Why it’s harder than ever to create a work-life balance
So many of us are chasing that elusive work-life balance. When you’re young, you just don’t have the experience or perspective to recognize that careers are a marathon, not a sprint and you have to remember to pace yourself because we’re all going to be working for a long, long time. While you may want to be seen as a “team player” and respond to your manager’s email on Saturday “just this once,” it’s these little moments that add up over time and start to chip away at your motivation and productivity.
Why is it so difficult to create a work-life balance these days?
Technology has made it so we have no boundaries around our time. There is a lack of clarity for everyone around when is “work time” and when is “play time” and we’re all competing against machines trying to keep an empty email inbox.
As a young person in the workforce you’ve been given a really difficult task, which is to determine for yourself how much you can work each day and when you’re going to work and when you’re going to take time for yourself. When I was your age it was all very easy and simple to identify when to work and when to focus on myself. I knew that at 5:30 p.m. my work day was over and it was time to see friends and relax. The work-life balance was so much simpler to achieve.
What technology has done has made it so that you, the employee, have to create your own boundaries around your time and energy. You have to determine how much you will and won’t work, how productive you can be in that moment and what makes sense for you in order to be mentally and physically healthy long-term. This isn’t something your company is going to put in your job description.
There has never been a time in history where a single person can be contacted in so many different ways. In a single day you’ll receive texts, emails, Slack messages, instant messages, messages through all the various social media platforms you currently use and that doesn’t count the people who swing by your desk or your mother calling you…again.
What happens when you face constant demands?
You’re constantly inundated by demands coming at you in every direction. Even the most centered and calm person in the world would be overwhelmed by all of these distractions. When you’re confronted with having to make yet another decision, deal with crisis after crisis and your boss’s demands, you start to panic and become anxious.
When this happens our prefrontal lobes, which govern executive functioning (our ability to make decisions and plans, how to prioritize tasks and time management) will shut down. When we’re in survival mode we’re unable to make good and effective decisions or react in a healthy manner. In this state, your prefrontal lobes go into a place of black-and-white thinking, your intelligence dims and perspective gets worse.
The impact of the many different distractions in our modern world is that psychiatrists are seeing more and more adults struggling with something very similar to ADD, called ADT (attention deficit trait). In the article entitled, “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform” psychiatrist and author Edward M. Hallowell, MD, writes, “The symptoms of ADT come upon a person gradually. The sufferer doesn’t experience a single crisis but rather a series of minor emergencies while he or she tries harder and harder to keep up. Shouldering a responsibility to ‘suck it up’ and not complain as the workload increases.”
It’s easy to see how this cycle can go on and on because as your workload increases, you find yourself doing more and more to keep all the balls in the air. In turn you feel what Hallowell calls, “a constant low level of panic and guilt.”
So, what’s the number one thing I can do to create more of a work-life balance?
The most important thing is to embrace being human. Being human means you’re not a machine so don’t measure your ability to get things done with the technology that surrounds you each day. You’ll know you’re doing the “right” thing for your mental health because you’re able to sleep at night, you can make decisions and you feel motivated and excited to get to work.