Work To Live? Or Live To Work?
We mostly hear work-life balance – not life-work balance. Microsoft Word even underlines life-work as incorrect!
Alphabetically it is life-work. Perhaps this suits us, after all, work gives us purpose and meaning.
Rather than considering life and work in conflict with each other, or as an either/or, it might be helpful to think of it as a spectrum or sliding scale.
Really think about where/when you are most happy. Where is the right place – for YOU – on a sliding scale like this?
LIFE -------------------------------X ----------------------------------------------------------------WORK
This scale is dynamic and is worth reviewing whenever the situation changes.
This great article Work-Life Balance is a Myth explains that it’s actually all unbalanceable, and what we must do is maximise what we love – especially at work. Their research (a stratified random sample of the working populations of nineteen countries) revealed that 73% of say that we have the freedom to modify our job to fit our strengths better, but that only 18% of us do so!
Personally, there was a season 18 years ago, when I moved towards the ‘LIFE’ end. Recently I’ve found myself drawn to the WORK end with interest and challenge. It’s actually making me very happy. This means my wellbeing hasn’t suffered at all with this change.
The point is - it’s all valid. It’s about individual choice and finding where the right point on the scale is for you.
It is hugely important to take stock regularly. Above all, recognise whether work is affecting your health positively or negatively.
What if I want to move towards WORK?
Drawn towards work? Your role demands long hours? Getting a thrill from a new, intense project?
That’s great – as long as you are not resentful about missing out on family life and hobbies, and it isn’t impacting your health.
Work usually flits between being a marathon and a sprint. When running a marathon, it’s easier to manage energy levels with good wellbeing routines like: Ensuring the new work or way of working is just for a season - put a marker down for its end date. Have regular reviews – not just of the job/project, but how you are doing health-wise. Plan a proper break for when it ends. Make sure managers and colleagues know you will not work in this way when things get back to normal. Consciously contract with loved ones so they know it’s not forever to avoid conflict at home. Sit-stand at your desk, get outside frequently to absorb the maximum light (lux), sleep and eat well.
What if I want to move towards LIFE?
Were you furloughed during Covid-19 and realise you can live on 20% less income? Is spending more time at home with family a joy? That’s great!
Just make sure you won’t envy colleagues when they get the big project or covet their 2-week luxury holiday. Also, some people find with more time they do less exercise and cooking, etc., as they fall into the ‘I’ll do it later’ trap.
Surprisingly, moving towards LIFE can bring more resentment and questioning from family and friends than moving towards WORK. More work usually means more money and increased status so it’s easy to convince people about your motivation and the benefits.
In my own experience, sliding towards LIFE called in all sorts of criticism and speculation. Be prepared for this by being clear about your motivation, and remember this is an individual choice. Again, contract with colleagues and loved ones about your decision.
Moving towards LIFE is possible. It can be financially viable. It has been proven time and time again to be more productive.
Microsoft experimented with a 4-day working week in 2019 and found productivity jumped by 40%. The company announced this as part of the results of its "Work-Life Choice Challenge." There were other savings made by the company as well: preserving electricity, less office wear and tear, and fewer sick days.
The key word in their challenge is CHOICE, individual choice, more choice, just make sure it’s right for you.
What if you really want to do what you love but cannot imagine how it is possible financially?
Simply – you can live on less. Much less. Remember - your time is money.
Books on spending less and living more are plentiful. Two I read recently, Stuffocation and A Life less Throwaway, are easy, inspiring reads. Did you know that container storage is one of the fastest-growing industries in the UK? We need it to store all the stuff we buy but don’t actually want, need or have room for.
Debt and your mortgage might be sticking points. It was for us for a long time, even after the downshift (by the way, generally, the bigger your salary the bigger your debt). Get help and sort this as soon as you can.
Once you are sorted, saving becomes as addictive as spending. Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Make-over is really motivating and got us out of the cycle of debt in eight months.
Whatever you decide to do, do it as an act of deep warm friendship towards yourself. Commit to it and love yourself as you would another.