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Work-Life Balance: It Doesn't Just Happen

Balance in lifeMaintaining work-life balance isn't like setting a thermostat and forgetting about it. Maybe at the start of your career you thought all that was required was choosing the right job and employer and having a vague determination not to be a one-dimensional workaholic. But expertise is honed, careers progress, lifestyle aspirations shift and family responsibilities (and bills) mount. Then you find that striking the right balance is more akin to riding a unicycle on a boat in rough seas.

So what do you do to strike a balance? Writing for Harvard Business Review blogger Ron Ashkenas recounts his doctoral research into work-life balance among academic doctors in which he found "the most successful medical professors... also tended to have the most instances of divorce and estrangement from children." Looking closer at how these high-achieving doctors ended up with lives heavily weighted towards work, Ashkenas didn't find a long-standing desire for that outcome or even a conscious decision to put family life second. Instead, he says,

They had made hundreds of small trade-offs over the years--such as staying in the lab instead of attending a child's school concert. It was the accumulation of these small choices that seemed to gradually tip their lives one way or the other...

If there's a lesson from my research, it's that all of us should be more conscious of the trade-offs that we are willing to make between personal and professional success.

Now blog life@work is elaborating on Ashkenas' findings, offering simple advice on exactly how to keep your finger on the pulse of your work-life balance. To become conscious of what the "accumulation of small changes" in your life adds up to, suggests the post, ask yourself these questions:
Think back a few years and try to remember what your life was like. Were you working more hours than you are now? Were you closer to your friends or significant other? Did you see your kids more often? Were you sleeping better? Were you in worse health?

Now think about the kinds of choices you've made over the last few years that led to the changes you've experienced. What did you tend to choose and why? What patterns can you see? Do you want to continue these patterns of decision making? If not, what could you choose differently?

And if you're still unsure if you're juggling act is about to fall apart, Pamela Slim, author of Escape from Cubicle Nation, suggests you give yourself this quick self-test to determine if you have work-life balance.

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user cito, CC 2.0)
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