HUGH CULVER

Unicorns, Fairies and Why Work/Life Balance is a Myth

Updated to Productivity on January 22, 2023.

If you believe in unicorns, skip this post. Same for fans of fairies.

And there’s one more illusion we should address: work/life balance. I admit there was a day, not long ago, when I promoted the notion of work/life balance as if “work” and “life” sat firmly on two sides of a scale — 12 hours for each. Balance the scale and you’re good. Out of balance? Not good.

Baloney.

For a great many of us work demands more of us and our waking hours than does life. We are building a career, a business, or simply working hard. And that takes energy and time.

Some push back, like Anne-Marie Slaughter, who stepped down from her role as director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department to pursue a more balanced lifestyle, reported in her highly read article in The Atlantic “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.

The myth is that with good time management skills you can fit in children, meetings, paper work, sales calls, running, shopping, reading, meditation, yoga, and a glass of wine all in some ideal ratio that makes you feel balanced.

I remember in the 1980’s sitting in time management training and being taught the virtues of finishing my day by calculating time spent on: family, exercise, work, reading, spiritual practices, sleep, and eating. It was as if being out of ratio on their pie-chart of life was akin to being unsuccessful. Eventually I lost the mechanic pencil they gave us and that was the end of that.

Sometimes You Have Work To Do

When I was launching SOS, our social media posting service for bloggers, I was repeatedly packing in 12 hour days to put all the pieces in place. Same goes for launching BOSS, the Business of Speaking School, TFF, the Time Freedom Formula, and every other large initiative I taken on.

I know it comes with the territory. For you it might be multi-city meetings, client deadline, or finishing your book for publication.

If your lifestyle is unhealthy, of course you need to fix it. Long-term, it’s stupid to sacrifice sleep, a healthy diet, time with your children, or meals with your spouse. We all know that.

The End of Work/Life Balance

We don’t come home, plop our feet on the ottoman, flick on the TV and wait for our honey to finish making dinner.

We don’t live in an Ozzie and Harriet single working-parent world—according to the Census Bureau that’s a mere 7% of families. We also don’t come home, plop our feet on the ottoman, flick on the TV and wait for our honey to finish making dinner. Dream on.

Most people I know pack so much into a day it would make our parent’s heads spin. I can hear my dear mother now admonishing me with a “Remember life’s too short.” (whatever that means).

The solution is not to force all of life’s attractions into some arbitrary balance, but to think of seasons.

“Stop treating your personal life as something you have to make time for, and your work life as something you have to apologize for.” BOLAND JONES, Founder and CEO, PGi

When I was in the tourism industry, seasons were our life. We were either in a planning season, peak season, shoulder season or down season. It was a natural flow. And it made perfect sense to put in unreasonable hours in the peak season—just as it made sense to go skiing on Fridays in the down season.

On a micro level, you might experience seasons in your week. Monday and Tuesday you’re running your plan, Wednesday is meetings and follow up, Thursday is people day and Friday is catch up and coaching. Could you design your week around seasons? Jack Dorsey, the uber-entrepreneur behind Twitter and Square, breaks his week into: Monday-management, Tuesday-product, Wednesday-marketing and communication, Thursday-developers and partnerships, Friday-company culture and recruiting.

Seasons Are Not Permanent

Seasons are not permanent, they flow from one to the next. Same applies for hunkering down and putting in the hours—you need to know this is temporary.

In my tourism years there was solace in knowing an end to the crazy-long days was in sight. On a smaller scale, I look forward to my mid-day yoga class, dinner with my wife, walking my dog at night and reading a novel before bed. Those moments remind me I have control and work doesn’t dominate my days.

Before we leave this, I have some questions for you:

  • Do you have a “down season” planned for the near future where you work less and play more?
  • Are you enjoying small pockets of “me time” everyday (even though you are in peak season)?
  • If you are in peak season, have you told your spouse/partner/children/friends so they can support you (instead of resenting you)?