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Why the Key to Work-Life Balance Could Be Purposeful Imbalance

Executive Summary

Work-life balance is a spectrum. Similar to your heart, it contracts in some phases and expands in others depending on the rate with which your body needs oxygen-rich blood.

  • Bringing your personal and professional life into harmony is less about managing your time and more about making small adjustments.
  • The adjustments you make should serve the greater goal you are trying to achieve: more time to spend with family, train for a marathon, visit with friends, dedicate to date nights with your significant other, etc.
  • When you view your work and personal life in the grand scheme instead of in the moment, you can strive towards creating sustainable flow in your schedule.

Famed tightrope walker Tino Wallenda and his family, the Flying Wallendas, have been walking on high wires without nets for nearly a century. When asked how he maintains balance on a wire with nothing but earth beneath him, Tino gently corrects the assumption: “The reality is that you are never actually balanced; you are constantly making small adjustments—moving back and forth—and it’s those constant movements that keep you on the wire. The truth is, if you stand still, you fall.”

The same is true of harmonizing our personal and professional worlds. You are never actually balanced, nor should you try to be. To ensure a more harmonious existence, you must keep yourself moving—carefully teetering and tottering between work and life activities. Like a tightrope walker, you must regularly make adjustments back and forth to keep yourself standing. The key is being purposeful, having sound reasons for everything you do.

Start with a clear objective in mind. What, specifically, do you want your team to learn or accomplish? Think about it.

Maintain Work-Life Balance Through Adjustments 

Many of these purposeful adjustments are small and require mere acts of personal discipline. For example:

  • Leaving work at a set time each day
  • Carving out thirty minutes every other day for a jog
  • Reserving one lunch a week for connecting with friends

Occasionally, the adjustments are bigger and require greater sacrifice. For example:

  • Finding a new job with a shorter commute
  • Cutting back to part time to be a better parent
  • Taking a new position within your company in exchange for a more flexible schedule

The point is that both big and small adjustments are inevitably necessary to maintain work/life harmony. Instead of aiming for equitable division of your work/life time, strive for purposeful give-and-take. Give more time to work this week since that report is due on Friday, in return

for more time for your personal life next week. Or, give more time to your personal life during the next two months—to be with your new baby—in return for more time for work during the following months.

Eventually the season will change, and you will return to some of the things you were forgoing. But something else will always come up. This is the natural flow of harmonious living: giving and taking, back and forth between personal and professional activities. Thus, purposeful imbalance—not perfect balance—is the only way you can achieve a gratifying work life without decimating your personal life, and a gratifying personal life without abandoning your career aspirations.

Imbalance Is Natural—The Key Is to Make It Purposeful

Accepting imbalance as a natural part of your life will give you guilt-free license to focus on certain pressing needs. But you can’t guess blindly which needs are most important. You must have a plan for zeroing in on the right needs, or you’ll be tempted to use your new mind-set as a cop-out for workaholism, apathy, or indecision. An effective plan includes adopting new practices that allow you to be purposeful about your choices so that you never suffer the consequences of leaning too far in one direction.

Think of purposeful imbalance this way: if you’re on a high wire and you lean one way, you can’t continue leaning or you’ll fall from the wire. Like the Flying Wallendas, you have to know when to lean back the other way . . . and then back the other way . . . and so on, all the while progressing across the wire.

Adapted with permission from Life on the Wire by Todd Duncan, copyright Todd Duncan.

Bring It Home

Have you ever had one of those weeks? The type of week where your car breaks down, the babysitter calls in sick, and you spill coffee on your new pair of white pants? You were so busy, and albeit, flustered that you had to push back the deadline on your quarterly report. You felt defeated, guilty, and disparaged. Maybe you had a different kind of week. The kind where you nailed every deadline, had lunch with a former coworker, and made it to the track three times for your afternoon jog. Comment below with the small and big adjustments you have made to achieve work-life balance no matter what type of week you had.

Todd Duncan

For more than 20 years, Todd Duncan has earned a transformative reputation worldwide as a top trainer, motivator and personal coach for business professionals in the sales, mortgage, real estate and financial services industries. Todd's influence in the peak performance world impacts more than 250,000 people annually across the globe, and he has personally coached some of the world's top producing sales professionals.

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