I like busy. I want balance. Help?

image credit: https://tdokc.org/event-1980834

Ah, soccer season. We have been gearing up with practice for the last two weeks, so we knew it was on the horizon, but on Saturday it finally arrived. It wasn’t until halftime, refereeing a U6 girls game, that I realized my Saturdays are booked for the next ten weeks.

Busy-ness & Balance

Since then I’ve been thinking about the myth of work-life balance – a fancy turn of phrase, that I now believe to be complete and utter poppycock

As it turns out, work and life are far less compartmentalized than we would like to think. It takes more than “engaging” and “unplugging” to become present with the right things at the right time - especially in our multi-screen-worlds.

I am convinced that some of us are hard-wired for busy-ness. My job keeps me busy. Side projects keep me busy. My family keeps me busy. Volunteering keeps me busy. And all this busy-ness is energizing. For others, this is draining, but for me – remove too much from the plate and I get bored.

For my current life season, being wired this way allows me to date my wife, engage my kids, volunteer at church, pursue work wholeheartedly, wrap up PhD studies, serve on several non-profit boards, and even sneak in some time for surf.

For some, the “work-life problem” may not be a “busy-ness problem.”

This is good news. Especially if you look at everything on your plate and realize you can’t really set anything done right now (or don't want to let go).

Our culture – perhaps modernity – trains us to embrace productivity, hell-bent on efficiency and production. Too often, we presume being busy makes us productive, but productivity has more to do with effectiveness than efficiency.

So what is work-life balance about?

Identity & Trajectory

What direction do you take small talk? Is it about what you do or who you are? Do you hang your identity on the collection of tasks that make up each day or do you identify yourself with the bigger vision those tasks are intimately connected too?

We already have routines - patterns in our life that move us toward “unconscious doing.” If busy-ness causes you to forget what you really what your life to be about, you need to establish new behaviors – counter-rhythms – that remind you who you are and where you are going.

Want to establish a pattern that moves you toward balance? 

Stop focusing on work-life balance. Instead,

  • Reflect on who you are and where you are going.

  • Start with your identity. Keep your foundations front and center, empowering you to make decisions that align with who you are.

  • Make sure you know your trajectory. Explicitly clarify your personal and work goals and keep them top of mind.

Need help getting started? Here are two practices:

1. Schedule time to think about your personal core values.

Make a list of your top 5, and make it as specific as possible. Surfacing these values will help ground you – reminding you of the why for your work, you priorities. Place the list somewhere you can reference it often. I keep a similar list by my bedside table to read each morning and evening. I actually read it most days, and it grounds me.

2. Set a big, long-range goal that is connected to your core values.

What is one thing you’d like to be true in 10 years? Working backwards from that goal, what needs to happen in five years to be on pace? What about 3 years? 1 year? 6 months? 1 month? Today? Trajectory is more than just the target, it’s the line that gets you there. Think archery - the more precise your trajectory, the better your chance of hitting the target.

So, if soccer season is hitting you like it hit us, carve out some time to plan for good busy-ness. Reflect on who you are and where you are going. It will bring perspective and remind you why you work so hard for so many.


© 2013 by A.R.MARSHALL, PhD