Maintaining Life Balance in a Time of Uncertainty
Written by: Andy Kindler, Managing Director
In the best of times for working parents, finding a balance of work/life integration is a nearly impossible challenge. So, what do we do when Mom, Dad and the children are all jockeying for the same workspace while following a stay at home order or at minimum practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis?
First, we have to accept the premise that like balancing on a beam, work/life balance is not a steady state we can ever achieve without having continuous movement. Like life itself, life balance is dynamic, not static.
Similar to when one walks on a beam or tightrope, that individual is not standing perfectly still. Instead they are continuously moving and making the smallest of adjustments with their entire body to appear to be balanced. This concept of balance needs to be one’s perception of work/life integration as well.
As an executive coach this topic comes up frequently with my clients and to help them understand the perspective of continuous motion creates life integration, I created the following model.
Understanding the Model:
This diagram represents all of the time available in our life (24/7/365) as six (6) equal size life activity circles as shown above. The life circles represent every obligation, responsibility and desire that we have to or want to invest time doing for us and with all others in our lives.
- Work Circle: Includes any time required to complete your work, mindshare when thinking about work and entertaining/socializing if that is part of your job.
- Love Circle: Includes time devoted to your spouse, partner or significant other.
- Social Circle: Includes time for children, extended family and close friends.
- Community Circle: Includes time for the many communities in your life such as: your church or religious institution, volunteer activities, business associations, i.e. Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, youth sports, etc.
- Self Circle: Includes time focused on health, e.g. appropriate sleeping, exercising, eating healthy, maintaining weight, etc.
- Spiritual Circle: Includes time focused emotional well-being; connecting with our inner self, meditation, yoga, prayer, etc. (I have learned from using this model with many clients that this circle is defined uniquely and personally by each person, yet they are clear when they are investing in this circle and when they are not).
When we have all six life circles in complete balance, (meaning we are investing the same amount of focused time and energy in each area), then and only then can we achieve true life integration. As you read that sentence how possible is it to have all circles the exact same size for long periods of time? For most of us, the answer is rarely because life is too dynamic.
So there really is no steady state called work/life balance that we can achieve and maintain. This model does demonstrate that work/life integration is the concept we need to be focused on. What if we recognize then that we are making choices about our life integration, literally with each decision we make each day? This is true as the only resource in the world that is equal for every person is TIME. It is critical for us to make intentional choices as to how we invest each minute of this precious resource.
What this means is when one of the life circles requires more or less of our time, we need to reduce from or add to our other life circles.
The art of having control of our life integration is to make an intentional choice of which circle, or circles, you take the time from or invest more into. With our current restrictions required to flatten the curve of COVID-19 several of our life circles have been impacted.
Our Work Circle is impacted with parents and children all working from home it will take very intentional focus, conversation and coordination for everyone to turn off work and focus on their other life circles. Here are a few ideas that might help turn off work; closing the door to the room(s) that have become the office, if the dining room table is the office, packing up the computer, files and supplies and moving them from the table, and lastly if there is not a way to isolate your work, putting a “closed sign” on the work area to at least provide a visual reminder to cause you to make an intentional choice if you do go back to work.
Equally important, our Social and Community Circles have been impacted and in some cases our Love Circle as we cannot visit with or connect in real time with our families, friends, places of worship, health clubs, etc. And for some they have been forced into a long-distance relationship as their significant other, spouse or partner is isolated in a different location. A few ideas are to connect by video chat if at all possible, put a text chain of family or social group together to share stories of how you are fighting the boredom of isolation, attend worship services on line (even if you are not a regular attender) or join the growing number of neighborhood groups who are stepping outside at a designated time to sing or ring bells. All of these activities provide a sense of connection to others which is a human need. Just do not fall back on spending more time working.
My experience has been that those who achieve the most life integration has learned to make intentional choices about their life circles. I can attest from my own experience, and that of my clients who have adopted this model, failing to make these choices about the trade-offs in your life circles leads to increased stress, job dissatisfaction and poorer performance, less satisfying relationships, even divorce, poor health and loss of inner spiritual calmness. Those who build a competency in making intentional choices reducing investment in one life circle when they need to invest more time in another circle, report a sense of being in control and enjoying their life more with less stress.
In reality, life integration is a fine art that can be learned and must be practiced intentionally every day to build competency. Spend time a minimum of once a week reviewing your life circles for the prior week and look forward at your calendar to anticipate the size of each circle the upcoming week. Recognize where you did not make intentional choices last week and commit to making more conscious choices the next week. Repeat this exercise each week until you become fully aware of each time choice you make. Don’t give up; this practice can take months to move from “this makes sense” to ‘I am aware of my choices’. The journey is worth it when you recognize that you have a newly developed competency that becomes the way you live your life. This competency will ease some of the uncertainty we are currently feeling with the virus. You will have more control of one of the only factors in our life we can control…the choice of where to invest our time, when we realize we cannot do it all.