Work-Life Balance is broken – welcome to W-L 2.0

Updated to Habits, Productivity on December 30, 2022.

When I was a kid, my Dad would come home from his accounting practice, park his briefcase by the door and we knew his work was over.

No email, Facebook, PDFs to download, or voice mail blinking on his phone.

He had work-life balance.

It was the unquestioned ideal of a post-war, urban worker—work hard from 9 to 5 and then it was all about family, schoolwork and Ozzie and Harriet.

But that was 50 years ago.

The reality is work-life balance has become the unicorn of time management: sounds good – doesn’t exist. “Work/life balance is at best an elusive ideal” wrote Harvard Business profs Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams, “and at worst a complete myth, today’s senior executives will tell you.”

What’s worse is chasing the myth only to feel regret and disappointment.

The plain fact is some days you have long days, calls you take from home (or on the road) and, yes, some days you have 12 excuses for missing one yoga class.

Welcome to Work-Life 2.0 – where we employ new thinking to use time effectively, to get it all done, AND not have regrets.

Work-Life 2.0

Let’s start with this: there is a problem with the term “work-life balance”. It suggests a teeter-totter like trade-off set up to fail.

As Jappreet Sethi, CEO of Idea Catalyst, wrote, “…the two aspects are completely separate from one another and are at odds, that when you are at work you’re not really living.”

Instead, I think of Work-Life 2.0 as giving me choices on a spectrum between fully obsessed with my work and not working at all.

My job is choosing where I move the peg between the two extremes and being okay with it. Some days, I need to hunker down and get a lot of work off my plate. Other days I want to take advantage of a lighter load and take more breaks, do creative work and go home early.

And it starts with what you want.

What do you want?

You can’t find any balance without knowing what makes you happy and you won’t know that until you define what’s wrong.

It’s like going to the Doctor but refusing to talk about what hurts – good luck with that.

Years ago I got very frustrated with my business. I was bringing in more money, but my working hours were crazy and, at the end of the month, there wasn’t much left on my plate for me.

For far too long, I brushed it off as start-up hiccups. But, hey! I was in year 10 of my start-up! I needed to get clear on what was broken before I could start to fix anything.

So, dear reader, let’s start with a quick test to find out what you want, shall we?

A quick test

Thinking about the year thus far, rate yourself on 4 simple measures: goals, wealth, health, and relationships:

How did you do? Are you happy with the results?

I have to admit – this was a sobering exercise.

But, my goal isn’t all 5’s. My goal is to get better every year and have no regrets.

For example, I’ve thrown out the idea of work-life balance. That worked in the ’70’s.

I know I have to work hard – I also have to work hard at health, wealth, and happiness.

Before you leave this test, slap a star on the one you most want to improve. For example, you might intuitively know goals drive everything else and you could be doing better on setting and keeping goals. Great! Put a star beside “1) I successfully worked from goals”

Next, you need to understand the power of boundaries.

Create boundaries

When I was building Adventure Network with my partners, it was head-down, long day and an endless pile of work. I was putting in so many guilt-hours I couldn’t relate to people packing it in at 4:30 to go golfing.

It took many years to fully grasp the power of boundaries – protected time when you are strategically unavailable. Your boundary could be no interruptions before 10:00AM or a lunch-time fast walk around the block – either way you’re defining your work-life balance.

Start by creating one new boundary exclusively for you. It could be for music, running, needle-point, or reading a few pages of a Lee Child before shut-eye (“Nothing but an expired passport, folding toothbrush and roll of cash”).

You can also create a new boundary for your first 90 minutes at work, or right after lunch to check in with your Flight Plan.

Your new-found time will be invaluable. What’s even more important is you making the decision to protect time. That’s Work-Life 2.0.

Next, you need to practice keeping promises.

Keep promises

I once read that a typical gym, yoga class, recreation centre or any membership-based facility is designed to accommodate about 30% of their total membership.

Essentially, they’re counting on two thirds of people not keeping promises.

What about you?

Do you need to pull up your promise-keeping shorts?

In our new world of 24/7 access and blurred lines between work and life, promise keeping is even more difficult. It’s also even more important.

Whether it’s following up with a client, a family dinner or seeing the chiropractor to have your back crunched – keeping promises defines you.

Keeping promises also builds willpower – your ability to get things done, even when you don’t feel like it.

Choose one area of your life where you are slack. For me it was doing my hardest work before 10:30AM.

Make the commitment to keep that promise. And don’t have regret when you blow it (because you will).

No regret

I screw up…all the time.

I over-commit, procrastinate, forget, and allow my anxious little brain to make decisions.

Yup, it’s happened and it’ll happen again. My choice is to not wallow in regret. Work-Life 2.0 is about experimenting, screwing up and trying again. If balance isn’t the goal, doing what’s right for me should be.

It’s not the 1960’s anymore and it’s up to me to create my version of Work-Life 2.0.

What about you?