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Don’t get fixated on work-life balance

Nothing of consequence can be attained without giving up on something

Gulf News

Unless you’re in pursuit of being average — an average employee, average spouse or average parent with an average social life — then give up on the notion of work-life balance. Unfortunately for the proponents of balance, achieving success requires the exact opposite.

“My life is completely out of balance,” moaned the founder of a rapidly growing start-up. “Great!” I replied. If it weren’t, he wouldn’t be seeing his dream become a reality.

His balance became lopsided when he prioritised building a business over a dazzling social life and other commitments. He made the choice to defy popular thinking and allocated the bulk of his time to his business, creating a necessary imbalance in the process.

Since there is a limited number of minutes in the day — 1,440 to be precise — and a restricted amount of space in your mind, something must give. That is, unless you want to spend an average amount of time in each of the four quadrants of life — work, home, self and social — resulting in a run-of-the-mill outcome in each.

The question is: Are you consciously choosing how you use your time, or are you allowing life to choose it for you?

The popular concept of work-life balance dictates that we must find an equilibrium between work (career and ambition) on one end of the scale, and lifestyle (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation) on the other. Such a balance is only achieved when the beam is perfectly straight.

The difficulty is that the ideal you’ve been taught is designed by somebody else based upon what’s important to others.

Trying to live up to the ideal balance, as prominent culture suggests you should, is a cause of stress, frustration and guilt. But, why should you allow somebody else to prescribe what’s right for you?

The best avenue to a happy, fulfilling life may not be characterised by balance. Instead, being completely out of balance according to the ideal standard may be just what you need. There is no universally correct mix.

I’ve found that the happiest and most successful people aren’t in pursuit of balance. They make specific choices.

Rather than obsessing about that elusive equilibrium, I prefer to focus on the right mix between the quadrants of life.

Think of your life like an equaliser that is used in a recording studio. When the faders are aligned, the sound is usually bland and flat. But when you adjust the faders you’re able to amplify your distinct sound.

Each of the quadrants is a fader. If you have a professional ambition, then you’ll need to push that fader up while pulling the others back. As the founder of the start-up discovered, something had to give if he was going to realise his dream. So, he chose to pull back on his social life.

If your hobby — golf, tennis, music — is your priority, then you may have to pull back on the work fader. There isn’t a correct formula, it’s up to you.

Focus on what you feel is most important and start cutting out the time traps that keep you from realising your dreams.

Highly successful people know what they value in life. Sure, their professional achievement ranks at the top of their list, but they have space up there for other priorities too, such as family time, exercise or giving back. What’s more, they consciously allocate their precious minutes to each area they value.

They mark their priorities on a calendar and stick to the schedule. Then, they say no to almost everything else. If it doesn’t contribute to what they want to achieve, they cut it out.

They’re rather selfish with their time. Every “yes” is actually a “no” to something else.

Say no to everything outside of your goal areas. Warren Buffett once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

If you’re not dying to say yes, then say no. Remember, you only have 1,440 minutes in every day. Don’t give your minutes away easily.

Make the choices that are best for you. And don’t feel guilty about it.

— The writer is a CEO coach and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at tsw@tommyweir.com

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