This weekend I had to chance to hang out with my 9-year-old daughter. She’s into fast cars, football, and music – so we ventured out to a museum that’s a bit like a petting zoo for musical instruments.
After trying out countless cool instruments, what really lit her up was sitting at a drum set for the first time. She could have played all day. What I loved about watching her explore the kit was her ability to find the rhythm. Even when she wandered off the beat, she’d pause and then jump back in again.
It stood in stark contrast to when she learned to ride a bike a few years ago. That was work; constant adjustment, plenty of falls, and even a run-in with a bush or two. It was a very different (and painful) process of learning.
Balance vs. Rhythm at work
I’m not a fan of the term work-life balance as it implies equilibrium is needed between whatever we do to earn a paycheck and everything else that makes up life. It’s one of the only places in life we separate out one of the many things we do each day and compare it to everything else we do while living. Imagine if we tried to achieve sleep-life balance, drive-life balance, or spouse-life balance. It sounds weird because work is part of life.
I suppose when someone is so focused on work that they can’t find time for anything else, the idea of pursuing balance sounds good. We picture a place of calm serenity – like a practiced yoga pose in the midst of a busy day. But balance isn’t static. If you’ve ever attempted tree pose, you know it requires small, constant adjustments to stay in this state of equilibrium along with a complete focus on the action.
And who actually wants to work that hard at achieving equilibrium with work WHILE trying to get work done? No, thank you.
Work-life balance may mean well as a term for companies that want you to know that they recognize that you have a life outside of their office. High performers don’t want balance, we want flexibility in our days, our hours, our locations, our workloads that honor shifting seasons of life, and our desire to invest time in people and projects – not merely spend it.
That’s why I like the concept of rhythm. It ebbs, it flows, it can speed up, or slow down and it still sounds good. And when you mess up, it doesn’t send you careening into the neighbor’s rose bushes. You can take a breath and pick it up again.
I’ll save practicing balance for paddling boarding. At work, I’m going for a healthy rhythm, that good groove that energizes me and lets me focus on outcomes since my work tools like meetings, schedules, and e-mails are dialed in.
Here are three tips for starting a new rhythm for work:
- Identify something you want to do after work each day this week. It could be simple, like prep dinner, attend a workout class, or take your dog for a walk, and put it on your calendar. Now schedule your go-home time on your calendar so you don’t miss your after-work commitment.
- End the passive e-mail check. Put four 15-30 min blocks on your calendar each day to process e-mail. During each check – do, delete, delegate, or defer. Then CLOSE your inbox until the next processing session. And if you still STILL have e-mail pop-ups on, kill them now!
- Schedule yourself time to work on an upcoming presentation, report, worksheet, or document this week during your work hours. If your schedule is too full with meetings to find time to schedule this work, check out the Exit Overwhelm guide below and it will walk you through how to end the meeting marathon.