The Truth About Work Life Balance and How To Get It

Are you searching for work life balance? Who's not?! It's not necessarily easy - and it's not for everyone! - but here are 4 epiphanies that have helped me work less and enjoy my life more. Click through to see if they'll work for you >>

When you hear the phrase work life balance, do you:

a. want to reach through the computer and strangle me for referencing lifestyle blog/self development cliches
b. imagine an Instagram photo of a thin blond woman doing yoga on the beach
d. circle all of the above

Me, too.

Very few of us have lives that are perfectly divided into work and play. Maybe you work 60 hours a week and never see your partner. Maybe you’ve got an amazing social life but you’re working a dead-end job. Maybe you’re in perfect shape … but you spend so much time training for marathons you never see your non-running friends.

Work life balance isn’t necessarily easy and – honestly – it’s not for everyone! But if you’d like a bit more play than work (or a bit more work than play) read on for 4 epiphanies that have helped me find more balance in my life.

1. Work-life balance means that most things in our lives progress more slowly

Well that’s a bit depressing, isn’t it? Dudes, it’s true.

We all have limited amounts of time, money, and energy. Let us imagine that we begin every day with 10 units of energy; we can choose to put 9 of those units into our professional lives and 1 unit into our relationships.

Or we can put 7 units into marathon training and 3 units into college classes. Or we can put 4 units into Netflix, 4 units into cat cuddling, and 2 units into pizza rolls. (<-my November weekends.)

What we can’t do is pull more time and energy out of the clear blue sky and/or tiny bottles of 5 Hour Energy. I have tried. Sad to report it doesn’t work.

So it follows that if we want to attain that fabled Work Life Balance we need to spread our energy and time between – you guessed it! – our work and life. And when we do that, two things happen:

1. We (probably) feel more relaxed, more centered, and more like ourselves.
2. We don’t advance quite as quickly as our friends who’ve allocated their time and energy differently.

Let’s say you enroll in an MBA program and attend classes full time. You spend 60 hours a week on classwork, live on a teeeeny tiny budget, and see your friends once a month.

In two years, you’ll be ready for the workforce with a freshly printed diploma under your arm. You might be burnt out and exhausted. You might be exhilarated and proud of all your hard work. You might be both.

Or you might enroll in an evening/weekend MBA program. You take a couple of classes each semester, making time for them between dinner parties, vacations, and your current job. Because you’re taking fewer classes, you have time to really enjoy them. By the time you’re completely finished, you’ve spent 4.5 years earning this degree. But you didn’t hate your life while you did it.

This applies to just about everything. When you throw yourself headlong into any pursuit – personal or professional  – you’re likely to achieve that goal faster, occasionally at the expense of other parts of your life.

Earning a degree, training for a marathon, paying off debt, getting a promotion, buying a home, launching your freelance career – you’ll accomplish things faster if you put other aspects of your life on the back burner.

But that requires you to put other aspects of your life on the back burner.

Don’t want to put things on the back burner? That’s okay! If we really want work/life balance, we need to make peace with reaching our goals a bit more slowly.

2. Sometimes we have to work really hard now to have work life balance later

A bit of real talk: I spent 2009-2011 working two jobs and posting seven days a week on Yes & Yes. I’d spend each of my 45-minute lunch breaks commenting on other blogs and at least one day every weekend writing blog posts. It was not a particularly balanced life.

But those long hours and that very unbalanced life made my current life possible. These days, I work between 30 and 40 hours a week and travel whenever I want to.

I can meet my friends for lunch, take my stepson to a matinee, or blow off work because it happens to be gorgeous outside. This probably wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t worked those crazy hours five years ago.

Maybe your balanced future means you need an unbalanced present. Maybe it means working really hard to move somewhere with a low cost of living so you can earn/work less. Maybe it’s training for a career that has flexible hours. Maybe it’s spending all your free time looking for a job that allows you to work from home.

If we’re going to live unbalanced lives, let’s make sure they’re unbalanced on purpose. Share on X

3. Work-life balances is easier if we get really clear on what makes us happy + where our money is going 

Very few of us work for the sheer fun of it. Even those of us who love our jobs are usually working to, you know, earn money. And we work longer hours and stay at stressful, life-unbalancing jobs because we believe we need more money.

And sometimes we really do need more money; into everyone’s life some unexpected bills must fall.

But I bet if we cracked open our bank account statements and credit card bills, we’d see a lot of of purchases that aren’t particularly joy-inducing and life-sustaining. (I’m talking to you, $15 Target sales rack impulse buy.)  

Of course, there are lots of unsexy things we all need to spend money on – insurance, medications, vegetables. But most of us spend thousands of dollars every year on things that don’t make us happy or improve our lives in tangibles ways.

The more money we spend on non-awesome stuff > the more we have to work > the more unbalanced our lives get > the crankier we are > the more likely we are to self-medicate with $15 Target sweaters we don’t actually want.

Connecting work/life balance to Target impulse buys might seem like a stretch and I realize that the psychology of money and happiness deserves a bit more than one bullet point in a blog post. Like, it probably deserves an in-depth course or a whole damn book. Like, uh, this one

But let’s start by acknowledging that a healthy bank balance makes it easier to have a healthier work/life balance. (And it’s easier to have a healthy bank balance if we stop buying all those $15 Target sweaters.)

P.S. Not sure what makes you happy? This will help.

4. Sometimes work life balance is overrated

Did you just fall in love for the first time since your heart-gutting divorce five years ago? OMG PUT YOUR ENERGY INTO THAT.

Did you just move to a new city for your dream job? And you don’t know anyone? In case you wanted it, you have my official permission to put 8 of your 10 energy units into work right now.

Have you been at the same, totally lovely, can-do-it-on-autopilot job for 10 years? And you’ve just rediscovered your love for dance? By all means! Put less of your energy into work and more of your energy into your dance classes!

When you love something and it energizes you, allow your life to tip in the direction.

And if work or boring social obligations or lawn care are unbalancing our lives, let’s have the guts to tip our lives back to center.

But I want to hear from you! Do you believe work-life balance is possible? If you’ve achieved it, how’d you do that?

P.S. Did you know I have a (free) private Facebook group dedicated solely to the topics of money and happiness? And the stuff we talk about has helped members change jobs, save thousands of dollars, and fight less with their partners? Join us!

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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  1. Ashley

    Gawd. You are just the best.

  2. Sarah Von Bargen

    BLUUUUUSHHH! <3 <3 <3

  3. Rebeca

    Perfect timing!! In grad school and falling in love and struggling with taking time to spend with bf and actually enjoying it sans feeling guilty later!!!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Congrats! Give yourself time to love! <3

  4. Meg

    This is great. I like the idea of thinking about it in units like Spoon Theory.

    PS- I don’t know if this falls to you or if I should pester them, but Bloglovin’ has stopped telling me when you update, which makes me sad.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Thanks for the head’s up, Meg!

  5. Laura

    Sarah, you articles have been KILLING it lately! This one, the how you want to feel, and especially the one about finagling your vacation days all feel like they’ve been written for ME.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, thanks so much! As weird as it sounds, I feel like I’m actually GETTING SERIOUS about blogging for the first time. Yes, I’ve been doing this for 8 years. Yes, it’s been my main source of income for 5 years. But I’m fiiiiinally getting it figured out 😉

  6. Boiling

    Sarah! Yours is one of the best and most balanced articles I have read on work life balance!

  7. Elliot @ Our Growing Wealth

    Great post and plenty of food for thought there! I feel like at the moment, I don’t quite have the work life balance I want, it feels like I’m always at work or commuting! So definitely going to take some of the things you’ve said on board to see if I can change this.

  8. Mrs. PIE

    this is a great article, so happy to have found your blog. I’m a big believer that there is no such thing as work life balance. There is simply picking what is important to you and fitting in other stuff around that. As you have beautifully described here. Choose what to spend your energy on, just understand that other things in your life can’t and won’t have the same energy available for them

  9. Joy

    Another great post and so well-written. I’m so glad you spent all those weekends writing years ago and now have time to not only produce wonderful posts like this, but also to enjoy your life! Thank you Sarah!

  10. Elizabeth

    I loved this article! I sent it to my mom, who’s all about finding the key to work-life balance as she heads closer to retirement 😉

    I’d never heard the point that work-life balance means things will take more time, but that’s amazingly true! And what’s more, it’s okay! Thanks for spelling that out for me, I’ll store it in my little mental book of wisdom 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      So glad you found this helpful, Elizabeth! <3

  11. Heidi

    I totally get this! The idea of having a limited number of energy units per day is something to keep in mind when deciding whether to keep or cut down on commitments.

    For example, while struggling with part time college classes, I thought, “everyone else” can juggle a full-time job, working out, housekeeping, meditating and part-time school; why can’t I? Cue the shame. Did I mention the “everyone else” I was comparing myself to either

    A. still lived with her parents or
    B. had a full-time job as a fitness instructor?

    Once I realized it would take 10hrs/week to pass my classes, and I didn’t have that to spare, I decided to sacrifice my schoolwork for the other activities I care about more.

  12. Britney

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this post! I mean, everything you said, I was literally like “OMG, that’s me!” . I have been that person for so long who literally ran on fumes to work full-time and go to school full time. (Kept that schedule up for a total of 8 long years in fact). As I’m getting older, I realize for the first time the need to “recenter” my balance in life. I’ve been burnt out for so long and I never realized it. It’s causing so much unhappiness in my work life right now, but I’m working on finding happiness in a new, more balanced lifestyle! Thank you for this!

  13. christelle

    Just stumbled across this great post 🙂 and saw my photo !! Thanks for the credit !!

  14. Heidi

    Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is helped me to change my life! I wish there were a course like this to manage time! Just like I’ve lost dollars to regrettable purchases, I’ve also lost time to wasteful activities (falling down an instagram hole for example).

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Have you tried doing the highlighter exercise with your calendar? It helps there, too!

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