The truth about work life balance

"Your time is your life. Period. How you spend it ends up being what your life is..." - Dr Henry Cloud. I came across the quote above on Instagram and straight away I knew I wanted to write about it.


I am much better these days at saying no, setting boundaries and being responsibly selfish to look after my health and wellbeing, however sometimes that balancing act we are all working so hard to master can still be challenging!

I remember a while ago running around the house doing all the things, barking orders at my partner who (in my opinion) wasn't being very helpful. 

When he asked why I was getting so aggravated I started ranting about how I had all this stuff to do and not enough time to do it. He looked at me knowingly and said, sounds like what you're saying is that you don't have enough time for yourself...

It was a mic drop moment for me. And though I hated to admit it, he was right! I'd done it again, taken on too much and now in order to fulfil those commitments my life had to move at a much faster pace than I liked and I wasn't able to do the things that were important to me. 

This in turn was affecting my mood, relationship and overall well-being. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one that has felt like that. 

So I'd like this article to be an invitation to you to press pause and stop the world for a moment so you can reflect on how you are spending your time. Are you currently feeling productive and nailing the elusive work/life balance or are you feeling super busy, a bit frazzled and like you don't have enough time?

Understanding balance

We live in a demanding, fast-paced, busy world. Our priorities are constantly challenged and our senses are overloaded so is it any wonder so many of us are struggling with overwhelm, anxiety and burnout.

I see so many people out of control and drowning in 'all the things' who come to me with goals around work/life balance, time management and productivity, ultimately trying to do more, do it quicker, and keep all the plates spinning at work and at home. 

But balance isn't necessarily about doing it all and having everything perfectly aligned all of the time. And I don't have a magic wand either, unfortunately!

So our work together is often about self-awareness (understanding strengths, accepting limitations, getting clear about what's important), learning to minimise distractions, improving communication and getting more comfortable saying no and setting boundaries so they can use their time and energy wisely and most importantly, feel better. 

Life naturally ebbs and flows and with it, our balance and capacity to deal with life and work will also fluctuate. But it’s not just the natural ebb and flow of our energy that we need to consider, it’s all the curve balls life throws at us along the way, such as a global pandemic, illness, emotional upheaval and general life stuff!

It’s no wonder that our battery is more often than not flashing red rather than fully charged and raring to go!

“I believe there’s a natural ebb and flow to our weeks and months. Sometimes we’re up, everything comes easy and we have an abundance of energy. And sometimes it’s a huge struggle to even work one hour per day.” 

- Niall Doherty

Where I see it going wrong is that instead of acknowledging that our physical, mental or emotional capacity has diminished and flexing and adapting our priorities and commitments accordingly, we judge and beat ourselves up for not performing and keep fighting against the current of life.

Understanding that we have limited capacity and if we use a lot of energy in one area of our life, we'll have less to expend in other areas is, in my opinion, an important part of striking a balance and feeling better.

The big rocks of time

Stephen Covey (1996) tells a story about the real things that we should devote our time to:

One day a time management expert was speaking to a group of business students. He pulled out a large wide-mouthed jar and set it on the table. He then produced some big rocks and carefully placed them into the jar. When no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone said, “Yes.” 

Next, he pulled out a bucket of gravel and poured it into the jar, shaking it so it worked its way into the space between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answered!

He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand and subsequently a jug of water, pouring them into the jar until it was full to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One student said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!” “No,” the speaker replied, “that's not the point.”

“The truth this illustration teaches us is that if you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all..."

The big rocks will be unique to you but may consist of health and well-being, loved ones, education, desires and dreams, a worthy cause, helping/teaching others and doing things we love.

Often we leave these rocks sitting on the side telling ourselves we'll get to them once we've done 'all the things'. However, It's much harder to find the space to fit them in once your jar is full to the brim with gravel, sand and water.

Take a moment to reflect on what is important to you. Do your actions really align with what you are saying is important? If not, then you might need to get honest with yourself about what's really important or start making space for those big rocks in your life. This leads me nicely into...

Making space for what's important

If you are ready to start scooping out some of the sludge in your jar to make room for your rocks then it's time to talk about boundaries.

Boundaries are the guardrails we put in place to protect our time and energy and make space for what is important to us. They require us to get clear about what isn't working and what we want and need to be different. 

They also require us to 1) communicate with others about them (they can't read your mind) and 2) uphold them when someone oversteps the line. It's not someone else's responsibility to honour your boundaries - it's yours!

I was speaking to a client recently who told me that other than the basic needs of food, sleep and shelter, everything else in life was negotiable. This person also told me they were super unhappy with their work-life balance because they didn't have time for what's important.

I asked whether it would be ok for a stranger to come and sit in their house or garden without being invited. They laughed and said no, which is exactly why we have fences and walls to stop that from happening!

These fences and walls also usually have gateways or doors to allow people in and out. A boundary is not meant to be an impenetrable wall, it's there to stop people (with all their needs and demands) coming in uninvited and directs them to the door so they know where to knock!

Being super flexible might be great for those people that benefit from your flexibility; however, if it's filling your jar with sludge and is stopping you from making space for what's important then you might want to consider learning more about boundaries.

Let me know if this article resonates with you. If you'd like more information about boundaries, send me a message and I'll send you the articles I've written and a free copy of my 15-page guide, 'How to say no'.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Braintree, Essex, CM7 9DB
Written by Amy Metson, MAC, ICF ACSTH, ADCT - Life, Career & Wellbeing Coach
Braintree, Essex, CM7 9DB

Amy works with people who have a big heart & care deeply about others, often to their own detriment. She helps them to embrace becoming 'responsibly selfish' by understanding where they end & others begin, building inner & outer confidence, the courage to be true to themselves & strike a balance between caring for others & honouring their needs too

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