In this guest post, Joeel and Natalie, co-founders of Transformation Academy — a training and coaching company for leaders and entrepreneurs — discuss life design and the changing landscape of work-life balance in 2021 and beyond.
In 2021, it’s time to finally forget the balancing act. First of all, there is no such thing as “work-life balance.” The truth is that priorities ebb and flow throughout life. More importantly, what the concept of balance looks like is completely different for every person.
Balance ≠ Equal
Balance does not mean equal. Splitting our time and energy 50-50 between work life and home life is a meaningless goal that won’t result in the desired outcome of feeling fulfilled and successful in both areas.
Balance = Design
A more meaningful way to approach life is by design. When you design your schedule, career, and home life around your core values, what is important to you, and the responsibilities you face during the phase of life you are in, balance becomes a synchrony of priorities rather than a rigid mandate of arbitrary standards. Once you’re clear what you actually want in your life without regard to others’ judgments, you can go about orchestrating your life circumstances around your goals.
You are the architect of your life, both at home and at work. There may be choices that are hard to make but they are your choices, and no one can make them for you. We can hear some of you arguing back that you don’t have a choice. But, whether or not you want to hear it, the truth is that yes, you do.
Taking Radical Personal Responsibility
The truth is that some industries require stricter work hours and/or more of them. However, even within a restrictive work environment, you still have a choice how you spend the rest of your time. (Plus, if you ultimately decide that the way you want to design your life is different than your current career path allows, you have the option to change it.)
Another truth is that some people have more external responsibilities than others. Different phases of life require different priorities. There is a big difference between the buffet of life design choices for a twenty-something with no children who shares a home with several roommates and a 40-year-old single mother of three. Regardless of your circumstances, you always have choices within them.
The more restrictive your life feels, the more important it is to take radical responsibility for every small decision that you do have influence over.
Never give away your power. Never. The truth is that no matter where you are now, you have the power to dramatically change your circumstances, one small decision at a time.
“Our decisions determine our destiny.”Anthony Robbins
The Added Complication of Working from Home
Whether you’re exploring side hustles in addition to your full-time job, running an at-home business, or recently finding yourself in a remote job or work-from-home position due to a global pandemic, the truth is this:
The work-life balance paradigm becomes even harder to manage when work and home become one.
Anyone who has ever worked from home quickly realizes there is no longer any hope of work and life being balanced. Instead they become enmeshed. It’s hard enough to feel sufficient in both your career and your family roles when you have clearly defined segments of your day and space for both. When everything happens concurrently, you can end up feeling insufficient at everything.
During the COVID pandemic, more people than ever before found themselves working remote jobs, many with the added stress of having their children attempting to continue school at home, too. For many, the options to see their family members more, to skip the commute, and to work in their pajamas were a dream come true.
The Dichotomy of Work Life and Life Design
Others learned how much they value the ability to compartmentalize their lives between work and home, finding it impossible to get work done and be a parent at the same time. Part of the difference in experience of the same circumstances is due to individual differences in personality and preference. But a bigger part of the difference in experience comes down to strategy in life design.
Some people figured out this work-from-home thing better than others. Chances are they’re the same ones who did a better job managing priorities and life design before working from home.
So, what do they do differently?
As entrepreneurs who have been running an at-home business for over a decade and who have worked with thousands of other self-employed and at-home workers, we can tell you there are certain things that all fulfilled, successful people do. These are the pillars and principles of life design.
Life Design Principles
Identify Clear Goals, Values, and Priorities
Fulfilled, successful people know what they want. First and foremost, you absolutely must have clearly defined goals, values, and priorities. If you don’t know what you really want, you won’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and therefore you can’t prioritize or make good decisions. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- If you could design your ideal life (you can), what would “balance” look like to you?
- In what areas of home or work life do you feel you are failing to live up to your own expectations?
- Ultimately, what are your top 5 priorities in life? Rate them in order. (These are your values.)
- What do you need to change (and when) in order to have your life match your design?
- What will be the consequences if you continue to live in this “unbalanced” way?
Leave Work at Work
If you work outside of the home, leave work at work. Fulfilled, successful people do not take work home with them. When they are home, they are fully present with whoever it is they share life with. They do whatever they have to do to segment their life so they can give both their work (at work) and their loved ones the energy and focus they deserve.
Important note: For many people, it is not literally taking work home, instead they carry their troubles at work home with them by continuing to be at work in their mind. Maybe you’ve done this before. There is a big project on the line and you can’t stop talking about it. Or maybe you had a conflict with a co-worker and you keep running through it over and over again in your mind. Do yourself and your family a favor; you just spent 8+ hours at your job, so don’t spend another 4 hours at work in your mind when you’re at home.
Create and Enforce Boundaries
If you work inside the home, it is absolutely essential that you erect physical and energetic boundaries. Fulfilled, successful people know what they need. What this looks like is going to be different for everyone. You are the only one who knows what you need in order to be both an effective worker and an effective partner or parent. Below are suggestions. Choose which ones will help you be at your best and avoid distraction and enmeshment.
- Create a set schedule with certain hours set aside for work and for “home” life. Note that this does not have to be a traditional eight-hour work day, unless this is truly your preference or if your employer requires it.
- Create a specific space that is used exclusively for work. If you have the space, a separate room or office is ideal. If your space is limited, segment off a location to work within a bedroom outside of the main living space, if possible. If you must work in a public room, set up your space in a way that makes it feel like a work-space so you can trigger your mind to know it is work-time when you are in that space. Then, when you’re not working, leave whatever space you are using and conduct your relaxation, eating, socializing, and other activities in a different location.
- Communicate your boundaries clearly with all of those who share your space. If you have certain work hours, consider posting them in the home. Tell all adults and children what your work hours are and clearly express what you need from them in order to be able to focus on working during this time. Once you identify your working location, discuss your goals and needs with household members regarding what is and is not allowed to take place in your working space. Once you communicate your desires, you will need to continue to remind and enforce them.
- Call in supports. In some cases, you will need to work collaboratively with others in order to be successful working from home. This may involve strategizing with other adults in your home to take turns with home-related responsibilities. It may mean hiring a babysitter or inviting a relative to visit a certain times to help care for your children. Again, no one can tell you what you need. However, it is 100% up to you to seek whatever support you need, even if it’s hard.
Structure Non-work Hours
When not within the built-in schedule and priorities that often exist at work, it can be easy to get home and just “go with the flow.” Unfortunately, that flow is almost always directed toward:
- Others’ needs, whims, or dramas
- Whatever catches your attention (like social media and television)
In most cases, people don’t feel “unbalanced” because they don’t have enough time at home or with their loved ones. Rather, they simply make poor use of their time. At work, you have more certainty about what you need to do and what your priorities are. At home, you need to cultivate this certainty about how you should spend your time.
- What would you love to do with your loved ones on a daily or weekly basis while at home?
- What would you love to do for yourself on a daily or weekly basis while at home?
- Are there things you would like to go do? What, where?
- What would your ideal day look like?
- What are your most common time-wasters (things that suck you in and make time pass that aren’t meaningful)?
- What would you rather spend your time doing (refer to answers above)?
- What are you willing to give up in order to live a more fulfilling home life?
- Lastly – put it on a schedule some place you can see it every day.
Most people say they “don’t have time” for the things they want to do but aren’t doing. But, the hard truth is that people make time for the things that are important to them.
Work-life balance may not be possible, but taking responsibility for your own life design certainly is.
Joeel & Nataile are co-founders of Transformation Academy, where they train leading-edge entrepreneurs, leaders and life coaches how to master their mindset and create a purpose-driven business so they can monetize their passion and live life on their terms. Joeel & Natalie have started more than a dozen businesses, including (in chronological order) imports, photography, non-profit teen center, life coaching, t-shirts, magazine, book publishing, professional speaking, conferences and workshops, holistic virtual office center, online directory, life coach training, and an online academy. Joeel is a former psychology professor with a Master’s degree in Counseling and Education is currently completing his dissertation on eudaemonic happiness for his Ph.D. in Psychology. Transformation Academy has trained almost 500,000 coaches from 200+ countries and territories around the world. They are advocates for the democratization of education, making real-world, transformational knowledge and tools accessible to all.
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