Forget work-life balance and try 'blending' instead

Focus on where your interests lie and blend in the rest where and how you can.
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Focus on where your interests lie and blend in the rest where and how you can.

It's what Randi Zuckerberg (yes, Mark's sister and an entrepreneur in her own right) calls the "human dilemma".

The "human dilemma" is how to juggle the delicate balance of work, family, sleep, friends and fitness.

"At the end of the day you can't do all of them well," Zuckerberg said recently. "Pick three."

Experts now believing that trying for a work-life balance may be a waste of time.
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Experts now believing that trying for a work-life balance may be a waste of time.

The young mum of two chose to sacrifice friends and fitness.

It's an idea similar to the four-burners theory.

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"One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work," writer, David Sedaris explained.

"The gist ... was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two."

Forget work-life balance, said Anne-Marie Slaughter last year, women might not be able to have it all, but neither can men and we should stop pressuring ourselves to think we can.

I put the idea of balance (or a lack thereof) to several colleagues. Most agree that sacrifices have to be made.

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Two say that friends or health had been unwittingly sacrificed in the juggle. Others say that having children was the tipping point to being able to manage all aspects.

"I think it's interesting, but I don't really agree," says another.

"It's a balancing act for sure, and of course if you are willing to let go of certain things it allows you to focus harder on others. To an extent.

"But I think it is dangerous to suggest it is normal to have to choose only three if you are going to do it right."

In their new book, Chaos to Calm, wellness educators Shannah Kennedy and Lyndall Mitchell argue that "balance" may not be possible, but "blending" the various aspects of our lives is.

"People have this idea with balance that it's the same time-on, time-off – I'm in-balance or out-of-balance," explains Kennedy, who with Mitchell, created The Essentialists, an executive coaching company whose clients include Deloitte and Macquarie Bank.

Blending, rather, means we may not be evenly divided between the aspects of our lives, but because we are living the life that we choose "we can still feel quite balanced".

"A lot of it is a mindset that we feel in control," she says.

There are times in life where one or two aspects are "really intense and you're not going to see your friends and family that much", Kennedy adds.

"It's about flowing and making sure we don't completely drop [anything] – it's blending it all together. Sometimes we're going to have to work on the weekend and that's OK."

Although we may not have a perfect balance, we can find ways to nourish each part of ourselves.

"For a lot of the clients we coach it seems to be all or nothing, but there's an in between," says Mitchell. "Sometimes it's in a five per cent way and sometimes it's in a 100 per cent way."

Psychologist and career psychologist, Meredith Fuller agrees.

"I think we have to rethink the pressure – if you put yourself under too much pressure you're a mess and nothing works, so I agree with the notion that you can't do everything at exactly the same time to exactly the same intensity," she says.

"But I just don't buy this idea that you can either have this brilliant career and no relationship, no family and no sex. I think people have to say to themselves, 'What are you most interested in doing? What do you want to get out of bed for?' and realise that this will change."

Fuller says starting a new job or business, starting a family or having a health scare are all examples of times where one aspect of our lives becomes temporarily much more prominent than the others – but with some fluidity and creativity, we don't need to drop the ball completely on the rest.

"At different times in your life – a year or two or five – you will have a particular priority that interests you and you have to go where your interest is," she says. "If you don't, you'll end up being a robot and the joy is sucked out of your life. It's being able to shape-shift.

"A lot of people get sucked into this idea that it's either/or choices and they don't see how fluid all these choices are. You can shift your priorities when you have the interest with bit of creative thinking. You're not stuck."

The practice of blending

To have a level of fluidity between the different aspects of our lives, however, requires planning and taking care of number one.

new study found that the tipping point for most people's work productivity is 39 hours.

"It's even more important that those 39 hours, we utilise them in the best possible way rather than edging up towards the 40, 45, 50, whatever it is, that are completely unproductive," Mitchell says.

Mitchell and Kennedy suggest "chunking it down" and having an hour of power on one task and taking a short break before an hour of power on another task and so on. This means we work smarter, not longer, and can create more space for the other aspects of our lives.

"There's a study that says we're distracted for about two hours a day now – just flicking on to the news and flicking on to Instagram and it takes us a very long time to get back on task," Kennedy adds.

"We see so many people who say they just don't have enough time ... it's getting to understand how they're utilising that time."

And we're much more likely to utilise our time well – at work and in the rest of our lives – if we make our health (through sleep and nourishment and moving) a prime ingredient in our blend.

"If you start letting number one go, everything else becomes a lot harder ... than if you're in a better head and body space. It might not be 100 per cent, but protect the asset [AKA you] never let the asset go," Mitchell says.

"Topping up your tank gives you resilience and perspective. It's not by luck or chance – everything is planned."

THE ESSENTIALIST'S TIPS FOR CREATING A BETTER BLEND

- Kennedy suggests checking the news and social media only in the morning and evening and limiting to 10 minutes each time.

- Keep the phone out of bedroom. "The bedroom is such a place of rest and one place you need to be really clear with your boundaries so removing the phone from your bedroom is a really good starting point," Mitchell says, suggesting an investment in an alarm clock. She promises better sleep and less resentment about work (no emails within arm's reach). "It changes the whole mindset. When they're sleeping they've got the energy to get up and exercise or to put more effort into their food."

- Change your to-do list. After losing her health and relationships from over-committing to work, Kennedy says she learned the hard way to blend in the other aspects of her life. "On my to-do list for the day are not just all tasks to do with business, so part of the to-do list is did I do my work-out, did I do my meditation? They're just as important as the work-things on my list and I wouldn't overschedule myself now."

- "We talk a lot about Socrates who says 'learn and do, learn and do, learn and do'. This means making simple commitments "to do the do" rather than learning more and not applying anything. "Do one thing and do it better. What's one thing I can change?"

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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