The myth of work-life balance

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A new book by authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall argues that the idea of work-life balance is a myth. Instead, we need to think about classifying our time into two very different categories: the things we love and the things we loathe.

In Nine Lies about Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall call on us to take a different approach to our working lives. They challenge nine assumptions which, they argue, are typically holding us all back.

One of these challenges calls on us all to stop thinking about the need to achieve a balance between our work and the rest of our lives.

Instead, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall argue that work is not the opposite of life. Work is a part of life – just another aspect of living that has wonderful, uplifting moments as well as its share of moments that drag us down.


Understand what you love about your job

Buckingham and Goodall argue that – for most of us – work includes many activities that contain the tell-tale signs of love: you find yourself looking forward to them; while you’re doing them, time speeds up and you find yourself in flow; and, after you’ve done them, you feel invigorated.

“It seems more useful, then, to not try to balance the unbalanceable,” the authors wrote in Time magazine, “but to treat work in the same way you do life: by maximizing what you love.”

They recommend taking a pen and paper notebook around with you for a whole week at work. Divide the paper into two columns: one labelled “Loved it”, the other labelled “Loathed it”. During the week, keep track of activities which belong in either column.

There will be work activities that don’t fall into either category. But you’ll recognize the ones you loathe because before you do them, you procrastinate; while you do them, time drags; and when you’ve finished them, you hope you never have to do them again.


Maximise the things you love!

By the end of the week, you should have a list of activities in the “Loved it” column which feel different to the rest of your work. Your goal now is simply to adapt your job over time so that it consists of more of the things you love doing. Eventually, more of your time will be spent on activities you love and less of your time will be spent on activities you loathe.

In this way, your working life has a balance all of its own – or, as the authors posit, “we can’t always do only what we love, but we can always find the love in what we do.”


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