I have worked all my life, and have spent a lot of time trying to figure out if I'm doing the right thing when it comes to where I'm spending my time. How much time should I spend with my mom, my husband, my children? And how much time at work? And how much time on doing things I like? I've certainly spent plenty of time feeling bad about not doing what I thought I should be doing. Oftentimes, I found myself complaining that I didn't have time for all the things I wanted to do. Why was there never enough time?
Then the conversation about work-life balance came into fashion. That sounded like a really great thing. Except, the more I started thinking about having work-life balance, the more confused I got.
When I examine the words "work," "life" and "balance," it looks like work and life are at odds with each other. Why is work not part of life? When I examine my life, there's much more than work to be balanced. I'd like to balance time with my husband, my children, my mom, my grandchildren, my work, social activities, church, community engagement and possibly some of my interests. It gets really overwhelming. When I thought about it, I realized everything has to get worked out. This was bigger than just work. Work is a very small part of the equation, even though work takes most of my time. My dilemma got worse.
After many configurations of trying to give appropriate attention to all these different areas, I had to ask myself: What do I really want from these relationships and different aspects of my life?
The answer was very simple. I wanted strong bonds and to make a difference. With this, I began to shift my attention from making time to making a difference. I had to crystallize what difference I wanted to make. What outcomes did I want in my life, in the lives of the people that matter to me, and at work? This changed my whole perspective, and it changed the game.
In retrospect, it became very clear why I struggled. Work-life balance is a game I can never win. If balancing work and life is a linear game, it's a setup. It cannot be won. There's more to my life than just "work" and "life." A balance of time is hopeless when you think of how much time is spent just working and sleeping -- there's hardly time to sort out life! There are many things in my home life that could be considered work as well. And even if there was no "work," there would still be competing priorities and some things are bound to get neglected.
So that's why I created a different game, one that measures something else. Instead of measuring time, I measure how many actions and outcomes I can put into a given time. In the outcome game, I'm purely playing to have what I want in my life.
What does this mean in real terms? It means ensuring the outcomes that my daughters always feel my presence in their life -- no matter where in the world they, or I, may be. It means having a fit, agile body by finding creative ways to make it happen instead of arguing I don't have time.
So, instead of trying to achieve balance, I focus on achieving my outcomes. This new focus requires me to be very clear about the outcomes I want in my life and to get better and better every day, year after year, at achieving what I want.
What should I focus on at any given time? In the last few years, I've gathered a few principles to guide me:
• What's the biggest difference I can make now?
• Does the outcome need me?
• Do I have to respond immediately?
• What are the unintended consequences?
• How can I maximize the value of the moment?
My breakthrough has been to create the outcome game. It's a fulfilling game I can play with heart and spirit, where I'm focused on getting closer and closer to achieving the results I want in my life every day. Unlike work-life balance, this is a winnable game. And a choice I make every time.
Pontish Yeramyan is the President and CEO of Gap International, where she partners with clients to build exceptional 21st Century Organizations. Follow her on Twitter, or check out the Think Growth blog.