In part 1 of my post on the topic of ‘work-life balance’ I shared my thoughts about why I don’t particularly like the term and suggested that paying attention to the range of aspects that make up your ‘life well-being’ (your emotional/mental health, physical health, financial health etc) was a better approach than simply trying to balance the time and energy you spend at ‘work’ with the time and energy that you spend on everything else.
And rather than just rolling my eyes or having a little rant to whoever is unfortunate enough to be near me every time I hear the term ‘work-life balance’, I’ve done some thinking about how I’d like to apply an alternative way of looking at balance in my own life and figured that as it might be interesting, relevant (or perhaps just humorous!) to others, it was worth writing a blog post about it.
People who know me well know that I’m a visual person and like to construct or use stories and analogies to make concepts/ideas/opinions more tangible. And those people will also know that I’m not a gardener. But, for whatever reason, it’s a gardening analogy that helps me to explain my concept of ‘life well-being’…
Your life as a garden
In the previous post, I identified six aspects that I think make up my well-being:
I like to think of each of these as different plants in a garden. In a garden at certain times of the year or in response to certain events, one or two plants may need more focus and attention than the others. Just like at times in your life, for a variety of external and internal reasons, you may need to focus more heavily on certain aspects of your life. The plants in your garden do not always need to be maintained in exactly the same way, with exactly the same water/fertiliser/pruning regimes, nor do the aspects of your life always need to be attended to in equal portions of time or energy. Instead attention and maintenance must be applied based on the specific needs of the plants in the garden. Often in a garden there are synergies between plants. Where one is going particularly well it may provide benefits for another, reducing the need for active maintenance or intervention.
But what is necessary is that you keep a regular eye on your garden. Take the time to observe it and see what’s working and what’s not. Where one plant is starting to look like it’s not doing so well, you can give it some attention to get it back on track. It’s important not to let the health of any of the plants suffer too much. To let a plant become completely neglected means that the effort required to get it to recover is much greater. And once a plant in the garden becomes completely neglected, it stops having those important synergistic benefits for other plants.
Multi-tasking is good
I know there has been much recent commentary and discussion about the downside of multi-tasking (especially in our hyper-connected, always-on world). It’s common to feel pressured to fit more and more into our already time-poor lives which leaves us distracted and overwhelmed. But, in creating ‘life well-being’, multi-tasking can be a good thing.
I think you achieve the greatest feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment in your life where you can undertake activities or spend your time in ways that provide benefit and nourishment for two or more areas of your needs. I guess in part this is about the return or benefit you get for the investment of time and energy. If you’re in the garden it makes sense to water all the plants at once, rather than tending to each plant independent of the others. And to know that you’re undertaking an activity that’s making your whole garden flourish as opposed to an activity that only benefits a single plant can provide a greater sense of purpose and achievement.
I noticed this particularly strongly when I started running. Clearly running has a physical benefit – it made a huge difference for my weight loss and fitness – so it definitely contributed to my need for physical health. And it also contributed the mental/emotional health aspect of my ‘life well-being’ – both as a result of the ‘runners high’ and the increased feelings self-esteem/confidence from losing weight achieving new challenges/fitness goals. I also began to run regularly with a group of girlfriends, and this activity provided a catalyst for renewing and deepening some important social connections. One activity – running – was something that nourished three of my needs (physical health, mental/emotional health and the need for social connection). And just like the synergies in a garden – the flourishing of one of these aspects contributed to the flourishing in others. For example, the social connections I enjoyed while running helped me to achieve greater physical benefits (running with friends often pushes you to go a little further or faster), and the support and interaction from my friends no doubt benefited my mental and emotional health.
Now getting back to work… One of the reasons why I think that many people are dissatisfied with their work or are seeking greater ‘work-life balance’ is because work often fails to benefit multiple needs. Work for many people may only really deeply satisfy one or two needs (most commonly financial health). This is like going into your garden for 8 hours, and only looking at and tending to one plant the whole time.
We all have limited time. It’s a finite resource and there’s no way to get more or less of it. So, the more aspects of your ‘life well-being’ that your activities (including work) can address the more fulfilled and ‘in balance’ you’re likely to feel.
Minimising negatives as well as maximising positives
In addition to seeking out those activities that nourish aspects of our ‘life well-being’, we also need to be aware of the activities that damage or deplete us. In the garden it might be easy to focus on the benefit that an activity is having for one plant, while overlooking the fact that you’ve had to trample on another plant to achieve it. Over some periods this might be necessary or desirable, but we need to remain conscious of both the positive and the negative impacts of the activities we engage in. And perhaps take time to consider if there is an alternative way of tending to the plant, so that you don’t need to tread on another to do it.
Everyone’s garden is different
Everyone’s garden is different. There is no design you must follow, no generic formula to apply, no one-size-fits-all garden maintenance strategy. You get to decide how your garden should look. And only you can know exactly how your garden is flourishing at any point in time. The observations of others can be important – they can provide a different perspective on your garden, and help to identify those plants that are starting to wilt and that you may have overlooked, or they may provide praise when they notice plants that are blooming and healthy. Other people may also share their own garden maintenance strategies and suggestions which you may find helpful in finding the best ways to maintain yours. But ultimately you need to decide how you want your garden to look, and how you’ll maintain it. And you are responsible for undertaking that maintenance.
Three steps to achieve a great garden
I always like presentations or articles or books that contain practical information that I can take away and apply in my own life. So, here is my attempt at providing three ideas to help you ensure that your garden of ‘life well-being’ continues to flourish…
- Noticing. Take time to check on your garden regularly. Inspect the plants individually, but step back and look at the whole garden. Look carefully for signs that a plant may need some more attention, but also take time to celebrate and enjoy those plants that are thriving.
- Find a gardening buddy. A trusted friend, mentor or coach can be a great help in providing a different perspective on your garden, sharing their own gardening tips, and allowing you the opportunity to reflect on and discuss your garden maintenance strategies.
- Multi-tasking. Seek out activities that benefit two or more plants in your garden. It’s more efficient and you’ll see a greater return on your investment of time and energy. You can also adjust the way you undertake or look at your current activities so that they’re fulfilling multiple needs. For example – invite a friend to join you on your regular lunch-time walk or put up your hand to take on a new challenge at work.