In truth, achieving work-life balance is easier than we think. The secret is to change the way we approach the whole work-life balance equation.
The traditional way of thinking about work-life balance is to focus on time. How much time do I spend working vs how much time do I spend not working?
The problem with this way of thinking about work-life balance is that we are perpetually dooming ourselves to feeling guilty about every waking moment. If I'm at work, I should be home eating dinner with family. If I'm enjoying a Saturday activity, I should be checking email.
Given that there are only 24 hours in a day, focusing on time is a real 'glass is half empty' approach to work-life balance.
The solution: Focus on decision-making.
Specifically: Make fewer and broader decisions.
Here's how this plays out. Let's say it's Saturday morning at 9 A.M. I've been looking forward to the weekend all week. I'm an avid cyclist and I am planning to taking a long bike ride today. I wake up, grab coffee, and glance through my emails. Turns out, there's an urgent email that's going to take me 30 minutes to tackle.
And now I'm stressed out. Do I shorten the bike ride, ignore the email, bail on the bike ride altogether?
It's this type of micro-decision making that gets us into thinking that our work-life balance is out of whack.
So, instead of making micro-decisions one at a time, make macro decisions. That is, try to categorize the types of decisions you have to make in any given week, month or year and make guidelines or rules around each.
Here are a few examples of macro decisions that I have put in place for myself:
Check emails throughout the day on days when I am at work. On Saturdays, I check email once in the morning, and set aside 1 hour at most to respond. On Sunday, I don't check email at all.
Late night work events
I will attend at most two late night work events per week. Late night is defined as anything past 7 P.M.
I am ok with having meetings straight through the day, without a specific lunch break. However, I always eat lunch. So, anyone that books at 12-1 meeting with me knows that either we'll both be eating, or I'll be eating.
The number of macro decisions and guidelines you put in place for yourself is up to you. I can promise you that by putting at least a few in place, you will free up your mental capacity. As a result, regardless of how many hours you work, you'll be happier and more content with how you spend your time.