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Work life balance

When people talk about work-life balance, the focus is typically life: as there is too much work, thus one needs to balance it with more life. To me, such understanding can be superficial. Work life balance is much more than that. To understand it further, let’s first clarify some definitions. 

What is work? In my view, work has two definitions, one narrower, and one broader. In the narrower view, work can be defined as “make a living”: something that can pay the bills and ensure your survival. On a broader spectrum, work is something that matches your personal goals and values and requires effort to achieve. 

If we combine the two views, work has two components: 

  1. Make a living 
  2. Realize your values (often not pure pleasure related values) 

What about life? To me, life involves the other things in our journey that are not part of the work. Often it is strongly related to one’s pleasure, and does not generate much incoming, such as having a vacation. 

When examining the definitions above, it’s not hard to realize that the key to work life balance is work. It is only after work is well managed, life can naturally follow. In other words, one needs to take care of survival first before everything else. Furthermore, even if survival is taken care of, the purpose of life is more for self-actualization (realize our values) than purely to have fun. This is why “work” is the foundation and comes before “life” – a vacation is the sweetest after some significant achievements in work!  

This is the first fundamental insight of work life balance, but realizing that alone is not enough. We need the second insight: Life is a component of work. 

Work is more effective when life is a component of it. Managing work involves managing life. 

If you don’t talk to your friends, don’t exercise, don’t have fun from time to time, you feel miserable. Yes, we need life for us to work effectively, so design them into our work plan. You may be able to neglect life for a short while, but it will come and bite you if you neglect it for too long. Thus, effective work needs to blend well with life. 

Once you understand both insights above, and are able to apply them in your life, you are well on the right track, but it can be further enhanced with a third insight: life is better if elements of work are involved.

A good “life” is not just lying in bed, watching Tik Tok or playing video games all day. That’s an addiction (once in a while it is ok), but that’s definitely not a good life. 

Even in pure life moments (such as a vacation), it feels better if you mix it with some “work” elements than pure entertainment seeking activities. For example, a 6-day vacation is sweeter if it involves some “work” like elements such as trekking/exploring the nature (requires some effort) then pure relaxation on the beach. A good mixture of pure entertainment and some “work” like life elements will make it a better vacation experience. 

In conclusion: achieving work-life balance is key for true happiness! To realize that, focus on your work, as it is the foundation: if you can manage work well, you will have more time to enjoy life. While focusing on your work, remember life is a component of it: effective work is blended with life activities, and finally while enjoying life, tries to mix some “working” elements inside, it will bring more joy than pure pleasure-seeking activities.

Article by Dr. Shengdong Zhao

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