Seeking Work/Life Imbalance: An Exploration of the Business of Busyness

Eklund Consulting Founder, Nathan Eklund, proposes, at this the busiest time of the year for many, a radical idea on the topic of work/life balance.

I’m writing this on an airplane. This is somewhat remarkable because usually on planes I spend my time playing Angry Birds. There. I said it. I usually play Angry Birds when I’m on a plane.

So here’s the deal. I’m done seeking work/life balance. And I think you should be too. In fact, I really don’t want work/life balance. I want tremendous imbalance. Towards life. I don’t want my work and my life to hang in a tenuous balance, constantly risking getting out of balance. I want the scales of my life to unapologetically tip towards life.

I have traveled for my work just about every other week since this fall. I love the work. I love being out and being active and being helpful. But I don’t love it so much that I’m particularly compelled to let this be my new normal. Not at all.

There’s a certain pride we have in being busy. We like sharing with others how busy or stressed or frazzled we are. It’s a badge of honor in our modern work world. In a perverted and pervasive sense, we live in a world where “busy” = “important.”  We are validated by our degree of output.

Then, every so often, we have a moment of clarity or read a book or attend a seminar or have a workshop about seeking work/life balance. The results of these moments are that we nibble at the outer edges of our work. We mildly step back from emails. Or we lightly readjust our workload (usually temporarily). And we do this in a desperate attempt to cause perceptible alterations in our sense of balance. But that balance is typically seen as a state of homeostasis where our work and lives hang in a precarious balance, with work constantly tugging to get us out of balance. The result? Our work/life balance is usually mostly crappy.

But what would happen if we had the audacity to seek sustainable work/life imbalance? How would we change our behaviors if, without guilt or shame, we sought out a life where the preponderance of our time and energy was applied to a joyful life? What if, instead of desperately straining against work, we were able to transform in ludicrous ways how we approached our life?

Hey. We’re not Europe.

I know. I get it. But to suggest that our present cultural norms of work are what they are and there’s nothing we can do about it is the sort of victim mentality that will never, ever result in the richness and fullness of life that we really seek. This is, at its core, somewhat of a question of semantics. If you seek “balance” you’ll probably achieve some measure of it. If you seek “imbalance,” you’ll likely achieve something like that and, in so doing, exceed the outcomes of only seeking balance. Seems worth the effort to me.

When I meet with leadership teams, for example, and share the ludicrous notion of an imbalance towards life, they gravitate toward it, seeing the myriad ways they have opted into the fallacy of “balance” and the degree to which they cause this tenuous state. But, if they collectively strive toward imbalance, they will no longer return emails on Sundays. They’ll celebrate their “busy-ness” less. They’ll no longer applaud the fruits of martyrdom, instead celebrating their colleagues’ capacity for shamelessly enjoying themselves.

And guess what? Their work will get done. It might not get done the way it was done before. But it will get done. And they’ll be surrounded by humans who are more present, more generous, more capable of aiding others.

I don’t really care if you think this is a Pollyanna post. I don’t. Because I’ve seen people who’ve embraced this ethos. And it works. It really does. Try it. Be public about it. Share this bold goal with those around you. Get them on board.

So here’s to work/life imbalance and all its rewards! As for me, time for Angry Birds.

 Have you achieved work/life imbalance? How? Any tips? Know anyone who is really good at this already? Leave your sage words here!