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It’s 8 pm on a Wednesday night. Let’s imagine you’re having dinner with a good friend passing through town for work. Your entrees have just arrived, you clink wine glasses and toast to the occasion. But just as you’re about to pick up your fork, the needy vibration of a cell phone forces you both to pause.
Hot food. Buzzzzzz…
Good company. Bzzzzzzzz…
If this sounds like the setup for a corporate-style Choose Your Own Adventure book, then guilty as charged. Because the reality is that we live (and relive) these choices multiple times per day. If you answered the call, turn to page 27. If you hit Decline and put your phone in your coat pocket, turn to page 32.
Page 27: “Ah, sorry, let me just take this quickly,” you tell your dining companion. “It’ll just take a second,” you say assuredly. As a polite gesture, your friend waits for your call to finish as the steam noticeably stops billowing from your dinner plates. Four minutes later, the call ends. “Now, where were we?” you ask as you prod your fork into a room-temperature floret of broccoli.
Page 32: You look at your phone with a hint of curiosity but then quickly decline the call and remove your phone from the table. Your friend grins from across the table as you excitedly dig into your hot, mouthwatering dish. Your friend’s eyes widen, “Oh, wow! This is amazing, you have to try it!” she exclaims with delight.
Ok, I admit that one was easy. I didn’t say who was calling, and assuming you turned to page 32; you likely noticed my clear bias for a hot plate of food and a good catch-up. I’m well aware that these micro-decisions we face throughout the day aren’t always so obvious. They can make us feel pulled in opposing directions.
Enter work-life balance and decision fatigue. Trying to strategically and repeatedly toggle the scale between responsibility and urgency can still leave us questioning whether or not we’re doing it “right.” That’s because the life-work balance is profoundly personal and ever-evolving. Situations fluctuate in both arenas. How do you handle it when your VP hands in her notice and her last day conveniently coincides with your long-awaited vacation? What do you do when your assistant calls in on the same morning you’re supposed to supervise your 9-year-old’s class field trip to the zoo?
Unfortunately, I don’t have simple solutions to help you with any of the above. But I do know that this constant pressure to make the right decisions is emotionally exhausting. Decision fatigue is a real issue recognized by the American Medical Association. Not only does it make us feel drained, but it also wears on our cognitive ability to make good daily decisions. This overload results in procrastination, impulsivity, avoidance, and, ironically, indecision.
We need clear parameters when it comes to what we do and do not do when work-life swerves into our home-life lane. The “right” choices for you, the ones that won’t send you into a mental fury of second-guessing yourself, are the ones you make based on your values. And a values-based life enables harmony to exist in both places, but most importantly, within yourself.
1. Sync your personas
Try not to compartmentalize your life. My friend and client, Karlee Fain, calls this a “Split-Labeling Disorder.” It’s that need we feel to adapt who we are to where we are. But switching between “business-you” and “home-you” all the time takes up valuable energy that could be put to other uses. Imagine how much easier life would be if we stopped juggling two versions of ourselves and embraced one.
Think about where your work self and your home self converge and lean into that whole self. Be vulnerable every once in a while, and show off your humanity. Not only does this help foster more authentic workplace relationships, but it also creates ease and cohesiveness. Create an environment where employees have the same space to incorporate their personal and professional lives. A space that’s driven by meaning that recognizes full-spectrum humanness inspires harmony.
2. Focus on Relationships
Putting more effort into cultivating positive work relationships is a win-win for everyone. Research shows that investing time and effort into social capital in the workplace results in higher retention, happier employees and reduced burnout. In his podcast, Jay Shetty addresses the topic, revealing that people who feel they have a good work-life balance work 21% harder than those who don’t.
3. Designate your spaces
Create purposeful spaces and use each space for its intended purpose. When we work at the kitchen table or eat lunch at our desks, we’re confusing our brains. Sociologist Martha Beck explains, “There’s a reason service dogs mustn’t be petted or played with when they’re wearing their work vests: They need to be clear that they’re on the job. But when the vests come off, service dog owners must play with their animals in order to keep them from becoming exhausted and depressed. You’re the same way: Having clear boundaries will help you work enthusiastically, then truly rest.”
Rather than feeling like you’re always one step away from tumbling off the work-life balance beam, try reframing things from the lens of harmony. When you can hone in on a singular self, it naturally invites more authentic relationships to develop. And those interactions, whether in your designated workspace or the car on a family vacation, will help you build a much stronger foundation for success in all aspects of your life.