In September 2018, aka the Before times, organizational psychologist Adam Grant tweeted:
Work-life balance sets an unrealistic expectation of keeping different roles in steady equilibrium. Instead, strive for a work-life rhythm. Each week has a repeating pattern of beats — job, family, friends, health, hobbies — that vary in accent and duration.
I couldn’t agree more. Ever since the term “work-life balance” entered the modern lexicon, not to mention, became a popular hashtag (used over 2 million times on Instagram alone, as of the writing of this story), it’s created a myth of the perfectly balanced professional, who thrives at work while clocking out every day at the same time, and of course, never missing her kids’ soccer practice. But as any entrepreneur knows, no day is the same. Especially since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, as markets have shifted at an unpredictable speed, searching for the ideal formula for work-life balance is not only unrealistic — I’d say it’s a waste of time. And if you, like me, are running your business from home and helping to school two small children, you don’t have a minute to waste.
That’s why I think it’s high-time to address the hype surrounding work-life balance and figure out a better way to thrive in both your entrepreneurial and personal life — at least on most days. Here, a few of the most common #worklifebalance myths, debunked, and what to do instead.
Myth 1: Copy the approach that worked for another successful entrepreneur
In our world dominated by social media and rife with never-ending comparisons, it’s tempting to see what seemingly worked for another successful entrepreneur and try to replicate their formula for success. But if I’ve learned anything in over 15 years of running JotForm and overseeing over 290 employees, it’s that everyone has different priorities. That being the case, each person should aim to a lot of their time according to their personal values and priorities. It begins with taking the time to reflect on what matters most to you.
Take Anne Wojcicki — the 23andMe co-founder and CEO has made no secret of her devotion to spending time with her children. She’s also been transparent about the quirky ways she finds to have more time with them, all while running one of the most innovative companies in the world. For example, she has said that sometimes, she lets her kids wear their clothes to bed because it saves time in the morning. Why waste precious waffle time when you can pick and prep your clothes the night before?
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, on the other hand, is a big believer in the value of finding some centeredness. That’s why when he can escape the work world, he’s chosen to spend time alone — very alone, on a 10-day silent retreats in Myanmar. One person’s nightmare can be another person’s dream (silent) vacation.
For Marcia Kilgore, a serial entrepreneur who most recently launched her fifth company, Beauty Pie, family always comes first. As she said in one interview: “I lived by the deathbed rule. On my deathbed, which would I regret more, missing one of my son’s school plays, or missing a finance meeting?”
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to juggling your business and personal life. Choose your priorities and plan according to them.
Myth 2: Create a rigid schedule for disconnecting — and stick to it
When Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack, was asked how he and his team find work-life balance, particularly while using their own communication tool, he said it comes down to developing conventions for alerting people when they’re needed.
“If someone requires my attention they’ll let me know. Once that feeling of trust is established, it’s much easier to let go,” said Butterfield.
While some entrepreneurs swear by signing off at the same time every day, I find that to be impractical for my team, especially because with offices from Turkey to California, we live in vastly different timezones. Instead, I think it’s important to do like Slack team members and establish game rules surrounding communication, rather than a rigid schedule. That way, no one is ever completely off-the-radar (except during vacation), but also, no one is disturbed outside of typical office hours unless their input is critical. I, for one, am protective over time with my family, but also want my team to feel comfortable reaching out in the case of a work emergency. That’s why I carve out those boundaries with my team in advance.
Today, as colleagues are communicating via applications like Slack more than ever, creating a bigger risk for “always-on” work culture, creating conventions so that people know when their time or attention is truly needed is more crucial than ever.
Myth 3: Achieving work-life balance is a one-time fix
If you’ve ever struggled to set your limits and wondered how others are able to resist the pressure to work around the clock (particularly if you’re in the early stages of your startup), you’re not alone. That’s the question that Harvard Business Review contributors were looking into when they conducted over 200 interviews with mid- and senior-level managers at two global firms. They found that those who maintained a semblance of balance in their lives were able to do so through awareness and continually checking in with their priorities. The authors write:
Importantly, our research suggests that this is not a one-time fix, but rather, a cycle that we must engage in continuously as our circumstances and priorities evolve.
Maybe last year you were gunning to break into a new market but this year you’d really like to finally run that marathon. Or this year, you’re suddenly caring for an elderly parent. As entrepreneurs and as humans, our lives are not static — they are constantly fluid and evolving, as do our values and priorities; as does the world around us. We simply can’t expect to continue at the very same rhythm year after year.
That’s why it’s great to get into the habit of regularly taking the time to reflect on your goals and values and decide whether your current system of priorities aligns with them.
Only by continually reflecting and tweaking can we achieve what Adam Grant calls a “work-life rhythm.”