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Work Life Balance: How to Take Control

Five factors that make the difference between a life of fulfillment and a life filled with regret.
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Somewhere in between dreaming about a 4-hour workweek and the reality that you're becoming a 24×7 workaholic is an illusive notion called work-life balance.

Contrary to popular belief, achieving some sort of balance between work and play is achievable. You actually have more control over it than you think if you know how to go about it.

Here are five factors that can make the difference between a life of fulfillment and a life filled with regret.

1. There is an optimum balance.

Here's the theory: If you work too hard and completely miss out on life, you'll be miserable. If you have too much fun and don't make enough money, the result's the same. Those are the extremes. Somewhere in between is an optimum point where you work hard enough, make enough money, and still have fun.

That optimum point is different for everyone--but it does exist.

2. It's all about your goals...

If your goals are to have a fulfilling career and a rich family life, you should be able to pull it off. Really. That's what I call a reasonable balance. If, on the other hand, you really want to make it big out there, you'll probably have to sacrifice on the personal side to achieve that. Then there's the third option: If your goal is to party hard and work only as much as you have to to skate by, don't expect to park a Ferrari at your mansion.

Look at it this way: Life is all about tradeoffs.

3. ...and how hard you're willing to work to achieve them.

Some people want to have it all. If your goals are that aggressive, then you'll probably have to work long and hard and be disciplined about it to achieve them. This is the aspect of work-life balance where people generally fall down. Like it or not, goals don't mean a thing if you aren't willing and able to deliver the goods.

4. It helps a lot if you love your work.

Ever hear of working dogs? They're breeds that are all about the work. Boxers, shepherds, rottweilers, and collies are generally at their best when they're working.

I must have been a working dog in another life because I'm just like that. It's still work, but I really enjoy doing it. It's a big part of my life and who I am. And because I worked hard to achieve aggressive goals when I was younger, now I get to try my hand at lots of different things.

5. You don't have to be on 24×7.

It's really hard these days to resist the persistent tug to check email and Twitter and answer the phone or a text when you get one. But that, in my opinion, is more about giving in to instant gratification, the need for attention, and the addictive qualities of our communication overloaded culture than it is about having to be on 24×7.

Everyone I know who seems to have a pretty comfortable and balanced life has a relatively disciplined approach to that sort of thing. They don't let the gadgets, tools, and toys get the better of them.

The bottom line is this. Seeking balance in life is highly subjective. It's like searching for a movie you'll like. You won't know how you feel about it until after you've seen it.

Instead of waiting until the end of your life to find out if you've achieved balance, think about these five factors and come up with a combination that works for you. You have more control than you think.

IMAGE: daquellamanera/Flickr
Last updated: May 21, 2013

STEVE TOBAK | Columnist

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, an executive coach, and a former senior executive of the technology industry. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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