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Leading Blog: Work-Life Balance?

Work-Life Balance?

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 04:01 PM PDT

The term work-life balance is fatally flawed says Matthew Kelly in Off Balance. Meant to deal with the pressures surrounding both personal and professional life, the term has unwittingly created a false dichotomy. You can't separate the two. In fact, says Kelly, "the term itself diminishes our ability to make the case that work can be a richly rewarding part of a person's life and should in many ways be personal."

What people really want (and need) is not work-life balance, but to "live deeply satisfying lives both personally and professionally." The trick is to get in touch with your dissatisfaction and then strategically create the life you want. But it will take some work. It's not going to happen accidentally. Kelly writes, "The life you desire is there for the taking, but it comes at a cost. Life, like business, hinges on the successful allocation of scarce resources."

Kelly provides some key thinking to support this discussion:
We seem more interested in how we want to live than we are in discovering the best way to live. Likewise, we are much more interested in developing self-expression than we are in developing selves that are worth expressing. Personal preference has triumphed over the pursuit of excellence. We want what we want, and we feel entitled to get what we want.

The problem with all this is that getting what we want is certainly not work-life balance, and getting what we want almost never leads to personal and professional satisfaction. The reason is that very few people have the requisite self-knowledge to want the right things. As we grow and gain this self-knowledge we begin to want what we need because we discover that the fulfillment of our legitimate needs is more likely to lead to lasting happiness in a changing world than the reckless pursuit of whimsical happiness.
So we need to begin with self-knowledge. "Satisfaction does not arise from simply having experiences and things, but rather from having the experiences and things that you deem important." Kelly has developed a system to increase the level of personal and professional satisfaction in your life that involves five steps, beginning of course with assessment:

Assessment. What brings you satisfaction? (There is an Off-Balance Assessment in the book and online at This process says Kelly, allows us to pinpoint an element of our dissatisfaction and create a prescription to overcome it.

Priorities. What matters most to you? (Priority Exercise Worksheet PDF) While these may change over time, it is essential that we clearly define them or we become victims of the tyranny of the urgent.

Core Habits. What are the daily habits that keep you healthy, focused and energized? For example, workout, meditation, proper diet, maintaining relationships. "What one thing, if done every day, would change your life markedly?"

Weekly Strategy Session. What is the key project that should have your attention and be your starting point for each day of the week? Our lives are destined for underachievement and dissatisfaction if we don't learn to plan and strategize personally.

Quarterly Review. Every three months review what is working will in your life, review what you said you would do in the last ninety days; outline the key objectives in your life at this time; share your plan to accomplish these objectives.

Kelly says that knowing how to balance various activities in our life to produce the maximum flow of energy is perhaps the most important skill any of us can learn and develop. "Each day has a focus, and holding to this focus plays a significant role in creating and sustaining high levels of satisfaction." He concludes, "To lay your head on your pillow at night, knowing that who you are and what you do makes sense … now, that is satisfaction."

Work-life balance is a myth. We can't have it all, but we can find both personal and professional satisfaction. You can stumble into a moderately satisfying life, but to sustain and increase that satisfaction requires a strategic approach and some real work. You can be the architect of a life that is both personally and professionally satisfying.

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