Oprah Winfrey said that you can’t have everything and do everything at the same time. Was she right?
Today we unpack work-life balance and ask if it is still possible. And if it is, then how?

When the term work-life balance is raised, it usually stirs some sort of emotion in you. There are a few who don’t desire ‘work-life balance’, but on the whole, most men I speak to have one of the three responses:

  1. “yes, that’s what I want”, or …
  2. “It’s just not possible in my situation”, or for a few will say …
  3. “I have work-life balance now, since I made changes in my life.”

The first and most obvious question then, is what exactly is work-life balance?

What is work-life balance?

On the surface, a definition such as “work-life balance is having an acceptable allocation of time and energy between work and the other areas of life” might suffice. That’s my definition. The dictionary version is similar:

“the division of one’s time and focus between working and family or leisure activities.”

But beyond the definition, it is a term that means different things to different people. If you get 10 men in the room, you’ll probably get 12 different answers. But let’s unpack the definition anyway. because it teaches us some interesting things about work-life balance:

Work-life balance is:

  • The division or allocation of something (but what?)
  • The division between work and other areas of life (but which areas exactly?)
  • How much is a ‘balanced’ allocation? (so how much?)

Let’s look at each of these three questions.

So the division of what?

Our first thought would be time, but it is probably helpful that we look more broadly at what we give to our work. Yes, it is our time, but it is also our energy, our resources, our thinking, our skills and our affection. I may have missed some, but you can see the point that we should really examine our work-life balance more broadly than just in terms of time.

This is where many of us men can get into conflict with our wives or significant other. She maybe in broad agreement over how much time you are spending on your work, but perhaps she still feels that you love your work more than her. This may point to an imbalance not so much in the time allocated, but in your affection for work versus the people who are feeling second-best.

If you asked your wife what she thought the percentage balance was between your work and her, what would she say?

0 — your work gets all your time, energy and affection and I get none

10 — you need to apply much more time, energy and affection to your work.

Where would you score? Where would she score you? Are you brave enough to ask?

Score yourself here:

How Does Your Work-Life Balance Rate?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Your rating of you
Your wife’s rating of you

Then we have the division between work and other things.

If your wife is not getting her ‘fair share’ of you, then she will probably let you know. But what about your kids. Will they tell you?

The pop song Cat’s in the Cradle written by Sandy and Harry Chapin in 1974 is a song that speaks of the consequences of a dad who did not see what his poor work-life balance would do.

Firstly, the son wanted time with his dad, but his dad just didn’t make the time. Good intentions, but no action.

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw, I said, not today
I got a lot to do, he said, that’s okay
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed
Said, I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him

And then later in the song, we hear that the tables have turned …

I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, I’d like to see you if you don’t mind
He said, I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

This is the song that many a man has sung in his heart, as he wished he could go back and had made more effort to divide his time, energy and affection differently.

How Much Is the Right Balance?

That is a very good question, and the reality is that only you can make that decision. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  There isn’t even a one-size-fits-all solution for just you.

Like me, perhaps you have had seasons in life when you have been extraordinarily busy. Perhaps you are working on a business acquisition as an investment banker and working 100 hours for a couple of months? Or perhaps you are a builder under intense pressure to get 3 houses finished before you have to start paying late-completion penalties?

For a season of five years, I was managing a trading fund that invested in one of the exchange-listed energy futures markets.  Some days, many millions of dollars in cash were moving in and out of our bank accounts as volatility reached high levels. During that season of life, and those periods of volatility in particular, it meant that there was very little time for anything much outside of work, besides what was really important.

So them how is work-balance achieved?

Is Work-Life Balance Even Possible?

Better Work-Life Principles

The principles below you might like to consider as a guide as you examine your work-life balance.  They are not rules — because you need to decide what is optimal for your place, time and season of life. But they are a guide that has helped me balance the needs of work and a large home-schooled family, and should help you examine your current situation.

1. Work-life balance does not mean equal balance

If you try and schedule an equal amount of time to each area of life, you will quickly find some big problems. Don’t feel guilty about an unequal allocation of time. That does not of itself mean an unbalance. It becomes even vaguer when you consider dividing your energy, affection and resources equally. It [probably] can’t be done.

Balance does not mean time equality.

However, don’t let this be an excuse for ‘quality time’ in place of ‘quantity time’. Snippets of so-called high-quality time are not enough for your wife, nor your kids and not even for yourself. Drop that myth before it is too late. Both quality and quantity are required in the long run.

2. You need to align your definition of balance with your values

One of the reasons balance will be different for each of us is that we have different values.  You might value playing golf (personally, I do not play golf.  I have been told that my golf swing is like chopping wood, but I find that insulting to my wood chopping!) whereas another person does not.  If playing golf gives you energy, joy, stress relief and is in some way good for you, then you should find some way of including it in your schedule.  However, that is not an excuse for you to swing to the other extreme and play at the expense of other things.

When was the last time you examined your values?

Can you list your top 5 values? Ask yourself some questions:

  • Which values when violated by someone, get me really angry?
  • If I was to lose almost everything I have, what would I most not want to lose?
  • What would others closest to me say are most important to me?

In the Cats in the Cradle song, the dad did value a relationship with his son.  However, while his son was young, that value was suppressed, pushed down and compromised. Eventually, that value came back up to the surface, but by then it was too late. What was left was regret.

When we live and act in violation of our core values, the inevitable result will be regret.
~ Guy Mullon

Next we must remember that nothing stays the same for long.

3. Your ideal work-life balance will change

We have already talked about seasons of business. Sometimes things just have to be done. At other times, we have a little more room to create margin (unallocated time and energy) that we can re-allocate. The key is to remember that work-life balance is not set and forget. Re-examine yours frequently.

4. Re-examine your work-life balance at regular intervals

If you have times in your life when you do an examination of your life, examine your work-life balance then. Do a stock-take. At a minimum, I suggest once per year, but many people examine their situation much more frequently — such as monthly or quarterly. This might work for you too.

5. Ask others to voice their view on your work-life balance.

Work-life balance is like your nose — it is too close to you to see clearly. You need another’s perspective.  Ask your friends, your parents, your children, your wife/partner or even your boss. You might not like the answer, but it is better to get a heads-up and consider changes now than to go on in willful ignorance towards the coming train wreck consequences of poor work-life balance.

If you are a believer in God, I also suggest you ask Him to show you the truth about your work-life balance, what He says about where your affection is directed to, and what changes you should make.

6. Work-life balance isn’t about giving up things that are important

We talked about golf before. The fear you might have is that examining your work-life balance might push you into doing less of the things that you enjoy. In fact, if you have examined your values thoroughly, your goal in achieving work-life balance is exactly the opposite.

Your goal is to reallocate time, energy, affection and resources to what is actually important to you. Remember, it is not all or nothing. Find the right balance that aligns with your values. When you do, you will have more joy and feel greater levels of achievement because you are doing — in balance — what is important to you.

A better work-life balance will give you more of yourself and what you enjoy, not less.
~ Guy Mullon

Lastly, we must come to terms with change.

7. Changing your work-life balance might require some big changes

There are times in our lives when we just can’t make the adjustments we need within the framework of our current circumstances. Commonly, your type of work just doesn’t allow you to make the changes you seek.

When I set up our energy trading firm, I made a commitment to it for 5 years.  I was fortunate that I recognised that it could only last for a season, else it would have consequences à la The Cats in the Cradle for my life.

My wife and I knew that this season would be tough for everyone, so we set an end date for it. That helped enormously, because it meant during the hardest times — especially for my wife — that there was a light at the end of what was still a fairly long tunnel.  The point is though, that my crazy busy season needed to have an end.

Does yours? How will your crazy busy season end? Will it end on your terms, or will it only end once you have lost the people who are most precious to you? Like the sportsman who wanted to end his career on his terms. All sports careers must end, but don’t be like the one who didn’t know when to stop and was sacked.

So make a choice to change before change is thrust upon you. Get to where you want to be on purpose, not where others push you and live with regret for the rest of your life.

As I read on an L.A. tour bus once —

The best things in life are not things.

Please remember that when you think about your work-life balance.


Originally published at Real Men 24/7.
Photo by William Fortunato from Pexels.

About the Author: Guy Mullon

Guy is a former corporate manager, then funds manager, financial services responsible manager and company director turned entrepreneur. These days Guy is a busy husband and father of 9 children, online author, speaker and coach. Guy is the founder and one of the main contributors to Real Men 24/7, through which he seeks to help men who are 'stuck' get moving again to a life with a plan and purpose.

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