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A marathon, not a sprint: Work-life balance cycle versus achievement

September 10, 2022 - 16 min read

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Work-life balance: Not a one-time fix

Are we tackling the right discussion?

It's a marathon, not a sprint

Individual solutions aren’t the answer to collective struggles

Beware of burnout

Make balance a steady pillar in your life

There aren’t many things in our lives that we only do once. It's not like we only have to do one job interview in our entire life or move into one apartment and stay there forever. Developing a healthy work-life balance is the same: it's not something we can work to achieve or check off our to-do list. 

Reaching and maintaining healthy mindsets and practices around your work-life balance takes time, so it’s important to recognize the difference between a work-life balance cycle vs. work-life balance achievement. 

A work-life balance cycle requires constant awareness and implementation of healthy practices to ensure you can enjoy your professional and personal life while recognizing that this balance ebbs and flows. A work-life balance achievement isn’t usually a feasible reality, as it suggests that you find an equilibrium and stay there.  

Learning how to have a good work-life balance demands sustained action, self-awareness, and making our well-being a priority. These sound like healthy habits either way, so let’s begin.

 

Work-life balance: Not a one-time fix

Your work-life balance isn’t something you can acquire or perfect. 

The work-life balance cycle demands setting habits to ensure you maintain a healthy personal and professional life. The Harvard Business Review found if you want to create a long-lasting habits, you need to do three things:

  • Be intentional with your actions
  • Understand that setbacks happen
  • Show yourself compassion 

Your current situation won’t dictate the rest of your life; things change. That should be exciting! Perhaps you’ll introduce a new member of your family into the world or start working in an industry that’s slightly more demanding. Change is inevitable, so your work-life balance strategies will need to adapt.

A work-life balance is a cycle, not a one-time achievement, a constant practice. And this cycle is full of trial and error and learning opportunities. Certain strategies might be effective temporarily, but continually making changes and reaching different goals forces us to adapt. Adaptability is an important skill for all areas of life — especially this one.

Like any habit, maintaining your work-life balance sometimes seems less manageable. You could also find a lot of time for your personal life and hobbies. But developing a growth mindset focused on learning new things and accepting that change will help you navigate the ebbs and flows.  

Here are three examples where it’s helpful to think of your work-life balance as a cycle and not an achievement:

  1. When new working mother comes back to work after maternity leave, their work-life balance has drastically changed and will continue to change. As their child grows up, new challenges and situations will arise. They’ll have to adapt their work-life balance to keep up with life changes.
  2. You used to work at a job that demanded lots of time and energy from you. But now you want to prioritize traveling, so you’ll need to get creative to ensure you’re staying balanced. Working at airports and making sure you find accommodations with reliable internet might mean that you’re working at any hour of the day. We’re sure it’s worth it — but balancing your responsibilities might be challenging at first. 
  3. You’ve enjoyed remote work over the course of the pandemic, but you’re heading back to the office part-time. Now you’re having a hard time prioritizing your family life. Your boss has told you that flexible work is an option, and long hours commuting and less family time are starting to take a toll on your mental health. You’ll need to find a solution to help you properly balance weeks where you’re spending time at the office with your home life.

If you're unsure how to handle change in your life, consider meeting with a BetterUp coach. Our coaches can help identify what's holding you back and create an action plan to develop long-lasting, healthy habits to embrace your future.

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Are we tackling the right discussion?

We have to set the record straight on something. A work-life balance isn't simply dividing the day into equal hours to spend at work and home. No formula can calculate our perfect balance of working hours and personal time.

Even if we were to evenly divide our time between our personal and professional lives, we might not enjoy it. We could still be stressed, worried, or experience mental exhaustion. Most importantly, we wouldn't be living in the present.

Developing a healthy, sustainable lifestyle in our personal and professional lives is important. Obtaining this lifestyle involves knowing what our stressors are and our personal and work values.

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We must develop enough self-awareness to acknowledge when we need to take time off or reach our limits. Time management is another key ingredient for a work-life balance. This includes scheduling time to do things that support our mental well-being — not just work. 

True balance looks different for everyone depending on their careers, interests, and goals, but it’s possible for anyone. There’s no one-size-fits-all work-life balance, but there’s a balance that’s right for you.

Integrating our personal and professional lives

For some, it's more about work-life integration vs. work-life balance. Work-life integration means that there’s no clear distinction between our personal and professional lives. Balance suggests there’s still a separation between these sides of our life, but with work-life integration, they weave into one another harmoniously. 

Rather than keeping work separate from their personal life, integration lets them overlap. If you’re passionate about what you do, this might be a better way to keep yourself motivated. 

An example of this might be working as a personal trainer. Your life likely revolves around fitness — yours and others. Spending all day in the gym between your clients and your own workouts would mean you really love what you do.

It's a marathon, not a sprint

To achieve a better work-life balance, we must understand this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, we're all familiar with that metaphor, but it's crucial for developing a better work-life balance cycle. 

To reap the benefits, we'll have to put in effort over the entirety of our careers. We can't expect amazing results after spending a week. A healthy work-life balance can't only be on our minds when we're working too much. It should be a constant consideration. 

Mental Fitness can help you achieve this cycle of balance. It's a practice that doesn't require any workout equipment but instead requires purpose, goal-setting, and growth. It helps you create a healthy work-life balance cycle because it:

  • Embraces a journey of self-discovery 
  • Requires resilience, energy, and innovation
  • Teaches you to continue to set goals
  • Reminds you of what’s meaningful in your life
  • Celebrates getting better each day

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Individual solutions aren’t the answer to collective struggles

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to achieve a healthy work-life balance alone. That's one of the problems of viewing work-life balance as an achievement. 

Plus, odds suggest you aren’t the only one feeling this way. You may feel pressured to find a solution, but collective solutions help others dealing with burnout in your workplace.  

One study took a look at companies with the highest rates of burnout, and they found three things that they all have in common

All of these circumstances are out of employees' control, and they could use their employers’ support to find solutions. And another survey on flexible schedules found only half of the respondents said that their managers are meeting their expectations to provide a decent work-life balance.

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We feel that 50% isn't enough. More managers must acknowledge they can make a difference in their employees' work-life balance and well-being. People won't have to find solutions on an individual level if the business supports everyone.

Beware of burnout

To all of the overachievers, this section’s for you. Being an overachiever is great if it doesn't diminish your quality of life. Overachievers love success, deeply engaging with their tasks, and improving their skills. 

But because they like to make continuous efforts to succeed at work and often overwork, they sometimes forget about their personal lives and well-being. When overachievers recover from burnout, they think of it as a one-time achievement rather than a cycle. 

The consequences of thinking this way are costly. People always working will eventually become dissatisfied with their jobs and lose productivity. While overachievers might be proud of their strong work ethics, always working will still lead to dissatisfaction. 

If you’re an overachiever who’s looking to balance your ambitions with a healthy work-life balance cycle, here are some tips to follow:

  • Don’t forget to make time for yourself
  • Include self-care into your routine
  • Learn how to say “no” to certain things
  • Schedule breaks for yourself away from work
  • Remind yourself that work-life harmony and work-life balance can co-exist

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Make balance a steady pillar in your life

Maintaining this balance isn’t easy, and it’s important to recognize how work-life balance cycles vs. work-life balance achievements differ. Change is inevitable, and we can't expect that our work-life balance is a set formula. 

Good work-life balance comes with questions and moments of uncertainty. It takes resilience, Mental Fitness, and self-awareness to truly understand how to prioritize both your personal and professional life.

But it's not something you have to do alone. You can experience the benefits of coaching by having someone to guide you and help manage your work, responsibilities, family, and passions to ensure you have a sustainable work-life balance

At BetterUp, our coaches are here to help you create healthy habits that help you thrive at work. We can help you find a perfect coach who can offer support and guidance as you navigate your work-life balance cycle.

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Published September 10, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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