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Why work-life balance is an outdated myth

Date

Performance Matters

Andrew May is a performance coach who has spent the past 15 years working with elite sportspeople.

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You can have it all, but you need to integrate rather than separate.

You can have it all, but you need to integrate rather than separate. Photo: iStock

The term ‘work-life balance’ is a myth and sets many people up for failure. They either feel like their lives aren’t balanced, or they don’t have an understanding of what actually balance is.

Remember that set of scales so often used to depict work-life balance, with work balancing on one side and life tenuously on the other? Using these scales illustrates that if work is going really well, then life must tip over, and if your life is going swimmingly, then work must suffer as a result. According to statistics:

  • Seven out of eight Australian employees feel life is
 becoming more frantic
  • Sixty-eight per cent of Australian fathers feel felt they don’t spend enough time with their children. Sixty per cent attribute this to “barriers in the workplace” 
(such as expectations of long working hours and inflexibility).
  • Australians, on average, spend 50 hours a week at work – and that’s not taking into account the amount of time we spend staring at the smartphone, doing sneaky emails or making work calls after hours.

To fix the problem, we need to get our head s around six common myths and challenge our thinking to open up entirely new ways of approaching the way we work.

Myth 1: You can compartmentalise your life into 8-8-8

The old triple-8 notion - where the academics told us we are meant to spend eight hours working, eight hours sleeping and eight hours on recreational and social pursuits - is a thing of the past. Most people work a lot more than an eight-hour day to pay for things like mortgages, or just affording to live in some of our large cities. Try talking to anyone with young children about the eight-hour sleep thing and they’ll just laugh in your face. And who on earth has eight hours a day for recreation and socialising? Where on earth do these people live, and who does their housework? Busted.

Myth 2: You should be polite and respond to every request

Most people are fundamentally good people, and this is one of the big problems. Before technology literally invaded our lives, we were all taught to return every phone call, write back to every person who wrote to us, and respond to every task that came across our desks. But with the explosion of technology, social media, overloaded inboxes and information obesity, responding to every request or distraction is a good way to kill off daily productivity. Busted.

Myth 3: Technology will give us more leisure time

Technology was hailed as our saviour. All of the new inventions hitting the workforce including fax machines (remember them?), photocopiers, personal computers, smart phones and wireless applications were purportedly going to ensure we got more work done and had more leisure time. The reality is that the latest batch of digital devices keeps us connected 24/7, rendering us able and willing to work longer hours than ever before. Busted.

Myth 4: Hours worked equals productivity

This myth annoys me more than all the rest: the notion that working an 11 or 12-hour day means you are productive. Sure, there will be some days where you need to put in extra time to finish a project, but if you’re working excessive hours day in and day out, then something is clearly wrong. Most people who think hours worked equals productivity are stripped right back to reality when we do a time audit on their daily output. Eliminate 80 per cent of the emails which are a complete waste of time, subtract the pointless meetings that waste hours on end, then get rid of the dozens of daily distractions, and you’re typically left with a few hours, at most, of productive work. Improved focus + less distractions + managing energy levels = productivity. Busted.

Myth 5: Great managers are available 24/7

This is a great philosophy to wear you down completely. Many of us were taught the outdated mantra that to be a great manager, employee, sales rep etc. required you to be available to staff and potential clients around the clock. You know, the old ‘open door’ policy. Pardon the French, but what a load of bollocks. If your systems, succession plan and customer service levels are that poor that you have to be available for every potential phone call or walk-in, what hope have you got of building a sustainable business? Work in periods where you are available, and then schedule time where you take yourself off the grid and remove all distractions and be super-productive. Provide clear expectations about when you are and aren’t available to avoid confrontation around this. Busted.

Myth 6: You should follow the leader

This one often gets me into trouble, but I’m sticking to it. So many companies espouse a high-performance culture (which, by the way, is one of the most overused phrases in the corporate world), yet so many organisational leaders exhibit low-performance behaviour patterns. Just because someone’s card says CEO or senior manager, doesn’t necessarily mean they are a great role model in the area of productivity, or having a life outside of work. Busted.

The solution? Work-life integration

Work-life integration is a new way of thinking where you understand it’s you who ultimately has control over the majority of choices you make. For some people this may involve working extra hard for a couple of years in order to get ahead financially, or to work your way into a different role or occupation.

The flip side is that you also need to take regular breaks and build in periods of restoration and renewal. So while the archaic 8-8-8 model is thrown out the window, it is still imperative to carve out some time to recharge and keep burnout at bay. It is more about making a conscious choice on the type of professional and personal life you want to live, taking the appropriate steps to achieve this, and keeping a regular check on where you are heading.

If most people were to spend only one-tenth of the time and energy they spend planning their business life on their personal life, they would get a totally different result and have a much greater chance of leading a rich and contented life.

Take some time to write down the type of life you want to live – right through to where you live, where you go on holidays and what you do to relax and unwind.

The process of integrating work and life together - rather than trying to have them exist in isolation - boosts your productivity and output at work and will give you a lot more motivation and opportunity to spend time with friends and family, as well as more time to engage in the activities you love.

Getting the mix right is really hard and requires constant time and effort. But trust me, if you work at it, I guarantee you can have a great career and an amazing life as well.

What's your solution to a happy blend between work and life?

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73 comments so far

  • Sydney's north shore is an interesting case study.

    In the 60s, it was full of leisure. Married people went to ballroom dancing on winter evenings, played tennis on summer evenings, played bridge etc. It took years and multiple nominations to get into a golf club. Back then the CBD was dead at 5:30pm as the last of the office workers left.

    Fast forward 50 years and despite growing population, the golf clubs on Sydney's North Shore are begging not just for members but casual golfers. You can join over the phone. The tennis, the bridge, the dancing are all dead. Leisure is dead. North shore residents go to work at 7:30am on the train over the bridge to Sydney and the lucky ones are filtering back between 6:30 and 7:30pm.

    Microwave some garbage from Coles, pay some bills, return a couple of phone calls, supervise 30 mins of kids homework, watch 60mins of TV and then to bed for a solid 6 hours sleep.

    Quality of life has dropped off a cliff on Sydney's north shore.

    Commenter
    mike
    Date and time
    August 14, 2014, 2:20PM
    • "Quality of life has dropped off a cliff on Sydney's north shore."

      I am weeping tears of blood for you. Truly.

      Commenter
      EndyYardLimits
      Location
      Western Suburbs
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 2:45PM
    • I forgot the North Shore is the only place in Sydney.

      Commenter
      Nik
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 3:14PM
    • I think the reason is because we have an economy and society based on money!

      Psychologically, If you ask people what would they do if you can do something without money and yet they don't have an answer for it. You know their minds are empty.

      Well convenience trump thoughts most of the time.

      Commenter
      Gerson
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 3:39PM
    • Mike,

      Ignore the snarkers. You're right. My father still asks me now and then when I have one of these mythical "rostered days off" that he used to get once a month in the 80s and 90s. You know, back when you could also afford a house on a quarter-acre block to raise your family in, on a single income. Now my husband and I (both full time professionals) are informed that we would be "selfish" to expect more than a unit for less than a million dollars.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 3:54PM
    • I think you'll find that everywhere else too, but instead of Golf clubs you can put in a Leagues clubs or somesuch other club. We also seem to want more so if you want more you need more money and that means more work. Maybe the hippies were right after all.

      Commenter
      Andrew
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 4:02PM
    • I hear you Mike, however that is only one example and a good one. There are innumerable examples of different walks of life where this is starkly apparent. I believe it is a complex issue with single areas that are also quite simple. For example the fact that it once took a single income family 20-30 years to pay off a mortgage and raise a few kids and now many couples would find it daunting if not impossible to pay off their mortgage on 1 income and will take 20 years even with two incomes. The artificially constructed negative gearing via property situation is at the core of this particular enslavement.

      Commenter
      eyeswideopen
      Location
      earth
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 4:10PM
    • This is what Dick Smith (legend) is talking about constantly. If we allow massive immigration we end up with two things. 1. The ability to make loads of money fast 2. the average persons quality of life decreases.

      Look at all the good countries with high living standards (the ones the left constantly reference in question time when comparing our gov services) and you will notice they have medium populations around 5 to 10 million, less multiculturalism and high taxes, when you have many differing opinions you raise less tax as people dont want their taxes funding things they dont believe in.

      We need to limit Australia's population to 25 million and show the world how to do sustainability.

      Commenter
      awesomeo
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 4:46PM
    • awesomeo, what are you talking about? This has nothing to do with the size of the country or the different cultures or immigration. Try New York or London or Tokyo or HK - all have the same problems, same 24hr work day, same technology or stress.

      By high living standards I presume you mean Scandinavia, rather than these cities which also have high living standards, at times low tax, sometimes high tax, some lots of multiculturalism, some very litte.

      Commenter
      asdf
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 5:04PM
    • EndyYardLimits, it's because of dumb replies like yours that so many working people are trapped in the work no life cycle. We are all in this no matter where we live. North Shore or western suburbs. A more thoughtful response might be to challenge so many of the myths we are fed about being productive in the workforce. Since applying much of the points covered in Andrew's article I have become far more productive in my work and am enjoying my life more. Because it certainly gets harder as you get older if you don't start working smart.

      Commenter
      ICSBSS
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 5:30PM

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