I was recently on a peer mentoring call with three other working moms. We all are making things happen in our careers and still trying to focus on family and life in general. Since I am pivoting my focus to more of work-life balance and not only the transition to professional part-time roles, we started talking about what work-life balance really is. At one point, we started talking about whether the more accurate term is work-life balance or life balance.
How do you spend your time?
If you’re like the average professional, you spend a lot of time focused on work. The average American spends 48 hours a week working. If you break that down, we’re talking about spending more than 9 hours 5 days a week working. That’s an 8am-6pm or 9am-7pm day if you take an hour for lunch. Even if you don’t take lunch, it’s still an 8+ hour day. That is a huge part of your day and week.
If you consider that a week is 168 hours, that leaves you with 120 hours to do other things. Let’s say you sleep 8 hours each night (I almost never achieve this but maybe you do). Now we’re down to 64 hours to do other stuff. Morning routine including dropping boys off at school/pre-school and bedtime ritual are another 12 hours in our house (7 days of night time and 5 days of morning), so I’m down to 52. Granted, this might take more time in our house because we have young boys and have to help them get ready and read to them at bedtime, etc. And in that 52 hours which are left, we have things like dinner prep and time to eat as a family, afternoon activities for our young boys, birthday parties to attend for each of our boys’ friends, etc. As you can see it’s a lot to balance, even if you are intentional and try to be efficient with your time.
I recognize that as a professional part-time working mom, I can fold some of these activities into earlier parts of the day. My week looks a bit different than this, so I’m using general ideas since most moms can’t spend time during the week getting things done and must do them on the weekends. And I recognize your day might look a bit different, but you get the idea. You quickly start eating away at the hours in the week because a big chunk – 48 hours – is used up each week without even trying and most of that is during the work week.
Is all time equal?
I share this breakdown for how we use time to show that you’re likely not doing an apples to apples comparison of hours of time and that’s OK. Do we need to do 48 hours of time with family for it to be worthwhile or truly enjoyable? Is 48 hours of non-work time required to offset the 48 hours of work time? Is that what shows balance?
In our house, I can get our young boys to focus for about 30 minutes. And then they’re likely off to the next adventure. That’s enough time to read some books, play a board game, take a short walk, do a bike ride, or build with LEGOs (OK that’s my limit for building with LEGOs, not theirs). They want to move on to the next thing after those 30 minutes. Maybe the next thing is running around as a pair of mischievous brothers or playing independently without a sibling nearby. But they move on because they can’t focus for hours on end. We must change things up a bit and it’s a normal approach for young kids.
And here’s the thing. They aren’t timing the interaction. They aren’t saying. “Mom, you worked for 2 hours, so now I want 2 hours of your time.” At least they aren’t, based on what most people tell me and on my own experience. They simply want to do something fun, engaging, interesting, different, etc.
Does energy level match time allotted?
With that in mind, in my day-to-day I build in time to have bursts of energy and effort to match their needs when they’re home from school. And, as they grow up, they will likely have fewer moments or bursts of high levels of energy needed from mommy and daddy because of homework, practice for activities, or taking time with friends, etc.
Vacation shows yet another layer of this. Vacation is a different situation and that often allows us to use a different type of energy. If you think about vacation time, it’s often intense in whatever the activity is. Now, that activity might be hanging out a beach for your vacation, but it’s still a focused amount of time doing that. Our family usually does some form of adventuring when we travel, so we have focused adventure time. We do a lot of it in a few days to make the most of our trip and our unusual surroundings. We see things, do things, eat things we don’t usually have access to. And then we go back to our usual rhythm when we return home. It’s enough bursts of energy and time together to keep everyone happy for a long period — weeks or months. I don’t honestly think we could sustain the vacation type of energy day-to-day with kids. Could you?
To put it another way, it’s not about how long, but about the quality of the time. And short amounts of quality time offset longer moments of quantity. So, they are equal but not because it’s literally the same about of time. It’s equal because of the enjoyment, satisfaction, and overall impact of one versus the longer hours of the other.
Can layering help?
Are there ways to make the most of our time to get to more quality moments or bursts of focused time? As moms we multitask regularly to get more done. I have read over and over that multi-tasking actually doesn’t help you get things done because you can’t focus your attention on anything. My response is that it depends on what the tasks are. Some tasks are low level of mental energy but are important. Think prepping food, for example. Sure you might have to read a recipe, but that doesn’t generally require huge amounts of brain power the whole time and I usually avoid the recipes that do. 😉
I prefer the concept of layering, which is similar to multitasking but a whole lot more intentional. For example, you can do a walking meeting that combines exercise and meetings. Or, staying on the topic of exercise, what if you put your child in his or her stroller and another mom does the same so that you can take a walk together. Exercise plus bonding with a friend. I work out and listen to podcasts or audio books all the time. Since I have my phone, I can jot down notes as necessary.
How about washing dishes, folding laundry, or meal prep while you listen to a podcast or audio book? I also often listen to books or podcasts in my car. And, let’s be honest, as moms we can spend loads of time in the car, some of it without kids. It can be the perfect time to learn something new or brush up on your skills.
Not into audio books or podcasts? What if you and a friend both meal prepped together in one of your kitchens while catching up? You could do a working playdate or networking playdate so that you don’t take time away from family fun or work time and have a productive moment with a friend or new contact.
Does it matter what you call it?
Whether you want to call it work-life balance or life balance, make sure you bring this concept into your approach to managing all the things. You want to make the most of moments and make them count; you want them to be quality time without the need to keep track of hours. Enjoy the moments that present themselves. There will certainly be seasons where one area of your life (e.g., work, family, health, etc.) gets more of your attention but you do want to balance all the things in the long run. It will keep you sane and can enable you to find more happiness and satisfaction in all things long-term. Look at balance over the long-term because it’s hard to balance it all every day or even every week.
Tips for balance:
- Be intentional with your time. Spend time the way YOU need to and don’t only focus on your family or professional needs. Proactively use your time instead of reacting to your work and home environments.
- Be present. Love the one you’re with in that moment. Whether your boss, your team, your client, your kids, friends, potential new members of your tribe, your significant other, etc. focus on them. Give them your full attention in that moment. The other stuff can wait. And if it can’t, focus on it and get it done. Or have smaller moments of focused attention. Even really short moments can be quality moments.
- Take time for self-care. It’s hard to try to achieve any kind of work-life balance or life balance if you don’t fill up your cup first.
- Have a supportive tribe. Make sure those around you are supporting and not hindering your balance goals and efforts.
- Be flexible. Understand how you need to divide your time at work and non-work That said, be open to making changes, big or small, based on priorities changing in a day, week, or season. Be at piece with those changing priorities. Sometimes they will be driven by work and other times, the changes come from personal shifts. Both sides of the coin are equally important.
What are your thoughts on work-life balance or life balance? Does one or the other resonate with you? Why do you think that is? Whether you use the concept of work-life balance or life balance, how do you manage at all the things?