The Myth Of Work Life Balance

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This is the time of year when individuals (people like you and I) start thinking more about work/life balance.

Don’t do it. There is no such thing as work/life balance. By even saying there is such balance, you’re making an internal agreement that work is not a part of a healthy life, and I just don’t buy it. Like you, I put a good chunk of my waking hours against the work I do. I can’t accept that it doesn’t constitute an important and real part of my life. In the end, I’m not looking for work/life balance… I’m looking for life balance.

What does life balance look like?

Balance in your life falls into three main categories:

  1. Personal. Making time to build solid relationships with your family friends and peers. Think of The Beatles: "The love you take is equal to the love you make" (hat-tip to Yosi for reminding of that lyric yesterday). Without a healthy family and friend social structure there will be nothing but loneliness. Human beings don’t thrive on loneliness… no matter what someone who is lonely tries to tell/sell you. Your personal health also falls into this category (and I’m not just talking about grabbing a workout a couple of times a week). Think about what you’re doing to develop and nurture your mind, body and spirit (even if it sounds hokey to you).
  2. Business. Ensuring that you’re doing the work you were meant to do. That the work you do (day in and day out) is your art. So, when someone says, "it’s nothing personal, it’s just business," you can proudly respond, "I spend a good chunk of my life doing business and I take it very personally!" I just saw this tweet via Rahaf Harfoush on Twitter: "@brandcowboy: You’ll always do better work for people you care about, and you’ll lose your soul taking money from people you don’t." If you’re struggling with this, please read Seth Godin‘s book, Linchpin, over your holiday break and make some hard decisions about your future.
  3. Community. Simply put: you can’t have a wealthy business and a healthy family if you’re in a weak community. The only way your community will be strong is if you contribute to it actively and regularly. A strong business and a strong social life comes from a strong community. Helping others who are less fortunate or by contributing to groups and associations who are making change in your community is critical to life balance.

Life balance is a three-legged stool.

Just like a stool, if you remove one of the legs or when one is shorter than another, everything comes crashing down. Figure out ways to find true balance without sacrificing where you’re at, where you’re looking to go and your plans to get there. Make sure that your goals (short-term and long-term) include tactics around personal, business and community.

Make rules.

If you don’t have rules about your life balance, all is (and will be) lost. Don’t have guidelines. Make rules… and don’t break them. Here are just some of my life balance rules (in no particular order):

  1. Family first. Period. No exceptions. Friends next. Everything else after that.
  2. Go to bed when I’m tired.
  3. Wake up without an alarm.
  4. Don’t stress over sleep. My body will sleep when it needs to.
  5. Constantly be reading (more on that here: The Most Important Thing You Can Do…).
  6. Creativity and great ideas do not keep office hours. Write as much as possible – especially when the mood hits.
  7. I manage my technology. I do not let technology manage me. An example of this? I check email when I want to – not when it comes in. I turn off all email notifications (both online and mobile).
  8. Don’t focus on the money. Focus on building wealth and what I’ll do to change the world once I get there (or along the way).
  9. Never eat alone. It’s something I was doing long before I read the great book by Keith Ferrazzi.

Sometimes you break your own rules.

There are always exceptions to these rules and sometimes these rules have to be broken. If I’m breaking the rule, I acknowledge it and will often apologize to those in advance by explaining the situation as an exception and helping those who are impacted by it to know that I am doing so (and that it’s an uncommon occurrence). Another exception is when breaking a rule will help me to grow and expand. Rules can limit our personal growth and we have to be aware of that.

Work/life balance is a myth.


  1. These are great tips, Mitch. Moving from work/life to just a life balance that acknowledges the many important facets of a well-rounded life takes the dichotomy away from work and life. Work/life balance implies that work is evil and you must strive to minimize its impact on your life.
    But what if your work is your art, like you suggest? I don’t WANT to minimize the working part of my life and I certainly don’t think that work is bad.
    I’m going to start calling it a life balance too. Great way of looking at it, Mitch. Happy Holidays!

  2. Superb post. The one that I struggle with is being ruled by technology. As a busy small business owner, it seems that the world stops when the technology burps, which it does more often than it should. Computers crash, servers go down, software gets a virus … and it’s impossible to build in time for that stuff. Drives me nuts. Other than that, life is great : )
    Thamks for the great post Mitch!

  3. This issue of balance is becoming so important as demands for our attention grow. Your list of rules is just as I would have written it. My fav: creativity doesn’t keep office hours – possibly the strongest evidence for why it’s hard to create lines between personal and work.

  4. Great to see someone else with the same sleep rules. I catch a TON of hell from my wife for not hitting the sack at the same time every night.
    You know, I’ve never formalized any of my life balance rules. I think its about time to do that. Great post.

  5. I like your list.
    To address the things you still need to do, but don’t like, especially big projects. Rather than find yourself two weeks later against a wall – do a little each day.
    Kinda like cleaning the garage. Putting a few things away each day leads to a clean garage in a couple weeks. Verses not being done two months later because I was busy working and being creative.
    A little each day helps develop balance in my life – family, work and play.

  6. I’ve discussed this concept a fair amount with my community and we prefer the term harmony instead of balance. Balance implies an equality where harmony implies that life is in sync. Sometimes the tenors take the lead (the work) and sometimes the sopranos take over (kids), but as long as the harmony is there; the switching of the leads isn’t a bad thing.
    Thanks for bringing this up at a time of year when my focus is on setting goals and planning. I think we all need the reminder that we need to consider our life as a whole when we do that.
    Happy holidays all.

  7. I can become so engrossed in a project that I forget just about everything else. I’m happiest at those times. When it’s over I get back to my ordinary generally healthy routine. Yet if someone looked at my life and focused in on those times they would deem me very unbalanced but as part of the bigger picture, it’s how I function and for me it is balanced.
    The work/life balance was more an issue to me when I worked in a job I didn’t like. I spent too many hours in the office at the mercy of someone else’s routine. It makes sense in that context.

  8. How very true. As a father of 2, husband to a wonderful wife, working full time in the PR/IR and Communications industry, with 2 twitter accounts, 2 blogs and a new podcast, being able to manage my time and setting priorities is essential to manage my mental health, do all that I strive to do, while feeling fulfilled and stress free.
    Looking at that list at the end of you post, made me realize that though I’d never written it down, I do have a mental version of it.
    Great post once again Mitch, keep it up!
    Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you and your readers!
    David, aka @SocialDave, @CrazyKinux

  9. Love your challenge to read Linchpin. I second that. What most people in our culture struggle with is that we work for the money, not for something or people that we are passionate about. We get caught in a viscous corporate culture that is hard to escape because of fear – fear of failure. I have gone though this myself over the last 5 years. Once I stepped out in faith to do something I was really passionate about…everything changed! I hope others will experience this freedom in 2011!

  10. First: Right on! I’m not a believer in the “work like hell then go on a holiday” thing. I know breaks are good but work itself is such a part of our lives that to make it worthwhile and stop treating it like it’s some evil thing is much healthier.
    Second: I don’t believe in balance in the true sense of the word. If we had balance in the Universe, nothing would ever happen. For me, working with all these facets is like standing on a bosu ball at the gym while doing squats with a 30 pound dumbbell in just one hand. The “rule” is to stay on the ball and do the squats without falling off. It doesn’t mean there’s not some adjustments and shaking legs during the process.

  11. It’s a topic that I think about a lot, particularly after starting my own business, which has blurred the line between work and non-work. At the end of the day, I try to make sure all parts of my life feel right, and that what I’m doing professional and personally make me content and satisfied. With my own business in full swing, I’m working more than I ever have but enjoying every minute of it, which has also had a huge impact on my personal/family life.
    Happy holidays!

  12. Great advice. But you may want to concede that what you’re talking about IS what people mean when they say “work/life balance,” instead of deconstructing the phrase as a vehicle for dispensing it.

  13. Thanks for the post! I am a stay at home mom and work part time. This makes me feel so much better about the internal fight I am constantly having about working. I used to work full time but had twins so have had to stay home. I love my job and the people I work for and with. This validates my drive to work.
    Merry Christmas!

  14. Absolutely excellent post Mitch, especially around the holiday time when we’re confronted with some of these issues. Keep up the great blogging. Some of the best on the Internet in my opinion.

  15. : ) call it +.+.+ Business.Persoal.Politics(community) that’s the spaceship of life I drive, Nibiru! Wlcome to 2012 heehee

  16. More and more it’s about Energy vs. Time. What gives me energy at work, in life – and giving myself more of that. What drains my energy and moving away from that. Also recognizing that restoring energy – mind, body, spirit is critical to having energy for living life! Check out Tony Schwartz and the Energy Project.

  17. The Blog post answers your questions. Your art still can’t take over the other two (personal and community). Balance is balance. Live your art, but you need the other two to truly make it “work”.

  18. I’d consider those “blips” more than anything else (even if they happen frequently). Technology rules you more when every time something beeps or vibrates, you’re purposefully interrupting whatever you’re in the middle of to see it. Those constant and minor distractions are taking you away from getting your real work done.

  19. There are many more rules… those were just a few that I thought might resonate with everyone here. If you’re getting your balance in, it makes room for when creativity strikes and your attention needs to go there.

  20. My bedtime and wake-up varies from day-to-day and it’s dependant on many factors. As long as I am spending an adequate amount of time resting, nothing else bothers me. What do I constitue as adequate? So long as I don’t find myself dragging around and yawning.

  21. #7 is so important. My agency was pushing for me to get a Blackberry but I resisted because I had seen so many people let it rule their life. I couldn’t see the benefit outweighing the downside of my clients expecting me to be available 24/7.

  22. Mitch,
    Excellent post that reminds of of one I wrote a while back titled “Personal/Professional Blur.” I like your three leg stool analogy. Balance is the key to a happy and productive life.
    I think we’ve chatted before about the “waking up without and alarm.” It’s one of my favorites. On a recent business trip I had open morning schedule one day. When I finally woke up that morning it was 9 o’clock. This from a guy who wakes without an alarm most days between 4:30am and 6:30am. It felt great and I’m sure my body just needed rest. I got up when I got up and went about the day without guilt. Quite the contrary, I felt great!
    However you celebrate, enjoy your holiday season!

  23. It’s fine to become engrossed – as long as you’re aware of the balance of the other two. There are always days when you’re not giving 1/3 to each… that’s fine. The idea is to know that over time you do have a healthy balance in your life.

  24. I don’t think it’s fear of failure so much as it’s fear of the unknown. Many of us know how qualified we are. Many of us are highly employable. The trick (and it’s not much of a trick) is in having the confidence to make it work for us.

  25. If you do one thing great and the other areas with mediocrity it’s still going to affect the area where you are excelling. I’ve never met a successful person who was great in one area without proper balance in the others.

  26. I don’t have insomnia at all. In fact, most people are surprised to hear how early and how much I sleep. I’m definitely an early riser, but I go to sleep very early and do my best to close my eyes and relax.

  27. I love my iPhone and could not live without it… I just don’t let it rule me. Don’t not get one because most people don’t understand how to use and you’re scared you may become like them. Do get one and create your own rules so that it helps you accomplish more… like mine does.

  28. I have thought about it but scarred by status meetings with VPs who are sending messages as they are supposed to be listening to me. In one meeting I just walked out and told them I’d send them an email.
    Needless to say I didn’t stay there long.

  29. Most people still don’t understand the importance of having a good rest/sleep. I think it’s very important too. A person will have a problem in analyzing when there is a sleep deprivation.
    “Family first. Period. No exceptions. Friends next. Everything else after that.” – is the Best Tip!
    Thanks Mitch!

  30. Fabulous post!
    Family first hands down! Still had this conversation with a friend who is so engrossed by work that family has stopped mattering to her.
    Currently reading ‘Linchpin’ and telling all my friends about it (I’ve always been a ‘do what makes you happy and share your gift’ evangelist and the book provides me ample ammo for evangelizing).
    Not sure about waking up without an alarm though, that’s a recipe for disaster considering how much I believe in the mantra ‘anything you do, do it well’.
    Thanks for sharing!

  31. Happy New Year, Mitch.
    I came over to read this post after having written a similar on this topic, both of which are discussed on Mitch Mitchell’s site. I agree with your “Make Rules” section, except I often eat alone (lunch), keeping my schedule and focus in-tact.
    Perhaps that book by Keith Ferrazzi, which is new to me, will convince me otherwise. 🙂
    Have a great year, man.

  32. Being successful is more important than being a good parent or spouse.
    Things cost money. Staying at home doesn’t buy things. Going out there and making as much money as possible is the best thing to do. Everyone wants to live the good life. But the good life costs. So what if you can’t make it to the softball game or the ballet recital! If you are bringing home big bucks, you are doing more for your family than any amount of time will.
    How can a kid be cool if mom or dad only works 40 hours a week but brings home diddley squat? I would rather work a ton of hours and make a ton of money than come home at the same time and sit in the house with a nagging wife and bratty children. A family has to understand that having things is more important than being together. Working less is not an option!

  33. If I’ve learned anything in my life it’s that following the route of “I should do XYZ job because it makes me money” is not worth it. Even with more money, your quality of life is lower if you spend the majority of your day doing something you don’t necessarily love. The happiest people don’t have a work/life balance – their work is their life and they’re okay with that.

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