Looking for balance? Consider practicing it instead

“I want to have more work life balance.”

This theme has been coming up a lot lately with my coaching clients, and my friends. Now that many cities are opening up after a year and a half of COVID19 restrictions, people are feeling the desire — and pressure — to get out there. Rapidly changing work and life circumstances are leaving many people feeling off kilter. Look up work life balance on Google and you’ll find hundreds of hits. Yet people are still searching for it.

Why does the quest to find balance feel ever elusive? Maybe we’re defining it the wrong way.

If you look up “balance” in the dictionary, the first definition is:

Noun: 1) a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.

This definition implies that balance is a state where work, fun, learning, sleep, family, spirituality and whatever else we’re looking for, are equally distributed. We search for this state of being, but can never quite find it. We blame ourselves. We must be doing something wrong.

But if you look further down on the definition page for “balance,” you’ll find this:

Verb: 1) to bring to or hold in equilibrium; poise: e.g. “to balance a book on one’s head”

Try balancing a book on your head. Or if you don’t have a book, try your cell phone. Go ahead, try it! You’ll notice that you can get to a point of equilibrium where you’re in perfect balance, but only if you stop moving, and only for a few seconds at a time. As soon as something changes in your environment — you take a step forward, something catches your eye, the wind blows — you have to go through the act of balancing again.

An HBR study published earlier this year talked about viewing work life balance as a cycle. I prefer to treat it as a practice. It’s a series of routines and recalibrations I’m doing each year, quarter, month, and day. I also think balance is bigger than just work and life. Most of us have at least 3–4 major parts of our life that we’re trying to balance at any given time, and these change throughout our lifetime.

If we treat balance as an active practice, we no longer ask ourselves: “Do I have balance?” Instead, we ask ourselves: “What am I balancing this year?” “What am I balancing today?” and “How well am I balancing at this moment?”

There is no destination. The practice is constant.

If balance is a practice, so much opens up for us. We become aware of the micro-adjustments we can make on a minute-to-minute basis to recalibrate. We can try new things, and pay attention to how they affect our ability to balance. We can give ourselves grace to get it wrong sometimes.

Here are a couple of practices I’ve found helpful in the art of balancing:

  1. Have 3–4 priority areas for the year, quarter, month, week, and day. An annual priority might be building your business or deepening your relationships with your family. A daily priority might be finishing an article, or spending 30–40 minutes of unstructured, undistracted time with your partner or kids.
  2. At the beginning of each period (year/month/week), look back at how you did with balancing your priorities for the prior period. What got in your way? What made balancing easier? Use these lessons to plan the next period. If you’re super nerdy like me you can code your to-do list and your calendar with different colors for different priorities, so you can assess how you’re doing and what you want to adjust.
  3. Experiment with your daily routine and see how it affects your ability to balance. Try a different type of morning exercise, or a different break schedule. Maybe you balance better when you try to get all your important priorities done before 11 AM each day. I switch up the time of day I exercise depending on the season because I know my energy changes. Treat it as a fun game to get to know your best balancing routines, and accept that these will change as things change in your life.
  4. Check-in with yourself regularly throughout the day, even if just for a few minutes. I like to use a 3–5 minute guided meditation from Medito before important meetings and after a long string of calls. If you’re not into meditation, simply close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and scan your body and mind. How is each feeling? What does each need? You may not act on every piece of information you get, but every piece of information gives you a clue as to how you’re balancing. You can then adjust future days accordingly.

It’s a constant work in progress. One of my clients made an analogy to tuning a string instrument. You have to tune the instrument every time you play, because the slightest changes in temperature and humidity throw it out of tune. Such is life.

What are your favorite balancing practices & routines?

Originally published at https://leadwithequity.com on June 29, 2021.

Lillian Forsyth is a coach and workshop facilitator in the areas of communications, leadership, and diversity, equity & inclusion. www.leadwithequity.com