Consciously Choose Better Work-Life Balance

by Mundell, Heather Wednesday, May 25, 2011
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What kind of balance do you want to strike between your professional and your personal life?

Harvard business blogger Ron Ashkenas wrote an article in December in the Harvard Business Review that a key to minimizing regret regarding your work-life balance (or lack thereof) is to consciously choose the tradeoffs you're willing to make to achieve personal and professional success.

Absent that, we're likely over the years to make hundreds of small and subtle decisions about when to stay late, when to make it home for a family dinner, when to work through a weekend and whether to take vacations that create an overall pattern we could be profoundly unhappy with.

This is a conclusion Ashkenas came to after studying a group of academic physicians. Even though none of the physicians had consciously chosen to sacrifice their families to advance their careers, some of them ended up doing just that.

It was an accumulation of small choices that gradually created a new reality of work-life balance, a reality that made them wonder, "How did I end up like this?"

Now It's Your Turn
Think back a few years and try to remember what your life was like.

•Were you working more hours than you are now? Were you closer to your friends or significant other? Did you see your kids more often? Were you sleeping better? Were you in worse health?
Now think about the kinds of choices you've made over the last few years that led to the changes you've experienced.

•What did you tend to choose and why? What patterns can you see? Do you want to continue these patterns of decision making? If not, what could you choose differently?
Ashkenas suggests several good questions we should be asking ourselves continually, so that we create a relationship between our personal and professional life that we're satisfied with on the whole:

1.What's the balance you want to strike between personal and professional success?
2.If you had to honestly choose, is one more important than the other?
3.What are your goals in each of these spheres, and what can you do to optimize both?
These are not questions you can answer easily. But I believe exploring these can affect whether your marriage, health, and career succeed or fail.

No one sets out to stall in their career or become estranged from their kids. By being introspective and making conscious decisions about your work and personal life, you're much more likely to avoid either extreme.