Need Better Work-Life Balance? Think Tipping Points

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

And yet, like many New Year’s resolutions, we start out with the best of intentions and gradually lose steam.  

Whether you are an employer or an employee, the topic of work-life balance is difficult to get away from.

How we navigate our work-home roles and responsibilities has repercussions for how we feel and experience life in general.

With my first business, I often met with clients in my home. My so-called ‘home office’ was a little cubbyhole off the kitchen.

Not ideal for work-life balance.

But I had two small children at home, and the arrangement afforded me the opportunity to keep an eye on them while trying to simultaneously attend to business concerns.

Outsiders looking in on the situation probably thought things were out of whack. Yet, the set-up actually worked for a while.

I tend to believe that this set-up worked for a season of my life because the phrase ‘work-life balance’ doesn’t quite capture, well, the way our real lives happen.

Why do we pose work as 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.

Having work and home arrangements efficiently flow makes us happier, more productive people. But 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, while at the same time embracing our lives outside of work walls.

Balance makes me think of 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.

As employers and employees, we already place a tremendous amount of guilt on ourselves—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 and build stress in our home and/or work lives.

The idea of tipping points allows us to acknowledge that we aren’t always successful at finding that elusive equilibrium.

Sometimes we do fall. But these are small moments that 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’?

Pick a time to reflect on what tasks you do at work during the course of a day. Write them down. You can write them down one-by-one when you’re at work performing that specific task, or all at once with a cup of tea on your day off.

Completely up to you whenever and wherever you reflect, the important thing is you 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.

Where do you spend most of your time? If it’s at work, where at work? In the back office? Greeting customers behind the till?

If it’s related to home, where? In the laundry room? The grocery store?

2. Then ask ‘What’?

Reviewing your tasks and duties highlights the specific nature of job and home responsibilities and how much time and energy you are spending on each of those responsibilities. 

What do you spend most of your time doing at work

What is the nature of those tasks and duties? Are you responding to emails? Sitting in meetings?

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 planning and making your kids lunches.  You’re ‘why’ answer may be that you simply love making the kid’s lunches everyday.

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.