What a good work-life balance really is

At first I was thinking of writing this post with the help of ChatGPT. Why not to delegate this task and save myself some time for editing and polishing the post? I bet the ChatGPT version would captivate your attention with every sentence you get to read. So I’m thinking, ‘Alright, I have a clearly defined idea I’d like to share with the world, I know how to work with the prompts and I’ve got so much information/data from my own recent experience to feed the AI’. I also do not consider myself a very gifted copywriter, meaning I can easily ‘lose’ readers unless having a professionally formatted story. Okay, decided then.

As I was getting to open a new tab in OpenAI chat window and write my first prompt, I suddenly realised that there is this one thing AI cannot do (at least, for now), which is essential for my first article. I realised that it cannot replicate or deliver authenticity. I have no doubt, it can create a persuading or intriguing delivery of a certain message, but in the world of AI pictures, AI copies, AI forecast, it is crucial to have a space to express yourself as a human with human emotions, human errors and imperfections, because this is what resonates with others and creates a real connection. Especially because my message is about the human search for a perfect work-life balance, there is no way I will delegate this task to an undeniably talented but lifeless AI.

Huh, that was a long preamble. Let’s get to the point. Most people in my home country Ukraine, some of my colleagues in the Netherlands and I myself (up until very recently) imagine a good work-life balance like this:

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It’s a system in which you dedicate consecutively no more and no less time than you had agreed with your company to the activities that are required from your role. In essence this means that you actively engage your brain to give input in the meetings, reply to emails, suggest solutions to problems and do other work for 8 consecutive hours. Let’s call it a consecutive hours system. And when you’ve ‘done your time’ (because let’s be honest, it can feel like this quite often), and you are closing your laptop, you think of the real life that will finally start NOW.  In other words, under the umbrella of a ‘balance’, for many of us is a hidden misconception that if you do not work overtime, if you are not asked to make a presentation on the weekend, if your manager understandably approves your rare requests for a sick leave or urgent absence leaves, you have a perfect work-life balance.  

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Perhaps, the aforementioned thought won’t resonate with those who have their own business, or the lucky ones who figured the life out at an earlier age. Yet it will resonate with many of the office workers who feel overwhelmed or burnout, just as with those who are on the path to find their life purpose and fulfil it with a meaning. That system I just described – was the system embedded firmly in my own belief of a proper work-life balance until a moment which changed everything. 

During my trip to my home town in May’23 I got to witness the shelling of Kyiv, when the anti-missiles system were shooting down the enemy drones and missiles, when the explosions in the sky were so loud and so bright that the whole atmosphere resembled an air battle during World War II. Later that week my close friend got killed in Bakhmut and 2 weeks after my former colleague from Kyiv died from the shelling in her own apartment. It’s the moments like these that force you to leave some headspace for thoughts, grief, anger, sadness and ideas of what you can do to be of help to others. And it’s the moments like these when it gets more difficult to work 8 consecutive hours, trying to produce a quality output every step of the way. 

When a week after I got back from Ukraine, it all just hit me in a moment: the roots of the unpleasant and overwhelming feeling of being unfulfilled, unfocused or burnout at work is in the consecutive hours system. I knew I had to go to the office 2-3 times a week (and work other days from home), I had to continue delivering the projects I am responsible for, but something had to change. That’s when I came to an agreement with myself that I would take my time during the day to relax, to meditate, to learn something new and to brainstorm. I had to take care of myself and create a proper balance of work and life that gives my brain a well deserved rest and releases the tension. 

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From the moment I started living this new idea of tensionless work-life balance, it changed things for me in a positive way. First, I noticed that creative ideas come to my mind much easier and I begun to think faster. I’ve been able to properly think over a solution, draw different scenarios, visualise them on a piece of paper and follow up with the proper admin steps (e.g. creating a power point, setting up a meeting or sending an email) within a much shorter timeframe. Second, it became easier to get focused and stay focused. My brain pleasantly chew on different ideas, their risks and opportunities, one by one, following known frameworks and patterns. And even if I would get distracted by a small talk or an urgent task, it would easily return to the previous thought process. Lastly, I became happier. Because my day is filled with relaxing activities, educational activities and moments when I can disengage my brain, the overall feeling and mental state improved drastically. 

I want you to understand, I am not advocating for a working day with less work hours, and I definitely do not recommend to become indifferent to your tasks and responsibilities and let them magically work on themselves. I am standing behind the idea of a better, more fulfilling life if one does not view the work as a consecutive period of 8 hours but incorporates other activities within the timeframe from 9 to 17 to truly experience what a good work-life balance has to offer.

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