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A Key Ingredient to Work-Life Balance is Getting a Life

A Key Ingredient to Work-Life Balance is Getting a LifeStretched thin trying to meet the demands of work and needs of family, women can find themselves drawn into so many different roles that they wonder if a “whole self” still exists. A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found many women reported they had little in their lives other than work.

Being consumed by work is bad for your health and well-being. And, it’s not even good for your professional performance. It can lead to feelings of isolation, less creativity and innovation, a less vibrant sense of purpose, and even burnout. Finding pursuits that speak to you as a person can help you regain a sense of a whole self, even if work-life balance remains elusive.

A better success formula

Studying high performers for more than two decades, Rob Cross, Ph.D., cofounder and director of the Connected Commons and Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College, and his colleagues have found that people who are seen as high performers by their organizations, and score high on measures of well-being, share some things in common. “What we’ve found is that they almost always have cultivated and maintained authentic connections in two, three, or four groups outside of work: athletic pursuits, volunteer work, civic or religious communities, and social clubs like book or dinner clubs,” he writes for Harvard Business Review.

Research from San Francisco State University also found that having a creative passion outside of work made people 15 to 30% better at their jobs. And other studies have connected outside passions with increased confidence, greater resilience and a sense of mindfulness that comes from engaging in activities without having to meet certain performance expectations.

The UK’s University of Sheffield’s Institute of Work Psychology found that pursuing a hobby intensely, as long as it differed significantly from a person’s work activities, could boost confidence at work. The activities act as a sort of buffer between personal and professional lives. “This barrier gives people time to develop themselves and recharge their batteries, which is particularly important in helping to generate and preserve psychological resources such as confidence,” the University shared.

Cross and others offer suggestions for finding your way back to a more integrated life.

  • Make one small shift. Your sense of purpose is likely generated by a constellation of activities and relationships within and outside of work. Cross suggests looking at various areas of your life (work related and those not related to work) to see what spheres currently provide you with the greatest sense of purpose. In a work setting that might involve mentoring others, collaborating with colleagues or working with an inspiring leader. In your personal life, you might find meaning in social connections, caring for family, volunteering or through spiritual activities.

Cross suggests shifting your investment of time to under-developed areas. For example, if you are currently experiencing little connection with friends, get back into a hobby or sport that would connect you with those people. The point is to add greater dimensionality to what has become a narrowly focused life.

  • Focus on the little things. Cross calls these “micro moments” where you can choose to live more intentionally even when your schedule is packed. Even engaging with work colleagues in a more human way and showing interest in who they are can transform everyday interactions into more meaningful exchanges.

If you always drive to work, what would it be like to take the train or even a rideshare so you can read on the way? Could you get a group of colleagues interested in taking tai chi lunch breaks? What if you ended every week by meeting friends, your partner or family at a different place just for fun like mini golf, movies, swimming at the local YMCA, taking on an escape room or throwing a frisbee at a local park? Small changes that don’t require huge amounts of time or investment can slowly expand the edges of your life.

  • Schedule non-work stuff. You may need outside accountability to make non-work things happen just the way accountability structures are built into the work day. Pay for a running club and commit to showing up for Thursday evening group runs. Block out Friday mornings for coffee with people you don’t work with. Schedule one engaging leisure activity every weekend. If it gets on your calendar, or you commit to others to show up, it’s more likely to happen.
  • Bring more of your non-work self to work. Another way psychologists suggest having a more integrated life is to actually be more of your “real” self at work. Let colleagues and team members know how you spent your weekend, and ask about theirs. Bake that cake your grandmother used to make and relate memories of her when you share it. Let people know the joy you felt when your tennis team qualified for playoffs. You are not simply a cog in a wheel and neither are the people you work with. By sharing more of your non-work selves at work, everyone can feel more whole.

There will never be more hours in the day. And extensive research shows that investing the hours you have solely in work will shrink your world and degrade your performance. So, make “getting a life” a priority and you will find experiences that may reinvigorate your personal and professional life.