Beyond Work-Life Balance: How To Move Past Illusions & Focus On Progress

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Since you’re reading this, perhaps you’re yearning for — or seduced by — the hope for work-life balance.

In today’s uncertain, dynamic world, "balance" seems like a comforting word. In fact, the almost two-million Google search results for "work-life balance" show that many share your hope and interest.

But experience and observation make me wonder about the probability of work-life balance.

As Mary Harris, a parent in Bloomington, Indiana said in a recent New York Times article on eight ways remote learning will shape the future, "Balancing is not a thing when you are parenting, teaching, and working simultaneously. It’s simply not possible to do it all or do any of it well."

RELATED: 6 Working Women Share How They Balance Their Long Work Hours & Home Life

So, how do you create a greater work-life balance that's focused on progress?

Living, itself, is a continuing process, affected by shifting variables, situations, and people, many beyond anyone’s control.

All that interactive complexity would have to stop in midstream when balance seems achieved for a magical, fleeting moment.

Since 90 percent of people say they don’t feel in control of how they spend their time each day, it confirms your frustrations.

The actual challenge contains opportunities to choose reasonable risks for improvements that suit your purposes ─ and can keep adjusting strategies about time, energy, and focus as realities poke up their heads.

Your emotions, intelligence, and common sense will be good guides.

The idea of life-work balance is similar to time management. As fluid as mercury, both slip rapidly away.

Your main guidance emerges internally from how open you are with yourself and others about what you truly want.

Often stimulated by your emotions, use them as a road map for directions with yourself as the driver.

As significant for personal and professional progress as rationality, emotions are important energizers and motivators for insight, focus, and action.

As you know from experience, emotions flow from work into personal life and back as life spills into work. It's complicated as well as messy out there! 

Enrich and expand your emotional repertoire.

Just as the names of locations on a map signal where and how to proceed, something similar holds true for emotions.

Yet, I’ve noticed that the repertoire for naming emotions could benefit from improved range and precision to better capture meaning and understanding.

Take a visual spin around Plutchik’s wheel to appreciate your own feelings. Such accuracy can assist with deciding the amount or proportion of attention and energy to invest in a particular situation.

The associations and insights that emerge also lead to what has meaning for you — what would benefit from deeper attention, what can be postponed, and what is better to let go?

Your exploration of emotions can also identify unaddressed issues and conflicts that may be blocking communication and action for making progress.

For an array to choose among, explore the Plutchik wheel.

For example, is it anger or interest you feel related to dealing with conflicting requirements that need to be negotiated or redefined?

In another situation, emotions may also help distinguish between what’s truly needed to do well and to be well.

Now that about nine-million women are letting go of their outside work to care for children at home since support is no longer available, such issues are even more obvious.

Yet, even with that often hard choice, what flexibility remains to take care of their own maintenance, needs, and satisfaction ─ not to mention, pleasures?

Use your powers to identify and integrate important matters.

Although crucial for a good quality of life, your autonomy or agency does not ensure control of many situations.

Yet, where you do have sway, you're encouraged to express your interests and strengths based on the meaning and value of particular work and relationships to you.

Here are 3 questions to ask and your responses will suggest strategies to explore and adjust using your own and others’ good sense.

1. Purpose: What are your two or three main purposes?

What do you want to accomplish in your work, however you define it? What do you want to improve in your main relationships that affect and influence your current life situations?

Where are the overlaps and opportunities for synergy? 

Refine and use a wider range of interpersonal skills to smooth and improve professional and personal matters. Possibly engage with a few people whose company you enjoy to learn or improve a sport or skill together.

2. Relationships: What are the two or three main issues to clarify and communicate about with others?

How flexible and receptive are they to your needs and interests? What anxiety or fears do you have about saying and negotiating what you want?

If none of this is relevant, what is holding you back from making other small steps to move forward?

3. Risks: How willing are you to take worthwhile emotional and material risks?

What one or two will you take on now?

How will you go about organizing manageable steps to support an effective outcome?

RELATED: Exactly How To Measure Your Work-Life Balance So You Can Live A Happy, Fulfilled Life

Although you may identify other important questions and strategies, devote a few minutes to name the main resources that support your own resilience if the significant material and emotional risks don’t pan out well.

Sometimes, imagining possibilities and listing them or brainstorming with a few people you trust can untangle knots that restrain you from effective action.

With whom will you collaborate for mutual benefit? What professional guidance can be useful?

Much of your situation is probably contingent on the level of autonomy you assert now as well as your willingness to strengthen it.

In other words, this may be the time to unlock other powers that are dormant or need nurturing.

If not sure of their fuller range, review one or two memories from any context of what you did well and how you did it. If you’re hobbled by modesty, ask people who respect and know you fairly well to describe such situations.

If all else fails, invoke your imagination to see yourself as a talented driver, visualizing how you’d navigate, or even create new routes.

Recognizing that appreciating yourself and managing what could feel challenging is not easy.

Make the rubber meet the road. Say what you really want in work and life.

Often saying specifically and simply what you want out loud or on paper can be catalytic, helping you and others hear dormant, new, or additional ambitions.

If you feel temporarily thwarted, here are 5 approaches to jumpstart your thoughts, visions, and emotions.

1. Creative freedom in doing worthwhile work.

Use your discretion without helicopter oversight and your constant physical presence.

Start a small project that shows your initiative, interests, and abilities.

2. Open, honest communication with colleagues and close personal connections.

Communication should be enjoyable, productive, and often has win-win outcomes.

Have a few kindly, yet frank chats with people you like and trust.

3. Caring, supportive networks in family and other connections.

Request specific assistance, acknowledging them materially and informally in ways that have meaning to the providers

4. Opportunities for learning, new professional connections, and exploration of alternatives in work and life arrangements.

Create an interesting small learning project or group that relates to something worthwhile in your future that has meaning for you.

5. Main values and interests are expressed through work, personal activities, and other efforts.

Participate in one new activity that engages and challenges you.

These approaches may sound too good to be true, so play with them and related possible steps to make them your own.

In other words, build bridges between what you want and specific realities in your life where you have agency — or at least choice.

Use these suggestions to say what you truly want. For your satisfaction, make it accessible within a reasonable period of time that you designate.

In the process, take stock of realities in your work and life that will support your progress and those that do not.

Life is full of significant matters in motion, including your very nature and body.

At the same time, you are surrounded by family, friends, colleagues, and a range of other people who are also in motion themselves and in relation to you.

Your immediate environment is further affected by social, economic, and political effects.

Then, is it surprising that work-life balance is so elusive?

Substitute any yearnings by saying what you want and taking relevant action, using your influence and imagination.

Commitment and patience help, as well. Though derived from the word for suffering, patience is where practical expectations and progress can meet.

Your strengths, clarity, and hope will assist your drive forward.

Start your engine now with one exciting, inspiring action in your interest.

Expect the uncertainty that’s natural to living and fill that void with certainty about who you are and what you want!

RELATED: How To Set Personal Boundaries For More Work-Life Balance In Your Life

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Ruth Schimel Ph.D. is a career and life management consultant and author of the Choose Courage series on Amazon. Obtain the bonus first chapter of the upcoming, Happiness and Joy in Work: Preparing for Your Future. Find your invitation to a free consultation as well on her website.