Myth: Work-Life Balance

Traditional thinking of work-life balance myth harmony in binary terms is counterintuitive. This means you’ll have more time to spend time with your family and less time to manage your career.

However, if you don’t manage your career properly, you won’t be able to provide for the family. It’s a circular way of looking at the problem.

David J. McNeff offers a new approach. He authored The work-life balance myth. He asserts that there’s no such thing as work/life balance (2021).

McNeff’s alternative to the work-life balance is the seven-slice approach. McNeff instead of focusing on work and family, McNeff proposes seven domains for people to spend their time. The human race needs all seven.

The Spiritual Slice can be defined as time spent in organized religion and time spent reflecting on the meaning of life. 

The Emotional Slice refers only to time spent with close friends and not with family or coworkers. The Intellectual Slice refers time spent learning something.

Use This Exercise:

Calculate how much time you spend on each activity during the day. For example, Gwen is a client who created this profile.

Family Slice: 15 Percent

Professional Slice: 75%

Personal Slice: 5%

Physical Slice: Zero percent

Intellectual Slice: 3 percent

Emotional Slice: 1%

Spiritual Slice: 1 percent

What would your allocation look?

Gwen was shocked to realize that she had lived her life thinking it only consisted of her family and her professional lives. She was neglecting some areas of her own life.

This was creating stress in her daily life. How can she spend more of her unfinished slices?

This binary solution to the problem is called work-life balance. It is impossible to add time to one side by taking away the time on the other.

However, if the problem is viewed from an ordinal perspective, it’s not an “either/or” situation. It is about shifting positions and combining different categories.

Ordinal thinking refers when you think of something that can be moved or combined.

Gwen’s solution

Gwen started playing tennis with a friend every Saturday morning, thinking in an ordinal manner.

This allowed her to increase both the physical and personal slices of her body.

Gwen used to listen to tapes on her 40-minute commute to work each morning.

Gwen was able to increase her intellectual breadth without having to sacrifice her professional slices.

Here’s another example of how to remove the zero-sum structure of work-life balance.

This is a transformation of the framework for managing life as an ordinary issue where activities can be combined.

One of our clients was the Managing Partner in a law firm. The family went to church every Sunday.

The church also offered religious education to the daughter. After examining the church committees, the managing partner discovered that the Religious Education Committee had two bank CEOs.

He was invited to join that committee. Thanks to the connections made through the committee, one of the banks eventually became a client at a law firm.

This activity not only supported his professional slice, but also helped his family slice.

Summary and Conclusions

The issue is zero-sum when a life problem is defined as work-life balance. To add time to one side of a ledger, you must reduce time on the other.

The issue can be framed as a seven-slice ordinal challenge, which allows for creative slicing within and between categories.

McNeff’s book doesn’t include sleep as a critical Slice. However, sleep deprivation is a common business problem that is rarely discussed publicly.

Although people love to boast about how little they sleep, deprivation can lead to poor decision-making. (Stybel Peabody, 2019).

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