Work-life balance: Most people fail to achieve it. Science agrees. Data from a new LinkedIn survey shows that 70 percent of respondents feel their biggest driver of stress is a lack of work-life balance.
If you're one of those people, why don't you feel your "work" and your "life" are in balance?
One problem lies in how you do the math. Spend eight hours at work? Then you must need eight hours of "me" time. It's natural to assume work and life are only in balance if you spend the same number of hours on work as you do on "life."
But that's impossible. You work more than eight hours a day. You sleep at least seven hours a day. (If you don't, you should.) Then there's the time you spend commuting, taking care of your family, exercising (if you don't, you should), and what's left?
Maybe an hour. Maybe two.
Which means your work and life will never balance.
Which means you need to do a different kind of math.
The key is to stop focusing on the number of hours you have to spend on "life," and start focusing on the quality of those hours.
That's the only way to make the work-life balance math work.
The Long-Term Math
If you're working 12 to 14 hours a day for days on end to start a business, or to try to launch a career, or to simply keep your head above water at work, for weeks on end you may feel you have almost no time for "life." Achieving anything resembling a reasonable work-life balance is nearly impossible.
That means you're forced to put off -- or severely limit -- the amount of time you get to spend on other things that are important to you. Family, friends, hobbies, personal goals, whatever has meaning to you.
Maybe you love surfing. You love the ocean. You love feeling unplugged from everyday life. You love challenging yourself. You love the camaraderie and the atmosphere and the sense of community. You simply love it.
And when you do finally get to go surfing?
The quality of the experience far outweighs the quantity of hours involved enjoying the experience. One weekend at the beach is like spending dozens of evenings on the couch passively enjoying "me time."
In much the same way that planning a vacation can make people as happy as actually taking that vacation, looking forward to your next surfing trip can keep you going during the darker days of work-life imbalance.
Of course, that means you actually have to plan for that trip. Or plan for a family getaway. Or plan to do whatever is important to you. Wishing and hoping gets you nowhere. Daydreaming about doing something you love to do will only help balance the work-life scales if you know how and when you will actually get to do what you love to do.
So make a plan.
The Short-Term Math
Then focus on the few hours you do have available every day. Again, the key is to focus on the quality of the time you spend on "life," not the quantity.
Don't watch your kids play; play with them. That will leave you feeling much more balanced -- because the time you spent will matter.
Don't go to the gym and slog through a treadmill workout. Knock out a difficult workout designed to help you achieve a fitness goal. That will leave you feeling much more balanced -- because the time you spent will matter.
Don't unwind in front of the TV by settling for the "best" out of a bunch of terrible options. Plan ahead so you can watch something you really want to watch. Keep a list. Know ahead of time what you will watch if you get the chance.
You'll enjoy the experience a lot more -- and you'll feel like the time you spent watching TV actually mattered.
Be intentional about your "life" time. Be intentional about your "me" time. Make every hour you get to spend on "life" count.
The Purpose Math
Seventy percent of respondents to the LinkedIn survey said work-life balance was their biggest stress -- followed closely, at 64 percent, by a lack of purpose and direction.
Maybe you feel a lack of purpose at work. You may not be able to immediately change that. But you can immediately gain a sense of purpose outside of work.
Pick something you want to do or that you want to achieve or that you want to be. Actively work toward it. Even if only for a few minutes a day.
Not only will you enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with progressing toward a goal, you'll also feel better about yourself.
And you'll feel your life has a broader direction and meaning, which will make you feel much better about your work-life balance.
Plan for bigger experiences. Plan for everyday experiences. Plan to add greater purpose and direction to your life. Add intention to everything you do. Focus on quality, not quantity, and use your "life" time in ways that leave you feeling happier, more fulfilled.
That's the only way to achieve a sense of work-life balance.
And it is the best way to live.