Work-Life Balance: A Case Study

Monday morning.  Become aware of your alarm sounding.  It’s Dark.  Groggy, somewhat annoyed.

Grab phone next to bed.  Check email.  Workday begins.  First pangs of stress.

No time to exercise.  Shower, dress and eat quickly.  Try to beat traffic.  It’s still dark.

Work.  Sprint.  Laugh.  Eat lunch.  Give all you’ve got.  Yell.  Worry.

Drive home.  Exhausted.  Spent.  It’s dark again.

Eat late dinner.  Check email.

Acknowledge significant others.  Surf the web.  Watch a show, perhaps together.

Repeat Tuesday through Friday.

This, largely speaking, describes my attempts at “work-life balance” for several years, both as a big company exec and as an entrepreneur.  We humans are remarkably adaptable creatures.  We can go on like this for years, even decades.  Existing, but not living.

You’re Trapped in a Bad Paradigm!

We’ve heard our whole lives about “work-life balance.”  So much so, in fact, that most don’t question that balance is the ideal for which we should strive.

That, I believe, is a mistake.

“Work-life balance” paradigm is not just an incorrect description of things, but it’s actually damaging.

Allow me to illustrate.

When we think of “life” and “work” as two things that need to be balanced, we also often believe and do the following:

  • “Life” and “work” are thought of as two different, mutually exclusive, things … and it is a zero-sum game. Spending time pursuing one necessarily takes from the other.
  • Any communication from family and friends while you are working feels like annoying interruptions
  • Daytime, Monday through Friday, is when you work. Weekday evenings and weekends are when you live.
  • Your goal is to earn enough money so you can someday extend your living hours to include weekdays. You sacrifice a rough present for a better future.
  • Rigid boundaries between work and life. Linear, binary thinking.
  • Work, especially nowadays, is a bully, crowding out life.

Work = Work, how you make money, friends at work, etc.

Life = Family, friends, causes, hobbies, entertainment, etc.

A Better Paradigm

There exists a different kind of life – a life where you work and live life at the same time.

The paradigm I’m about to describe is, for the most part, only available to those who run their own business.

Why?  At least two reasons:

  1. Business owners have the power to decide how they will spend their time.
  2. The vast majority of businesses and bosses believe in, and enforce, the work-life paradigm.

What if the following things were a reality for you?

  • “Work” and “life” are not separate things. It is a non-zero sum game.  Taking from one does not take from the other.
  • Time with family and friends are frequent and welcome parts of your weekdays.
  • In fact, you find your daily life so enjoyable and fulfilling that you find the idea of “retiring to do nothing” repugnant.
  • Your daily routine is not routine at all. There are no boundaries between work and life.  Your time management strategy becomes non-linear, improvisational, and emergent.

Types of Mosaics & Their Application

I call this paradigm a “mosaic” – whereby you consciously seek to design a unique, beautiful and financially sustainable mix of life stuff.  In using the term mosaic, I’m attempting to convey the idea of mixing lots of disparate, seemingly unconnected pieces into a whole.  For me, doing this successfully requires both deep, practical skills and an artistic sense.  It’s not at all easy, but it is possible with conscious effort.

Your overall Life Mosaic consists of mixing and matching many “mini mosaics.”  Below is a list of some of those mini mosaics, along with some ideas on how to design them.

  • Time Mosaics: Consciously deciding when you work on what.
    • Waking up early and completing your highest priorities while you are fresh
    • Doing some necessary, but lower brain energy tasks, late in the evening
    • Exercising when your energy is lowest during the day
    • Consciously adding inspiring, fun things in the middle of the day
  • Place Mosaics: Consciously deciding where you will do what.
    • Do your creative work where you feel most creative.
    • Do your mind-numbing, necessary tasks where you will be undisturbed.
    • Mix things up.
    • Frequently go somewhere beautiful to work for a day or two or three.
  • People Mosaics: Consciously fill your schedule with time set aside for people with whom you want to, or need to, spend time.
    • Spend meal times with friends, family and people you’d like to get to know.
    • Schedule fun time at odd times with friends and family.
    • Invite family and friends to work on their stuff while you’re working on your stuff.
  • Task Mosaics: Consciously decide which tasks you must do or need to do. Delegate the rest.
    • Decide it’s OK to make enough, but less, money because you pay others to do things you don’t want to do. This improves your life and creates jobs for others.
    • Make a list of “want to do’s” and “must do’s.” See how much of the rest you can delegate.
  • Income Mosaics: Consciously build income from multiple sources, to reduce risk … and boredom.
    • Look for low risk ways to build income from other sources.
    • Be patient. You don’t need to dive in completely to building these other sources.  Have a long-term perspective.

This is your palette.  Begin creating and see what emerges!

Earning Your Mosaic Life

All right.  Now let’s get real.  This Blog is intended to be, first and foremost, practical and hard-headed.  We really, really hesitated in beginning the MicroBusiness Blog with a section about what many might consider “fluff” or “fantasy.”

Know this.  This section on Life Mosaics is neither fluff nor fantasy.

To create a plan, you must first have an objective.  Understanding the concept of Life Mosaics is important, because it provides an alternative perspective for defining your desired End State.  Your “End State” can (in my opinion, should) describe a wonderful, multi-decade journey rather than a static destination.  Mosaics make the ride – your life – enjoyable now.  No waiting until weekends, vacations and retirement to live life.

However …

To be able to live a Mosaic Life, you must be intimately familiar with your business inside and out.  You must know your business model, the key success factors for that model, have reports of your Key Performance Indicators, and know where you can and cannot delegate.  You must be clear on what must be done every day and every week.  Knowing these things allows you to structure your life so that the key things get done … but in a pleasant place, at the right time, by the appropriate person, with variety and adventure punctuating your days.

Future sections of the MicroBusiness Blog will teach you real-world, hands-on business principles which, artfully combined, can allow you to live a Mosaic Life.

What do you think about the idea of Life Mosaics?
Can you add to the list of ways to apply this idea to your life?
Do you already live a Mosaic Life?  If so, please describe your masterpiece for us!