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May 23, 2021
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Thoughts on Work / Life Balance

I’ve thought a lot recently about balance in life. We’ve all heard about the importance of balance in our work and personal life. That’s a great idea, but with work from home I think that idea has been pretty well exploded. At least for me, I’m not really able to cleanly separate the two. Work is intense and needs focus to do well. I work from home. I also have three kids who have been going to school at home for the past school year. The lines are constantly blurred. Thinking of work/life balance as a simple dichotomy isn’t useful for me, so I’ve spent time reading and thinking about this.

There’s a theory made popular by James Clear called the Four Burners Theory. (He originally got it from David Sedaris.) Imagine your life as four burners on a stove. The first burner is your family, the second is your friends. The third is your health and the fourth is your work. The theory states “in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.” This really resonated when I first read it. I can’t think of a time in my life when I was ever able to keep all four of these areas going at once. Three is achievable, at least for me, but if I try to do all four they all suffer.

Recently I watched a video from David A. Bednar where he said that there really isn’t such a thing as work/life balance. Whenever you focus on one area you are, by definition, not focused on the other. Rather than trying to divide your attention and being unsuccessful, instead we should think in terms of spinning plates. Picture an acrobat who spins plates. They can get quite a few different plates going at the same time, but eventually one or more of the plates will start to wobble. The key isn’t to focus on just the work plates or the non-work plates. Instead we focus on the plates that need our attention in order to keep spinning.

While discussing this with my wife the other day she said something profound that I really like. Rather than aiming for balance, we should aim for harmony. All the areas of our life are like voices in a choir. We need to make sure as they sound together they harmonize. Sounding in harmony takes work, but when you get it right it’s a beautiful thing.

Seeking a harmonious life is such a great goal. We’ll see how long this metaphor works for me, but I wanted to pass it along. Maybe it can be helpful for you as it was for me.