Ray Deck III

High-Octane Human

Work/Life Balance is Dumb

Today's unpopular opinion: the phrase "work life balance" is unhelpful and generally inconsistent with how the world actually works.

The phrase, "work life balance" implies a few things that I don't experience to be true.

First, it implies that there are two separate things, one called work and one called life, which are not the same thing.

Second, it implies that there is an ideal mix of these two separate things, an equilibrium which we are seeking.

But that's just now how I experience the world.

I've never heard anyone say that their out-of-balance in favor of life. Nobody's ever said in my hearing, "I really need to work on work-life balance. I just don't think I have enough work to coincide with the amount of life that I have."

What most people seem to call, work life balance" I experience as a question of resource allocation.

I have a finite amount of money, talent, and most preciously, attention. And I have a list of things demanding a share of those things. So I have to make decisions about how to allocate my resources across my various priorities.

The most common problem that I encounter is: under-allocating attention to things that have no utility but bring me joy, and thus increase my available attention, focus, and passion in the next day/week/month/season. Sometimes because I fail to see the connection between "time off" and my own capacity and effectiveness.

But I also experience a problem in which I over-allocate attention to urgent things, leaving not enough for important things that lack a deadline, or at least a looming deadline. Sometimes this is because I haven't set aside time to work without distraction.

And I sometimes experience a season in which I'm bad at allocating my attention because I haven't allocated any time to select my priorities purposefully. In those seasons I'm not making purposeful decisions, but instead just working on whatever comes to my mind which usually means I'm not allocating my attention most effectively.

But "work life balance" is not a thing that I experience. This is an unpopular way of looking at the world but it's been useful for me. Do you see this issue differently? Is there a metaphor you like better?

Why Make Things

(2016) Day in the Life of a Non-Profit Executive Director