Newsletter 570 – Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life

HBR Cover Balance 1
Can anything fresh be said about balancing the challenges of work and life – and thriving in the process? Apparently the Harvard Business Review editors think this is worth the several cover stories in the March 2014 issue. Maybe the cover is a tip-off to what follows. The image of an elephant balancing on a ball is above the words “Forget about balance – you have to make choices.”This reminds me of the (easily retrieved) Balance - ElephantInternet image of an elephant balancing on a small ball above the words “Balance is the Key to Life!” Do you agree?

  • Balance is impossible if we mean consistently planned and preprogrammed time slots at work and apart from our jobs. We all know that life can be surprising and disruptive. Sometimes family crises demand attention, as do deadline-controlled periods at work. The goal is balance over weeks, months or years, not on a daily basis.
  • Home life and work life can each benefit the other. Partners at work and spouses or friends elsewhere can both bring emotional support, encouragement and fresh perspectives.
  • One large survey found that “leaders with strong family lives spoke again and again of needing a shared vision of success for everyone at home.”
  • Neither of these two domains (work and non-work activity) should be allowed to dominate the other. “Mixing these spheres too much leads to confusion and mistakes.”
  • Watch out for the destructive power of always being plugged in to communication technology including cell phones and computers. Twenty-four hour availability can hamper initiative and erode performance in individuals and in organizations.
  • The HBR articles only discuss life at work and life away. But how much of this applies to people, maybe in the millions, who have successful careers but who also are devoted to writing novels, making music, or fulfilling other avocational pursuits? How do I help a friend who has a relatively successful career but longs to spend more time working on a fulfilling hobby? Where do these fit into the balance mix?
  • Perhaps the overarching conclusion is to set realistic boundaries and keep flexible.

What do you think? How do you find balance or help others do the same? Please comment.


  1. Thank you, Gary, for this timely reflection on work/life balance. I am beginning to prepare a retreat for nurses on this topic and appreciate the ideas that are presented. I am even more moved by the referral to your newsletter #444 which reminds us of our Christian vocation of stewardship and how this can inform our choice of priorities for daily life. I find that my lens is shifting back from the values of balance and self-care of the world to those of Christian discipleship.


  2. Actually I find this topic a bit frustrating. I’m a life coach and others come to me asking for help being organized and balanced and my thoughts are always, “me too!” Listen to an hour webinar on time management yesterday but didn’t come away with anything practical. I do think the “unplugging” idea is probably a key.


  3. Balance is not the key to life. The image of an elephant balanced on a ball is cute and illustrative. However, it does not convey reality. The elephant needs four legs for balance. Life is about motion, movement, which requires a certain amount of imbalance. Balance is good, but it can lead to stagnation and mediocrity. Life has lead me to agree with Elsie, that it’s about Christian discipleship — following my Lord in the moments and relationships of each day.


    1. Hey Loren, I have known for years that many (maybe most) of my former students are smarter than me. Your comments are so much on target. Of course the elephant image is cutsey but not very realistic. Balance is not healthy even for an elephant. See, I should pay more attention to you than to the cover of HBR. I very much appreciate your perspective. As I said above, it is right on target.


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