Why We Can’t Do It All and How to Deal With That

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If you struggle to balance work, family, and social commitments, consider this: Many of the conventions around work that exist today were not designed for life as it exists today. Let’s start with a quick recap of the last 100 years or so: The Industrial Revolution introduced the concept of a timed working day. This ultimately became the 40-hour work week we know today (a victory for exhausted factory workers that is still celebrated on 1 May in many countries around the world).

Fast forward to the post-World War II era and the concept of the man as the main breadwinner became established. Unmarried women could be employed in lesser occupations regarded as “women’s work” but were often let go when they got married or became pregnant, as it was believed their primary responsibilities lay in the home.

Against this backdrop, work as we know it evolved, bringing with it the challenge of trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance. There are four areas where a work/life balance has become difficult to maintain, however, Duncan Woods, Human Performance Coach and executive coaching consultant to digital wellbeing platform, soSerene, provides insights as to how we can look at getting the balance back.

Tradition vs Modern Life

Many of the values and traditions that modern workers take for granted evolved at a time when adults were expected to be in heterosexual marriages in which responsibilities were divided. Historically, there was little gender balance – during the working week anyway – as one parent took care of all the family and home responsibilities, and the other brought home the pay cheque, simple as that.

Today, the picture is rather different. Single-parent households are common and even where there are two partners, most households need multiple income streams. However, Woods still sees many of his female clients doing the child-rearing. Female executives who are mothers are still stretched a lot and of all the groups [that Woods works with], they probably need the most support. Extreme expectations placed on them – often by themselves – persist. I think dads have stepped up their support a lot, but they still have plenty of ‘house training’ to do.

We need to reassess what constitutes “work” and divvy up the responsibilities more equitably. Previously the field of play was clear, but ‘work’ is no longer demarcated as leaving home with a packed lunch to clock into nine-to-five. It has all become a bit of a blend. The partner who does the online grocery shopping is as important to a functioning family unit as the partner who is making the big moonshot sales pitch (and is often the same person).

Thinking Beyond Hustle Culture

One good thing to have come out of the pandemic is an increased focus on work/life balance, which had already been emerging as an antidote to hustle culture, but gained traction as office workers rediscovered the simple pleasure of spending more time with their families.    

The physical balance seems to have improved as people are working from home more and attending more of their kids’ concerts and sports games, which is wonderful. However, we are facing a new challenge from an attention perspective, which is the next frontier to conquer. The struggle is real because digital integration has brought work into every physical environment we enter, making it very challenging to manage ourselves in an environment without clear rules and boundaries.

Erecting guardrails at several key points in the day to entrench good habits, and these should include a ritual around how the day starts, mental and physical pauses during the day, and ending the day in a way that brings closure.

Creating an Environment for Success

We try to do everything, and in the end, we’re stretched so thin that nothing gets done. We have to be very careful to set ourselves up to succeed and thrive, rather than get into a cycle of struggle and feel like failures. We all have a legitimate right to thrive rather than just endure life.

To break the cycle of constantly striving for success without taking care of your personal life, it’s important to define what success and failure mean to you as a whole. For instance, if you are highly successful at work but your relationships are falling apart, you may not truly feel successful. Once you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, it becomes easier to work towards it.

It’s crucial to prioritize your well-being and make it a part of your personal “key performance areas”. Depending on your preferences, this could be spending quality time with a book, watching sports, or engaging in physical activities. Remember that your well-being is a fundamental aspect of your rescue plan, and you should make an effort to take care of it.

Time Is Wellbeing

The people who seem to have the best balance in their lives are those who value their time. This means they are committed to achieving quality work while also making time for the things that matter to them. It’s important to determine where your non-negotiable priorities lie and ensure that you make time, space, and attention available for those things.

It’s crucial not to compromise on non-negotiables. Developing the skill of delivering a “discerning NO” is essential to high performance. This means valuing your skills, time, and energy so that everyone gets the best version of you, not a diluted version. When we value the best version of ourselves, everyone benefits. Conversely, when we allow a lesser version of ourselves to show up, everyone loses.

Visit www.soserene.com for further information.