I often find myself disappearing down subject matter rabbit holes.
I read constantly, watch Ted talks, listen to podcasts and scour interesting websites, and find it difficult to make apologies for doing so.
For me it's about learning and research, an attempt to better understand the topics and issues which interest me and to grow as a person. It's all driven by a strong sense of personal curiosity about the world around me.
I accept this behaviour can be frustrating to those around me. There are often comments made about ‘work-life balance’ that I have to contend with, from both at home and at work.
But even this notion of work-life balance recently got me thinking and set me off on another little journey of discovery.
Obviously, in the age of the internet there is a massive amount of thoughtful content already out there on this issue.
This stems from academics right through to what appear to be borderline indolents, with the latter scribbling barely disguised manifestos to rarely visit their places of work.
I should admit from the off that I'm not a fan of the term work-life balance, or even the goal.
But to be clear, I'm not suggesting we should all give up our quest to have both a fulfilling day job and an interesting, thriving personal life. Nor am I saying that one is more important or should be favoured more than the other.
I'm merely suggest the issue is more nuanced and fluid than the term implies.
In my opinion, work-life balance is just too limiting. In any case, it will mean different things at different times.
To me the very word ‘balance’ brings to mind a rather 50/50 vision of work and life - a set of scales which we need to keep even.
This is rarely correct, or even particularly helpful. We can end up criticising ourselves if we do too much of one and not enough of the other.
An artificial separation
At the minimum, most of us work because we want to be able to support ourselves, our families and the people around us.
In an ideal world, we’re doing work that we’re proud of and that provides meaning and purpose. Working is a part of what each of us does, and the contribution we make to society.
When we separate work and life, it’s a little bit harder to make that connection.
Yet when we think about the work elements and life elements as two parts of as part of a whole daily experience, it becomes easier to see that success in one aspect often supports another.
For many of us, what we do in our spare time can directly impact on our working hours.
I've already mentioned following interests, reading and learning, but there is more to it than that.
Things like socialising and staying fit are just as important for our physical, mental and emotional well-being. These activities will in turn have a direct impact on our work performance.
By seeing these as complementary to our work performance, even though they're likely to be done in our spare time, we're likely to end up feeling less conflicted overall.
The constant effort
The idea of work-life balance suggests we should be constantly striving to achieve said balance. Even the mental image leaves me exhausted!
It may be more constructive to recognise there will continue to be shifts in life and work over time.
Rather than ‘falling or failing’ at work-life balance, it's probably far better to accept there will be good days and less successful ones.
These variations are normal. I find it much more useful to think of life as evolving and changing from day-to-day or year-to-year, rather than a battle to keep work and life separate and in equal measure.
If we're honest, very few days or weeks will look 50/50.
Sometimes there is the need to stay late, attend an event or get urgent work done over a weekend.
Equally there'll be times when an early finish, a walk away from your desk, or saying no to an event due to personal commitments isn't just desirable, but arguably essential to our well-being.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with making these choices.
Think on a bigger scale
I think that everyone deserves more than just balance.
If we set our bar too low, we won’t demand enough of ourselves, our leaders and our companies.
Right now, too many of us may be conditioned to be in an ‘either/or’ mentality, either at work or at play. I believe this to be just plain wrong.
I've always disliked the phrase: "You can have it all, just not all at once."
There are periods in life where we have less time for ourselves and will devote more to family or work. This is part of the normal ebb and flow of life.
When we think on a bigger scale, we begin to expect that we can enjoy a positive experience with all that work and life have to offer, even if they overlap or as commitments ebb and flow.
Our inner narrative is incredibly powerful, and how we talk about issues to ourselves makes a huge difference. This is what's known as linguistic determinism.
So, I would urge you to think bigger. Rather than work-life balance, perhaps it's worth setting the larger goal of ‘work-life fulfilment’ instead.