Work-life balance is a myth. It separates life into its own entity when, in reality, work is a part of life.

Instead of trying to achieve balance between your work and the whole rest of your life, bring work back into the facets of life and honestly choose which facets of life are more important to you. Prioritize your time based on the things that make you happy and give you fulfillment. This is called Settling Smart. By spending more of your time in areas that inspire and motivate you, you will find you have more energy and are happier with how your days are spent. And by prioritizing your time and not doing it all constantly, you give yourself room to breathe and lessen your chances of burning out.

Your Priorities

Perhaps my biggest gripe with work-life balance is that it minimalizes the importance of prioritizing your time in favor of carving out time for everything and assuming that you care about every aspect of life equally thus should be devoting equal time to everything. This is not the case. We all have different facets of our lives that matter to varying degrees. Our lives are made up of work, family, friends, our community, and our health and wellness. And these facets will be at different priorities for us. For me, most of my time is spent with my family and on my career. I value the other facets but they take up a smaller amount of my time and I may not even spend time in them every day or even every week. And that’s okay. The important thing is to honestly ask yourself what you want and then spend your time accordingly. To understand what you want, answer these three questions:

  1. What is my true north? What do I stand for?
  2. What makes me unique?
  3. What is my deal breaker?

These are your core values. These are what make you, you. Don’t compromise on these and set your priorities in a way that aligns with your core values. Take these values and priorities everywhere, to your job, family gatherings, and volunteer work. By instilling these value in yourself and keeping them top of mind, you will find that you spend your time more wisely and aren’t killing yourself doing a lot of things that just don’t interest or benefit you. You’ll stay passionate and energized for longer and feel more fulfilled at the end of your day.

Setting Goals

Now that it’s clear what is important to you, don’t abuse the knowledge by creating unrealistic goals. Just because you love what you do doesn’t mean you won’t burn out. If you make it a goal to start working out, don’t start with heavy workouts seven days a week. It’s unrealistic and you are setting yourself up for failure. Instead, work your way up to seven days by starting with more manageable and less frequent workouts and slowly increasing the frequency and difficulty. Taking on more than you can handle, regardless of how much you love it, will burn you out. Instead set S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, and Time-boxed. By setting goals in this way, you set yourself up for success and keep yourself from burning out. Don’t try and sprint through a marathon.

Don’t Balance. Choose.

Life, work included, is not a balancing act. Trying to balance the complexity of life is like pushing sand uphill with your tongue. It will burn you out. Life is about choice. It’s about understanding who you are, what is important to you, and prioritizing your time accordingly. By paying attention to what you want, not what you should want, but what truly matters to you, you can spend more of your time with what matters to you and by setting goals right, you can set yourself up for a successful, fully integrated life.

Playing For Keeps

All of my coaching clients and many of my friends and family have gone through the individual core values exercise with me. This quick tool, in and of itself, is a guidepost to how you want to operate with authenticity. After you determine the answers for yourself, please ensure that you share the results at home and work, and wherever you spend quality time in your various facets of your unique and busy life. One of my clients was so taken aback by her answers, she made immediate changes with her team at work and her young and growing family at home. She even shifted the way she interacts with her inner circle of friends. Her shift was so dynamic, it made me take a look at my own priorities and way of operating. That’s rare, as I practice what I preach most days, however, being human, I need reminders too!

Keeping it real

Do make the changes that are simplest to shift first.  

Do share your SMART goals with others

Do check back in on your priorities to ensure that you are aligned with your core values (including deal breakers. These are critical to not crossing a boundary for yourself and others with a huge silver lining of building confidence).

Do lead by example for your teams at work and children at home, they are watching and taking a page out of your playbook, not what you say; what you do!

Dana Look-Arimoto is an Executive & Leadership Coach, Best-Selling Author, Talent Ecosystem Advisor and a Founder of Phoenix5.

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