I have been looking forward getting back to work almost since the holiday started. No, I'm not a workaholic (I hate that self-flattering description self-obsessed perfectionists tend to give to themselves), I just have important things I want to achieve in life. And right now building DrivenWoman feels much more important than anything else, playing with my kids included.
(Yes, a mother can put other things first and still be a great mother. I loved Debra Pickett's 'Why I work' blog post on Project Eve on this topic on Saturday.)
Lot's of people return from holiday today or later this month. Facebook is filling up with 'poor me' comments on how sad they are to return back to work and how there is only 11 months to go until the next summer break. Who wants to live their lives like this?
Isn't the work-life thinking the most ancient thought system there is, planted by our parents' generation who mostly worked to pay the bills? Why do we keep repeating this silly idea of living fully only when we are taking time off?
In our opinion work-life balance is grossly overrated. Here is why.
1) Work-life balance is short term thinking
We tend to evaluate our lives in a maximum one year time span, thus one month holiday within 12 months sounds reasonable and necessary. However, it is unrealistic to reach a complete 'balance' in your life with anything when looking at such a short timeframe. There may be years when you should only work. When I was setting up my first company I worked 12 to 14 hour days for 6 days a week for the first year and 12 hour days 5 days a week for the following two. Sure, I did take some holidays when the company was set up and I had a team of 20 people. But only then I took a holiday.
On the other hand, there may be a year or two when you are not supposed to work at all. Many women think they must return back to work soon after giving birth or they will be left out of the race to the top. They are literally bullied into work by their own idea of work-life balance! What would happen if they'd take two years off, focus on their children, wind down and recharge, and then return to work (or start their own company). I bet many would return to work on their own terms. They would be more productive, feel less guilt towards their family (for not staying at home) and would be more confident in what they want out of their career and life, thus they would be able to achieve more and be in a better position in shorter time.
Work and rest will only balance itself out on the longer term, over the whole course of one's life time, not in a single year. We should give ourselves a break and review our lives as a whole and not demand quarterly results on all aspects of life.
2) Work-life balance skews thinking
When you don't know who you are and who you want to become it is very difficult to be motivated on a daily basis. Therefore it is easier to slot oneself into a readily digested structure, such as a job description, and pre-allocated holidays. When one completes tasks for others holidays are 'earned'. Working on a production line you do need a holiday as you need to rest to be able to continue productively.
If you work for yourself, either as a business owner or in a job (we should all think we work for ourselves regardless how we get paid!), entitlement for holiday becomes secondary. You have a goal you want to achieve and it may be more important for you to achieve that goal than to hang onto set office hours. Working like that, understanding who you are and who you want to become, will give much more gratification and empower you to reach higher than clinging onto pre-defined way of working and thinking.
3) Pre-determined holiday periods interfere with your natural productivity cycle
We should time our holidays not with the calendar but with our productivity cycle. There are periods when we can get a lot of work done in a short period of time. We are focused and productive. Then there are periods when we are more likely to procrastinate and nothing happens. A great time to take a break!
What if you are like me, more energetic and productive when the sun is shining? I should be working all summer and take my holidays during the winter months. This would be a bit unfair for my 4 year old boys and as a mother I feel the need to take them swimming and picking blueberries or to the seaside. But I should maximise my productive periods and outsource some of the summer activities to husband and grand parents. Mothers don't have to do it all. My kids will have wonderful summer memories even if I'm not in all of the photos eating ice cream with them!
What is your most productive period in the year? How could you maximise your productivity during that period? It is useful to figure this out and then explain it to your loved ones to manage expectations on holiday planning.
4) Holiday destroys discipline
And when discipline is gone, it is much harder to re-create the flow where things happen.
You simply can't take a holiday when you have something important to do. It doesn't matter how much your husband or kids need a holiday, if you want to get stuff done. You need to get stuff done! When you get stuff done you free yourself from regret. Thus holiday with regret is pointless.
I was desperately trying to keep up with my routine whilst on holiday but eventually the holiday activities took over and I got nothing done.
It is much better not to take a holiday if you can avoid it. Trying to do two opposite things at once (holiday vs. work) normally results into a situation where none gets done properly.
5) Learn to distinguish between rest and holiday
We always need rest, but we don't always need a holiday.
Everyone who works hard needs time to rest. Rest can come in different shapes and sizes from meditation during the work day, or a run in a forest, to a good 8 hours of sleep at night.
If you need to get stuff done, have a rest, don't go on a holiday.