The Work/Life Balance Model is Obsolete

3 reasons the Work/Life Balance Model is obsolete.


1)  It optimizes for the wrong parameter.

2)  It assumes a zero-sum game.

3)  It causes many people more stress than it saves.

“Work/Life Balance” is a phrase heard almost daily.  Whether one hears it in the work place or in social circles, it seems to be accepted as more than a standard now.  Often, it even seems to be expected as a human right, not a privilege.  This should actually be celebrated.  It shows how prosperous we have truly become.  By “we”, I refer to professionals in the industrialized West.  Not everyone has this luxury.

Just consider what it took to get here.  If my parents or grandparents could have heard people whining about not having the right work/life balance, they would have become a bit heated and then would have called the unbalanced ones spoiled brats.

As for me, as soon as some idea becomes mantra, it is already time to call it into question.  Every innovation eventually becomes an anti-innovation.  (reference to work by Marshall McLuhan)  Now I’ve called this mantra into question and this is the result:


1)  Optimizing the wrong parameter.

The work/life balance model optimizes for TIME.  A better model (see below) would optimize for something we can actually change.  For example:






If one optimizes for time, one is forced into a zero-sum game.  24 hours in a day.  Sleep 8 of them.  Work 8 of them.  Do “Life” in the remaining 8.

Whoever said it had to be a zero-sum game?

This model paints you into a corner before you even begin.  Think of the human heart.  Is it an entity with finite capacity?  At some point, we have all told somebody that we love her/him with all our heart.  Let’s say this person became the mother/father of your child.  What happens now?  Do we love her/him and your child with only half our heart now?  Of course not.  It doesn’t work that way.  The heart is capable of infinite expansion.  And humans are most certainly more than capable of handling more than a fixed amount of fulfillment.



I know many acolytes of the work/life balance.  It works out well for many of them.  For others, it causes more stress than it saves.  They create inflexible walls between work and “life”.  They insist on remaining rigid while standing in a raging river.  They say yes or no to things based on dogma rather than merit.  They invest lots of energy maintaining the walls and additional energy in sorting topics, invitations, and requests.  For these people, it becomes a burden.  That which you resist, persists.  It becomes a no-win scenario.



What did Captain Kirk do when faced with a no-win scenario in a training simulation?  He hacked the simulation.  (reference to the Kobayashi Maru training simulation)  So, let’s hack this model.  HOW?

A)  Optimize for something other than time.

B)  Break down the wall.

C)  Find synergies between activities that were previously on opposite sides of the wall.


A)  Optimize for something other than time.

Let’s say we spend 8 hours working and 8 hours at life.  Now let’s optimize for satisfaction.  We accumulate Satisfaction Units (SU’s) during the time we spend at each. (I was going to use Fulfillment Units, but then saw how the abbreviation might have been a bit comical.)  If we have been successful at running the work/life model, we will be racking up the same amount of SU’s on each side of the wall.  Let’s say 8 SU’s on each side, or 1 SU / hour.  If we are scoring only 4 on one side and 8 on the other, then it is clear that it is time to make some changes. And thus, this exercise alone has been worth it.

B)  Break down the wall.

There is no longer work and life.  There is just life.  We just saved ourselves the effort it takes to classify and sort.  We also saved all the energy it takes to maintain the wall.  The effect is calming.

C) Find synergies.

If you love what you do, you’ve got this all dialed in already.  There are activities on both sides of the former wall that we like and those we do not like.  There are certainly commonalities.  Some will appear on both sides.  Does it really matter when we do them?  Once identified, we can spend the energy dividend to focus on the things we get satisfaction from.  Instead of scoring just 1 SU / hour, we might achieve 5 SU’s / hour.

5 SU’s / hour x 16 hours = 80 SU’s.

That’s a big jump from the 16 SU’s we scored while the wall was up!

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