom-fatigue’ is real  folks. And yet, will all that is loaded onto our plates, it’s hard to know where to start to achieve this holy-grail of ‘work-life balance.’  

So I think it’s important to press pause and examine and maybe even question the helpfulness of the phrase work-life balance’,  and perhaps explore a new way of thinking that better captures, well, the way our real lives happen. So I have a few questions to help us on this journey for a new way to understand ‘work-life balance.’ 

1. Work is not necessarily distinct and separate from the rest of our lives.

When we talk about a balance between work and life, it implies that ‘work’ and ‘home’ are two separate things. As if we don’t ever bring home stuff to work with us, and work stuff back home. Since COVID-19, the lines between work and home are more blurred than ever and many of us are struggling to navigate the equally important roles and tasks associated with ‘work’ and ‘home,’ while doing it all from one place… home. So COVID-19 is highlighting how, now more than ever, posing ‘home’ and ‘work’ as two separate things isn’t realistic, or necessarily healthy, for how we really live our lives. The reality is that living a full, well-rounded life involves enjoying our work tasks, while at the same time embracing our lives outside of these tasks.

The issue is more about setting boundaries and then re-visiting these boundaries when necessary.

2. The word ‘balance’ can feel like we’re walking on a tightrope   

I also have a bit of an issue with the ‘balance.’ It makes me think of walking on a tightrope. Of juggling, of constantly fighting against the messiness of life. We already place a tremendous amount of guilt on ourselves when we feel we don’t measure up to our expectations or the expectations of others—do we really want to balance on a tightrope too?

Rather than trying to always balance on the tightrope between work life and home life, what if we gave ourselves permission to fall off once in a while? What if, instead of balancing, we allowed ourselves ‘tipping points’?

Tipping points, the concept made famous by Malcolm Gladwell, happens when small events accumulate to a large enough degree that they become significant enough to cause larger change.  In work-life balance, tipping points are those small events—choices we make and habits we form—that eventually accumulate to either build stress or build resilience.

If we’re going to try and find a sense of calm or equilibrium between our work selves and our home selves, it makes sense to allow ourselves ‘tipping points’ …the mental and emotional space so that we can acknowledge when we aren’t doing things perfectly. And that sometimes we will get in wrong and fall off the ever-elusive ‘work-life balance beam’.

But these small moments, tipping points, can always be examined and adjusted when necessary. There are three questions we can ask to help us pinpoint these small moments, these tipping points, that cause stress.

1. First ask ‘Where’?

a. Where do you spend most of your time when you’re doing work duties?

b. Where do you spend most of your time when you’re doing home tasks? 

Is it in your dining room on the computer? In your own home office? In the kitchen? Spend time reviewing the specific tasks and duties you do on a daily basis. You can do one reflection for work responsibilities and another for your home tasks and duties.

2. Then ask ‘What’?

a. What do you spend most of your time doing at workWhat is the nature of those tasks and duties? Are you responding to emails? Sitting in meetings?

b. What tasks are you doing at home? Do you spend most of your time doing the laundry? Helping the kids with homework?

3. Next ask ‘Why’?

This step is crucial because asking ‘why?’ helps you assess the choices you’ve made about where you spend most of your time and what you spend most of your time doing.

Knowing why you do what you do (or don’t do) can help you prioritize your roles and responsibilities and know where and when your tipping points are in your current division of work and home duties.

For example, as a business owner, you might spend a majority of your time on payroll. You’re ‘why’ answer might be that you do the payroll because you save money on an accountant. At home, you may spend a significant portion of the evening making supper.  You’re ‘why’ answer may be that healthy meals is important to you, and you like trying out new recipes rather than ordering take-out. Or maybe your evening is spent ordering take-out and then going for a walk after because you like supporting small businesses in your community and the exercise rejuvenates you.

By knowing where, what, and why you are spending your time, you can then decide where and when your’re tipping points are going to be in each of those areas.

Every person (and every workplace and family) is different, and will have different answer to ‘where’, what,’ and ‘why. ‘ We all have different tipping points.

It’s okay to give yourself permission to get off balance sometimes. Knowing where, what, and why you ‘tipped over’ will go a long way to making sure you are living life at both home and work as fully and healthily as possible in this new normal we find ourselves in. Stay healthy and safe!