Work-Life Harmony not Work-Life Balance

Two major concepts jump started my being more kind to myself and they probably aren’t what you would expect.

1) It’s okay to work on a day off.

2) You must take a midday break on a work day

I only recently embraced the concept of work-life harmony as opposed to work-life balance. I read the 2016 Thrive Global interview with Amazon.com’s CEO, Jeff Bezos where he described how work-life balance is too structured and limiting, but work-life harmony offers the flexibility many career people need.

When I Lived with Work-Life Balance…..

I used to struggle through my husband’s 48 hour shifts (his fire protection district uses a 48-96 schedule where each crew member works 48 hours and then gets 96 hours off). I would crash the day he came home. Every six days, I experienced this mental and physical crash, which then put all the household and child care responsibility on him the day he got home after two hard days at work.

I used to struggle to “close” my business before a day off (my days off are every Monday and Friday). I felt guilty and anxious about anything I didn’t get done and proceeded to spend my day off preoccupied with work. The end result was that I couldn’t be mentally present for my family. The secondary result was that I started work again the next day already stressed out about things I had left incomplete. And the viscous cycle continued every single day for five years.

I’m normally a quite efficient and productive person, but my ability to perform to the high level needed was entirely gone. I had to hire staff to continue to provide the extremely high level of care I expect for our horses, help run the business and keep my life going. At one point, I had feed staff, a farm manager, a scheduler and a PA.

My husband became frustrated because I appeared to work around the clock: If I wasn’t working, I was definitely thinking about it. It’s a fate worse than a spouse who is glued to their smartphone because a mental distraction is both all-encompassing and invisible. We were surviving as a couple, but we weren’t thriving. My husband often said, “I feel like we’re just roommates.” And then I would feel even worse.

I wasn’t able to take care of myself either….. I would skip meals, I was lucky to shower every 2-3 days, skincare was lacking, makeup was history and working out was impossible. Sleep was also impossible unless I was completely exhausted.

As anyone with General Anxiety Disorder knows, lack of sleep is devastating to someone who already faces anxiety issues on a daily basis. I functioned only because my daughter and animals depended on me.

So what changed over the last year?

First, I had to let some of my key staff go for performance issues, putting a greater workload back on myself. Then, a few more quit as they became ready to focus on other life goals like school, new careers & international travel, putting even more work back on me.

After five years of surviving and not thriving, it took six months from when I made my first major staff change to hit rock bottom on all fronts.

It often takes a major trauma to trigger someone to make a change. Mine happened at the end of May this year. After an outpatient surgery, I became horribly ill for months. My anxiety levels, coupled with the after-effects of surgery and some overwhelming emotions, all but crippled me.

The only reason I survived was the massive support group of friends and family I had developed over the years. It was the first time I legitimately asked for help rather than pushing through and ignoring my mental state. By some miracle, my business and family survived.

I was at a convenient crossroads: How could I improve the farm, animal quality of care, customer service to my clients, quality family time, give my husband a break and start to take care of myself again? It sounded impossible.

Work Smarter Not Harder

You’ve heard it before: Work smarter, not harder. That is so much easier said than done. It annoyed me to no end when a mentor or C-Suite member of the companies I worked for would say, “Work smarter, not harder,” with a wink and a knowing grin, but then wouldn’t explain how.

I think how to work smarter and not harder varies for each person depending on personality type and career choice, but I also think a lot of the fundamental concepts to jump start this idea are the same.

I committed to maintaining a feed staff and to figuring out how to do the rest myself.

Jeff Bezos brought up work-life harmony and then we watched Tesla’s Elon Musk hit rock bottom personally and professionally over his struggles to bring the Tesla Model 3 to mass production. He slept in his office and didn’t change clothes as his work-life balance fell apart.

Half way around the world from Elon Musk, Queen Elizabeth II mastered work-life harmony decades ago. The only day each year that her famous Red Box isn’t completed is Christmas. She even completes it during the month of August, when the entire Royal Family is technically on vacation. On the flip side, she also takes tea every afternoon without fail, which serves as her mental and physical break from her obligations each day. Her most common tea time guests? Her dogs! It’s short and sweet, but complete break.

The Queen is a successful career woman, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother, accomplished horsewoman and plans to retire at the nice young age of 95. This is work-life harmony at its best. How many people do you know who can’t wait to retire? In this day and age when retirement is logistically impossible for many and often delayed for those who have the means to retire, we are all in desperate need of a new philosophy.

Work-life harmony means you work when you feel like you need to and not when you don’t. I should preface all of this with the point that, to be successful at work-life harmony, you must must must be a self-starter and a hard worker.

Now I Live with Work-Life Harmony…..

Concept 1) It’s okay to work on a day off.

This doesn’t mean spend your entire day working or jump to answer every email, text or phone call. You are still technically “off” of work.

Instead, it means address those work-related items that are occupying your mind so that you can get to a reasonable stopping point. That may mean anything from taking a few minutes to jot down thoughts or action items you don’t want to forget, to having an hour long check-email session to spending a few hours on a task/problem on the forefront of your mind.

With external communications, you determine if that incoming phone call, email or text will increase your anxiety levels if left unanswered or if it can be left for the next work day.

If you are in the midst of quality time with your family, it may also be best to use a hybrid method and ignore the communications for a few hours until a window of downtime occurs. Sure, your clients, co-workers, staff and bosses will learn that you screen your calls and have taken control of allowable communications on your days off, but that’s the point. It’s your time off. What you choose to do with it is up to you and not up to them. If someone doesn’t understand that, it’s their problem and not yours. Period. You are not obligated to communicate with them on your off days.

Work-life Harmony has another awesome benefit if you are in a position to control your own schedule or have flex-start work hours. You can take short stints of time away from work on a work day for your family or yourself. It works because, chances are you already worked some on your days off that week. I no longer feel guilty for taking time to attend a doctor appointment, taking a few hours off in the morning when my husband first gets off of his 48 hour shift or meeting a friend for a long lunch. These moments are concentrated times for self-care and family-care.

Concept 2) You must take a midday break on a work day.

I’m talking about a complete break, even if you have good momentum and think you’ll make it through the rest of the day just fine. Stop what you are doing and find a way to detach mentally.

For me, since my day often runs 5am-8pm, I take afternoon tea, much like Queen Elizabeth (excluding the sweets and including the dogs!). My phone goes on DND, my computer is shut down, I don’t answer my front door (I discourage clients from coming to my door regardless, since I live and work in the same place and need some personal space), I don’t do house or farm chores and my daughter must also rest or nap during this time. I detach from everything related to my work and life to have tea and read, meditate, shower, brush a dog, etc. when I return to my life 1.5 hours later, I feel refreshed, restored and prepared to face the unexpected for the rest of the day. And believe me, on a horse farm with a herd of 21, expecting the unexpected is part of the job description!

In living work-life harmony, I’m not just getting my work done, I’m getting more done. Like Jeff Bezos, I am happier at work and therefore more energized and relaxed at home. And so goes the upward spiral.

This article just touches on the tip of the iceberg regarding work-life harmony, but it’s a great place to start. Subscribe to my blog to dive in further!

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