Is Work-Life Balance a Zero-Sum Game?

“So there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance,” says Sheryl Sandberg.

Everything we do boils down to choices we make. Should I spend my evening working out at the gym, taking my child to a swim lesson, watching football on TV, learning a new skill or staying late at work to get that one last thing done?

Quite often though, what folks don’t realize is that they have more time and options than they believe. We think we make rational choices at every stage, but quite often we make a choice with a set of constraints in mind and don’t go back and reevaluate that choice even though the constraints might have changed.

Almost everybody has a weakness, and mine is CrossFit and food related information. I’ve lost hours reading about how important it is for the chicken that I eat to have grown up on a particular kind of farm, eating a particular food and listening to a particular kind of music and reading articles for and against CrossFit by various folks. I will never get that time back.

But I have learnt something useful – every minute that I allocate is precious, and if I’m mindful about it, I can use my time for the right things. I now keep a kitchen timer close by, and if I start to mentally wander I set the timer for five minutes. It’s amazing how quickly social networks can steal five minutes from your life.

Some key concerns for working professionals today are…

  1. We are stretched to the limit at work.
  2. We are being asked to take on more responsibilities in the same amount of time. This is not optional. This is not regional, and this is not industry specific. Professionals in all industries, countries and roles have do more with less.
    (If you want a job that pays you $100/hour to turn a nut on a conveyor belt, I have bad news. The 1950s called: that ride in the amusement park called Unskilled Employment is now closed.)
  3. In addition, working professionals must continuously improve on their skills or face becoming redundant very quickly. Again, this is true across the board.

So we have more work, less time and a need to build new skills or improve existing ones. All of the above and in increasing intensity.

Choosing how we spend our time is more important now than ever before. [tweet this] Just as important is being able to segment our time into smaller chunks and do something meaningful in those small chunks of time. Refer back to my five minute timer–if cat videos can take five minutes and give you nothing in return,  is there a better way to spend five minutes?

An area that has seen a great deal of innovation is learning technology, and this might offer us a silver lining of time management that could help us allocate our time smartly. You may accuse me of drinking the online learning Kool-Aid, and I will gladly accept the goblet.

Before we dive into why I think online learning is great, I want to debunk some beliefs. Some people suggest that doing more things online somehow makes you less capable of interacting in the real world. Once again, it is a question of choices we make.

15 years ago, you paid utility bills physically, bought insurance physically, bought electronic devices at a physical store and preferred speaking to people for all your customer service needs.

Now, you can auto-pay your utilities online, GEICO saves you 15% or more online, Amazon Prime has approximately 10 million customers and online chat is the preferred mode of customer service, because it tracks everything for future reference.  Would you rather go back to 1999?

Knowing what we know and possessing the technology that we do, must we really keep learning exactly the way that we have for the last 5,000 years?

Here are few reasons why I think more people are embracing online learning as a way of life:

  • Online learning offers professionals the ability to learn something new or practice a skill in manageable chunks of time, at a time of choice.
  • Online learning happens in a location of our choice.
  • Online learning is also quickly moving to the mobile space, be it on a tablet or a smartphone (those lines are blurring quickly, but I digress). As Amber Case argues, we are inextricably tied to our devices now, so we might as well make the most of it.
  • Online learning offers you the ability to track your learning better than the classroom. And when you come back, you come back to exactly where you left off.
  • Collaboration is crucial in the knowledge economy and online learning helps you collaborate better with your global colleagues.
    (If you work in a firm where you have no global colleagues/vendors/partners/clients, then you have either successfully evaded globalization and live on an uninhabited island (in which case, how are you reading this?) or you are an ostrich and I suggest you pull your head out of the sand – It’s a beautiful day.)

Online learning can mean many things to many people, and all versions are acceptable.

  • Watching a TED video counts.
  • Reading a book online counts.
  • Going through an eCourse counts.
  • Watching a documentary on Netflix counts.
  • Having an online discussion with your colleagues about work place challenges counts.
  • There are a million more options. And growing.

Learning things online does not eliminate the need to come together with other learners in person. [tweet thisAngel Cabrera, a guru of disruption in academia and a personal hero of mine once said “The worst thing you can do in a classroom is teach”. I couldn’t agree more.

At CCL, we use technology to leverage the time in the classroom with our outstanding participants for richer, deeper discussions and practice. We also create programs and products for folks that may never step foot in a CCL classroom. Here is a bold example – http://www.leadermooc.net/

We are constantly experimenting with new technology and methods to improve our understanding of leadership development. We can’t help ourselves – it’s who we are.

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About Samir Mehta

Samir serves as the Digital Learning Products Manager at CCL and enjoys being at the intersection of technology and education. He has worked in the area of adult learning in India, China and the United States, focusing on building innovative models that improve the impact of learning. He currently focuses on designing learning journeys for sophisticated, discerning professionals that are truly immersive and blended. Samir also serves as an Adjunct Faculty at NIIT University in India.
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One Response to Is Work-Life Balance a Zero-Sum Game?

  1. Pingback: Is Work-Life Balance a Zero-Sum Game? | sampmehta

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