‘Work/life’ balance isn’t your employer’s problem—it’s yours

Quit complaining! Put your life first. Then, go start your work.

I hate the phrase “work/life” balance.

For starters, it doesn’t even make sense.

You’re basically saying, “I work first and then, if I have time, I have a life.” It sounds like you’re trying to contain work from overtaking your life. Where’s the balance in that?

What I hate even more is when people complain that they have no “work/life” balance at their job.

Oh, c’mon.

If you feel like you need to be connected and plugged in 24/7, that’s your choice. When everybody else is working a solid 40 hours a week, why do you feel the need to do 168?

It’s probably because you don’t have a life to begin with.

Well, I’ve got news for you: Your job as a person should be to get a life. Your employer’s job is to give you money to afford the life you want.

I’m an advocate of a “life/work” balance. Here’s how I swing it:

The work will always be there

Maybe I have too much of a Zen-like mindset about my job, but here’s how I feel: I wasn’t hired to get all my work done in a day, a week, or a month. The work will always be there. It will never get “done.” Even when I work for 15 hours a day on this website to “get ahead,” there will always be another story to write, an article to plug, or something to tweet about the next day.

It really just doesn’t matter how hard I work—just as long as each day, I show up and work. Each day adds up over time.

Don’t be at the mercy of your job

I think sometimes people like putting themselves at the mercy of their job. You teach your employer and your co-workers how to treat you. If you show up every day at 7 a.m. and stay until 7 p.m., that’s what everybody will come to expect. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself with more and more projects.

Dealing with email

Don’t respond immediately to emails you get from people, unless it’s an emergency. Emailing back and forth can be a major time suck. When you let an email simmer in your inbox for a few hours, you’re basically telling the person, “I’m really busy.” If you respond instantly, you’re saying, “I’m free! I’m around! Talk to me!”

Play it cool. It’s like being in high school—if you picked up the phone on the first ring every time someone called you, that’d be weird.

Get a life during lunch

If you feel like you can’t have a life after work, the least you can do is try to carve out some time during your day for lunch. Especially if you live in a city, this can be relatively easy. In Chicago, I’ve stopped in for some architecture lectures, jazz concerts, or book signings. But even when I lived in middle-of-nowhere Florida, I still made time for myself, even if it was as simple as walking around a nearby lake.

Stop working so hard

Figure out how you can delegate some tasks. I know we all have a lot of work to do, but isn’t that what interns are for? Sometimes, you have to let it go. Plus, when you free up your workday from menial tasks, you’ll have more time for strategic thinking and bigger projects.

Think in themes

Try to think about each day in themes. Before you go into the office, decide the major things you want to accomplish. Today, all I wanted to do was to write this story—so I put everything else on the backburner. Put the bigger projects first, and then take care of the little stuff along the way.

It’s also important to work as efficiently as you can. Don’t squander those eight hours. Stop checking your Facebook, your Fantasy Football scores, your GChat. The best way to think about the workday is this: The Internet is always there to distract you, but you can control it. Work for a solid two hours and then take a 10-minute mental break to go look at Etsy. Treat it like a treat.

Do something after 5 p.m.

I can’t really give blanket statements on how you can live your life, but the best thing to do to make sure you get out of the office at a reasonable hour is to sign up for something. Take a cooking class, learn Japanese, get a personal trainer, do improv, learn ballroom dance—get a hobby that requires you to be there at least once a week.

Don’t just think: “Oh, my friends/family and I do stuff every once in a while after work,”—that’s not enough to sustain you. Besides, those plans change all the time. You’ll be less likely to back out of something, especially if you’ve paid for it and your co-workers expect you to leave at a certain time.

Some of you might be thinking: “This isn’t possible. To get ahead, to get that corner office, I need to put in 12-hour days so I can keep advancing in my career.”

Sure, go ahead and do it. But you’ll be missing out on your life.

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