Archana Law explains that a work-life balance is possible

Of all the narratives about work and life, this is the most persistent – success at work requires harsh tradeoffs in the rest of life! The 1987 comedy Baby Boom featured Diane Keaton as a high-powered working mom wearing a suit and high heels, awkwardly balancing a baby on her hip and gripping a briefcase in the other hand as her purse strap cuts uncomfortably across her chest.

She looks worried. How will she manage to juggle work and family? What will she have to sacrifice to do it?

It’s been more than 25 years since that movie was made and we’re still asking the same basic questions – and making some of the same assumptions about women, work and family.

Imagine an ambitious young manager eager for his next promotion but worried about leaving his wife with their toddler and newborn son at home; or the rising star who’s already juggling long hours at work while reading for an MBA; or the unmarried colleague who would relish a plum assignment but is about to move her father into a nursing home.

So does the pursuit of a meaningful and multifaceted life involve making endless choices about both short-term tactical issues and long-term strategic ones?

American businesswoman Randi Zuckerberg called it the ‘entrepreneur’s dilemma’: pick three you’d wish to keep from a list that includes maintaining friendships, building a great company, spending time with the family, staying fit and getting sufficient sleep.

A similar problem is expressed through the Four Burners Theory. Like a stove, life has four burners: family, friends, health and work. To be successful, you need to turn off one burner; and to be really successful, you need to turn off at least two.

Life will always involve tradeoffs; but many successful people make time for all the important aspects of their lives. Indeed, some people believe that keeping the other burners going can help the ‘work burner’ in the long run!

MATH PROBLEM All these areas of life don’t consume equal amounts of time – nobody spends 40 hours a week with friends or exercising. Out of 168 hours a week, working 60 hours and sleeping eight hours at night (that’s 56 hours a week) would still leave 52 hours for other activities.

It would seem possible to exercise for four hours and mindfully see friends for three hours while still having time for family meals and reading bedtime stories.

APPLY LOGIC As you progress in your career and life, more responsibilities and opportunities are tossed at you. So at some point, it seems logical and necessary to drop something. The key is to decide consciously what to relinquish instead of unwittingly letting go of the most important item.

Jonas Koffler (coauthor of ‘Hustle: The Power to Charge Your Life with Money, Meaning, and Momentum’) recommends that people who want to invest in all areas “set up focussed blocks of time for each area of work and life.”

For each of these categories – i.e. family; society and community; spiritual, physical and material; vocational and career – ask yourself three questions. What do I want at this time in my life? How much do I want to experience this dimension? Given that I have a finite amount of time, energy and resources, how important is this dimension in relation to the others?

The idea is to develop an aspirational picture of yourself for the present and a legacy vision for the future as a guide to deciding how to spend your personal resources. Clinical psychologist Dr. Howard Stevenson explains how he employed a tactical fix that honoured his vision of himself as a committed husband and father, as well as a busy professional. So while at home, he was fully responsive and engaged completely with his family.

NEEDS VS. WANTS The spectrum of needs starts with food, shelter and health, while wants include diamond necklaces, cruises and mansions. Needs have more intrinsic value than wants but most things fall somewhere in the middle. The goal is to understand where your options fall on the spectrum based on your individual circumstances at a given moment and your legacy vision.

TYPES OF COSTS Almost all decisions – whether they’re strategic business alliances or leadership roles – involve two types of costs. There’s the investment cost such as the time, energy and other resources you expend; and the opportunity cost such as the options you forgo by investing in these resources.

Ultimately, this boils down to what having it all means to you! If you can define it clearly in a grounded, realistic and optimistic way, you can lead yourself wisely to the outcome.

As many of us struggle to chart a path to success in our careers and a sense of fulfilment in our lives, it’s wise to keep in mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words: “To be yourself in a world that’s constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”