The Work-Life Balance Shuffle: Is 50-50 Really the Sweet Spot?

Written by Darren Kanthal

March 14, 2024

A photo of a road sign pointing to opposite directions with labels “work” and “life”

Many people, including Jeff Bezos, don’t like the phrase “work-life balance” or say that work-life balance doesn’t exist.

Here’s where I believe they get it wrong.

In my opinion, it comes down to semantics with Bezos. He prefers the phrase “work-life harmony.” I can get behind that, and like I said, it feels like semantics.

But where I think people start to get this wrong is thinking, feeling, or believing that to achieve work-life balance it’s got to be a 50-50 split.

That’s the first mistake.

I often think about the seesaw commonly found on every playground I ran around as a youngster. Sometimes, depending on the seesaw itself and my partner, we could sit perfectly still and precisely balanced.

Yet other times, if I was heavier than them (or vice versa), we had to maneuver ourselves to find that ‘balance.’ Hence, it wasn’t 50-50. This is where my version of work-life balance comes into play.

Here are my five tips for achieving it.

1. Know Your Values!

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, newsletters, or social media posts – I probably sound like a broken record. But I can’t overstate the importance of knowing your top 5 values and what they mean to you. These values are the most essential ingredient to your happiness. Without them, it’s like you’re a ship lost at sea.

Your top 5 values are the essence of who you are, how you act and behave, and your unique blueprint for living life.

Simply put, when your most important values are in harmony, life flourishes! You’re happy, you laugh, you can effectively handle the challenges you’re faced with, you live and love with greater ease, and when people ask how you’re doing – you smile and say something like, “Life is pretty damn good!”

On the other hand, when your highest values are out of whack – look out! You might be edgy, impatient, or short-tempered, and daily inconveniences turn into major disturbances. You might lose sleep or snap at your loved ones. You see darkness on the sunniest of days.

The bottom line is that in order to achieve the greatest balance in life, you must know what’s important to you through the eyes of your top 5 values.

2. Identify and HOLD Guardrails and Boundaries

Are you tired of hearing about boundaries? I am for sure! But just like with Bezos, I’m going to play around with semantics.

Instead of using the word “boundaries,” we’re going to try using guardrails. If you’re curious about what I mean by that, please read my blog about guardrails.

Guardrails are essential safety mechanisms to keep us on the road. In this instance, they help keep us on track to achieve the elusive (at times) and ever-important work-life balance we’re looking for.

Just like when you’re driving on a mountain pass, guardrails keep you on the road, show you you’re dangerously close to driving off the cliff, and provide a path forward.

That’s precisely what you need to achieve balance in your life. You need to know when work is becoming the dominant focus (i.e., when you’re starting to get close to driving off the edge). Effective guardrails are your alert signal that you’re out of balance.

Conversely, maybe you’re spending way too much time scrolling your Instagram feed and sending nonsense Snaps of your shoulder to keep your 987,456th-day streak going with some fourth-rate ‘friend.’ This is something my stepdaughter regularly tells us about her experience on Snapchat.

Either way, you need to have the proper guardrails in place to maintain your balance. Please remember, we’re not necessarily talking about a 50-50 split to achieve balance. Rather, it’s finding the appropriate measures to maintain your health and sanity to achieve your version of balance.

3. Take a Vacation…. Damnit!

A photo of a person sitting on a beach chair while looking at the beach

For those of you who hoard vacation and PTO days as some form of honor, why are you doing that?! What are you saving those days for?!

To achieve balance, you need to take some time just for yourself (and your family or whoever you like to vacation with).

I’m guessing you’ve heard the term staycation? If not, it’s when you participate in something leisurely at home. For those who enjoy being home – take a staycation with those PTO and vacation days!

Unplug from work, let your brain chill, and don’t worry about deadlines, irritating coworkers, or the general stressors of work. Play in the dirt, get on your bike, go for a hike, read a book, Netflix and chill—whatever you do to unwind, do it!

In order to achieve balance, you need to take some time to yourself to decompress and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

4. Ask For Help

All too often, we get trapped within the thoughts in our heads and don’t ask for other perspectives. Maybe in your head, you think your boss wants you to work at all hours of the day, answer emails and texts at 3 am, and is going to retaliate if you take PTO. Actually, if you believe this – we should talk!

Coming back to my thought, if you’re unsure of what the expectations are, or if you’re feeling more moody or grumpy than normal, or (especially!) if you’re uncertain if it’s OK to take time off of work – ASK!!

The best way to stop a thought loop or doom spiral is to invite others into the conversation and get some answers. You may find your boss has been wondering why you never (or rarely) take time off. Your spouse might not know that your work stress is causing you to be snappy at home.

Bottom line – if you’re unsure – ask!

5. Evaluate and Refine

As with many great strategies, we need to evaluate and refine our approach regularly. What worked for us 6 months ago might no longer be helpful. Or maybe some parts are, and other parts aren’t.

We need to assess what’s working and how we’re doing and decide if we’re achieving the outcomes of life we aspire to. As we identify what is working – we add that to our normal activities and ways of being. When we find things that aren’t, we remove or refine them.

Either way, what starts to become clear is our own blueprint for balance. Maybe it’s working out, going out for dinner, and having date nights. Maybe it’s taking one Friday off each month, getting on an airplane at least twice per year, joining a book club, or…fill in the blank for what makes sense for your life.

Do What Floats Your Boat

A photo of a woman standing on top of a paddle board while the sun is setting

Finding the right balance between work and life isn’t about achieving a perfect 50-50 split. Much like a seesaw, some days work might weigh heavier and demand more attention, other days your personal life might take the reins.

But hey, balance isn’t about perfect symmetry. It’s about finding your groove. Maybe you’re a morning person who loves hitting the gym before diving into work, or perhaps you’re a night owl who still manages to catch up with pals after a hectic day at the office.

At the end of the day, it’s your life, your rules. Whether it’s squeezing in a jog before your morning coffee or sharing laughs over dinner with loved ones after a grueling day, do what floats your boat. Don’t let others dictate what “balance” should look like for you, and focus on what makes your life feel whole.

Now, go out there and live your best life!

Darren Kanthal

Darren Kanthal, Founder of The Kanthal Group, is a values-driven leadership and career coach with over 20 years of experience in HR and Talent Acquisition. Darren is intensely passionate about helping mid-career leaders cut through the BS, do the foundational work, and achieve their greatness.


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