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Why You Should Forget About Work-Life Balance

We all want more balance in our lives. Or do we? Cali Williams Yost, the CEO and founder of Work+Life Fit, has a slightly different perspective on that issue. Yost develops and implements flexibility strategies for individuals and organizations. But you won't ever hear her utter the word "balance." Here's why:
BNET: Cali, a lot of people talk about work-life balance, but instead you refer to yourself as an expert in "work-life fit." What's wrong with balance?

Williams Yost: For too many people, "balance" suggests that there's an answer or right way to manage your work and life. But there's no one answer, there's only what works for your life and your job at any particular point in time, your work-life "fit." It's about possibilities and solutions. And every single one of us is different. Sometimes your fit might include mostly work, and other times it might not. In contrast, "balance" has become a deficit model, or that "the thing I don't have." It's a belief that will get you nowhere. Instead, we need to ask ourselves, everyday and at major career and personal turning points: What do I want, and how can I flexibly adjust the way work fits into my life to achieve that vision and do it in a way that meets my needs and the needs of my job? From that starting point, it's amazing what you can do.

BNET: What have you found to be the biggest roadblocks to creating a life where work and personal demands are properly aligned?

Williams Yost: There are a few that I see particularly with entrepreneurs:
1) Not clearly defining, "what do I want my work and life to look like" upfront, and not revisiting that question frequently. Be as specific as possible about what you want your work-life fit to be. Use the answer as a vision to guide your choices and actions. Without it, you'll flail.
2) Not keeping every work and personal "to do" item or goal in the same place, on the same calendar, so you have a clear snapshot of what you want and need to accomplish. Even if you only end up achieving 70 percent of your visits to the gym and date nights with your partner, it's more than you would have done otherwise.
3) Not periodically checking in to see how closely your work and personal "to dos" on your calendar match your current work-life fit vision and then making even small adjustments to get closer to that goal. We're too reactive to problems, rather than proactive toward a prize.
4) Not managing your time AND energy. Yes, there will always be more to do than can possibly get done in a day, especially when you're launching a business. Making time for exercise, eating right, and sleep may seem like too much of a sacrifice. But it's a worthwhile time investment because it gives you access to the ENERGY you will need to achieve everything you want to do personally and professionally.

BNET: I think it's very tough for hard-charging entrepreneurs to get their heads around the idea of work-life fit, particularly during the start-up stage when it seems like everyone on the team is working 24/7. What's your advice to them?

Williams Yost: Everyone has a work-life fit they have to manage, even the most work-focused entrepreneur. There's nothing wrong with making work a big part of your fit, as long as it's a conscious choice, the operative word being "conscious." Even if your primary focus is on your job for a period of time, there are still other parts of your life that you need to incorporate into your fit if want to bring the best of yourself to your venture in terms of focus and creativity. Only you can define which activities mean the most to you in terms of optimal well-being, but sleep, eating healthfully, connecting with loved ones, and exercise are all important -- especially in high-intensity periods. And if you don't consciously chart out how you're going to make those activities happen, work will easily win. So, start small. Commit to tucking your kids in two nights a week. Get to the gym once a week. Reach out to one friend or family member on a particular day. Get to the dry cleaners before it closes. Work may still be a big part of your fit, but without those subtle yet very doable periodic shifts in focus, relationship maintenance and self-care, you won't ultimately bring the best of yourself to your new business. And finally, at the beginning of every intense work period, put a future vacation or down time on the calendar and plan around it. That's work-life fit, not balance.

What about you? How do you manage the often conflicting demands of running your company and managing your personal life?

Puzzle image by Flickr user ThiagoJ, CC 2.0