“Balance” & Boundaries

Both 2020 and 2021 have been full of conversations about balance and boundaries. By balance I mean this elusive sense of being peaceful and having the ability to live your life and work on your career while maintaining a beautiful home, taking care of your health, and your family. I say elusive because I believe that balance is not possible. We are setting people up to fail by pushing them to “find balance.”

By boundaries, I mean setting boundaries to protect ourselves, our time, and our energy. Time, as we know, is one of our most precious resources and protecting it can be challenging. We need to protect our time. We also need to set boundaries for ourselves around time and energy use. Our energy is finite, it can only be replenished in so many ways. If we don’t set boundaries around how we spend and replenish our energy we will burnout. Coming back from burnout takes a long time. So let’s dig in a bit more.

“Forget work-life balance…Do the thing you want and create systems that support that. Perfectly imbalanced in the direction you want to go is perfectly acceptable”

~ Richie Norton

“Finding Balance” aka searching for a unicorn

“Finding balance” seems to be routed in this ideal of work/life balance. But what if we are framing it in the wrong way and setting people up to fail? When I think about the word balance I think about a scale specifically, an older scale, where you put some weight on one side and try to level it out with some weight on the other side. Balance also implies that we need to weigh things equally. But life doesn’t work like that. First of all, there are more than two parts to your life and you are always going to be “giving more” of yourself to one part than another. For example, I have work, kids, a husband, a house, my health, friends, and family. If I tried to give equal time to each of these areas of my life I would have 3.4 hours a day or 24 hours a week per part of my life. I don’t know about you, but 3.4 hours of sleep/day doesn’t cut it for my health and, my kids certainly need me more than 3.4 hours a day. I can equate the idea of “finding balance” to searching for a unicorn you are never going to “find balance” because it doesn’t really exist.

But what is possible? I suggest the idea of harmony. By definition, harmony is an agreement or a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts. When musicians write and play music, they don’t give all the instruments the same amount of playing time. You don’t hear solos from certain parts of a band, but a drum solo or a guitar solo, are regular occurrences. Our lives work the same way. We should be aiming for a pleasing arrangement of parts, where certain “parts” will get solos and be featured sometimes, and other “parts” will be featured at other times. Figuring out how to arrange the “parts” nicely is hard at times, but it’s certainly better than trying to create balance and feeling guilty all the time because it isn’t balanced.

Setting up your Harmony

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Which parts of my life are most important to me right now?
  • What do I love doing?
  • Who am I spending most of my time with?
  • Where am I spending most of my time?
  • Whom would I like to be spending time with but I’m not?
  • What could I spend less time doing and still be happy or even happier?
  • What could I spend more time doing that would improve my life?
  • What can I delegate to someone else or ask someone for help?

Once you have answered these questions, it’s time to adjust your day, week, month, and possibly your year to try and create better harmony for yourself. Making adjustments will require you to set boundaries and parameters for yourself and others.

“You can be a good person with a kind heart and still say no to people.”

~Tracy Malone

Set Boundaries, adjust as needed

Boundaries are a bit of a buzzword, especially since the start of the pandemic, many more people are working from home. Working from home means there is less separation between work life and home life. Start and finish times are unclear. Lunch and coffee breaks are unclear. The expected times to check your email are unclear. Don’t get me wrong I am 100% supportive of remote working. I love working remotely. It offers the flexibility we’ve never had before. It provides an opportunity to find more harmony because people aren’t spending multiple hours a day stuck in traffic. Save money on gas and parking. Work in stretchy pants all day long because people only see you from the waist up. The benefits are endless. However, it has created a need for boundary setting.

Boundaries are not just for you to set for other people about how they interact and treat you. They are also for you to create for yourself. An example might be, I will not check my email after 4:30 pm. Or I will not sit at my desk for more than 90 mins without getting up and moving around. Boundaries for yourself hopefully will develop into habits, aka things you do without thinking about them. So consult your answers to the questions above and figure out which one requires you to show up differently for yourself to create harmony.

Setting boundaries with others is challenging because those people now have to change their behaviour. They were likely benefitting from you not having a boundary in place.

Setting boundaries with others:

  1. Consult the answers to your harmony questions.
  2. Consult the answers to your harmony questions.
  3. Figure out who in your life needs a boundary.
  4. Determine whether you need to talk to them about it or whether you can implement it without a conversation. Not all boundaries need to be announced, although many have to be eventually.
  5. If a conversation needs to be had, set up a time with the person that works for you. Explain the boundary you are setting.

If you want to you, can explain the why behind your boundary, but you don’t have to. Sometimes too many details or sharing the why can lead to others trying to poke holes in your boundary/reasoning. You can explain what the consequences will be if your boundary is not respected. Typical consequences might be: 

  • they will no longer have a relationship with you, 
  • a change in relationship status (friend to acquaintance) 
  • Some conversations or activities won’t be part of your relationship (i.e. if they won’t listen to your perspective on politics, you won’t be talking about politics anymore). 

You setting a clear boundary gives the other person a choice: Change their behaviour, or there will be a change in the relationship as they know it to be. Also, keep in mind, you might have to change a boundary because it isn’t needed anymore and that’s ok too! Not all boundaries are forever. 

None of this is easy, but it is important! Remember your energy is a renewable resource, but if you don’t protect your energy, it can take a long time to get it back (i.e. if you reach burnout). Your time is a nonrenewable resource spend it wisely!

If finding harmony or setting boundaries is something you struggle with or want to talk through. Reach out to a coach. We love helping people work through figuring out the best way to spend their energy and time.