I have been challenged with a particular phrase. We have all used it at one time or another. A lot of people talk about it, and you have probably overheard it on more than one occasion. If you were to Google this particular phrase, you would find countless pictures and illustrations of it.
Articles, books and blogs have been dedicated to it. The phrase I am talking about is…
When I Googled the phrase, the most common illustration I saw was a picture of a scale with the word “Work” on one side and the word “Life” on the other. Just like the picture above.
However, as I have thought through the idea of work-life balance I have some questions. In fact, I flat out disagree with what the picture above is communicating. Let me first start with a couple of definitions of the word “balance.”
As a verb, “balance” means “to bring to or hold in equilibrium; to balance a book on ones head”1 If you have ever balanced a broom or long stick in your hand, watched an elephant in the circus balance on a ball, or a tightrope walker on a line, or a gymnast performing a routine on the balance beam, then you have observed this definition of balance. Here are some examples.
As a noun, “balance” is “an instrument for determining weight, typically by the equilibrium of a bar with a fulcrum at the center, from each end of which is suspended a scale or pan, one holding an object of known weight, and the other holding the object to be weighed.”2 This definition of balance may be a bit harder to understand since we rarely use scales like this to weigh anything today.
A balance scale uses a horizontal arm known as a beam attached to a fulcrum at the midpoint of the beam. There is a pan that hangs from each end of the beam (Like the picture below) When objects of equal weight are placed into each pan, the scale will balance. If one item is heavier than the other, it will tilt to that side.
A scale like this was primarily used to compare two different weights and used a standard weight on one side with the unknown weight on the other. For example, if you wanted a pound of flour, then the owner of the flour would put a standard one-pound weight on one end of the balance and then scoop flour and add it to the other side of the scale until equilibrium––one pound of flour had been measured out. A standard weight on one side and an equal weight on the other and balance was achieved.
Here is the million dollar question: Which definition of balance is best applied to life balance? I suggest the definition for the noun, and here’s why. “Balance” defined as a verb is not sustainable.
You can’t get an elephant to balance on top of a ball for very long, and even the best gymnast in the country will eventually fall off the beam during a routine. “Balance” defined as a noun is sustainable; we just need to find a standard to place on one side of the scale. So the question is, “What is the standard for balancing life?” Here is the answer…TIME!
Think about it. Each one of us has 24 hours in our day, and we each have seven days in a week. Time is our standard when it comes to life balance. What we place on the other side of the balance scale depends on several things: our age, season of life, roles and responsibilities. These all vary from person to person and family to family, but the bottom line is you only have 24 hours to get it all done. If you put too much on one side of the scale, you will be out of balance. Likewise, if you don’t put enough on the scale, you will be out of balance. One extreme leads to burnout and the other to laziness. The goal is balance.
When we say “work-life” balance and put work on one side of the scale and life on the other, we are saying that either work is the standard and we must balance everything to work, or life is the standard and we must balance work to it. I think we need a paradigm shift. I think we need to change the phrase and let it affect our thinking. We need to move from work-life balance to life-time balance. After all, work is a subset of life, isn’t it? Yes, work is a big part of life, but it’s still a part of life; it is not life. Family is a part of life; hobbies, friends, extended family, sports, working out, eating, sleeping––all are subsets of life with the standard of measure being time.
If time is our standard, then we need to be aware of what we are putting on the scale for every one of the 24 hours in each day. If you have a family with three children and work a full-time job, your pan is almost full. Let’s say it is full! Let’s say you are working eight hours a day and, in addition, maybe a little overtime when and where you can. Well, if that’s true, the scale may start to tip out of balance. To bring life back into balance with your available time, you must either remove something from the life side or put more time on the other.
Knowing you can’t get more time, you will be forced to wrestle with what gets removed from the other side.
If we had to physically reach into that pan on the life side and remove one thing in order to bring balance to the time side, it would force us to think twice about what we selected. I don’t think anybody would reach in and remove one of their children for a week or a day. We would all reach in and remove a work component. However, since we don’t view work-life balance as time-life balance, it makes it easier to simply keep working.
So, what's the "one step" to finding work-life balance, as the title suggests? The one step is to change our thinking from work-life balance to time-life balance!
1. How are you doing with Life - Time balance?
2. What do you need to remove from the “Life” side of the scale in order to be balanced?