“I used to try to take each day as it came… You know, live one day at a time,” Charlie Brown says to Linus in one Peanuts comic strip. “My philosophy has changed,” he continues resignedly, “I’m down to half-a-day at a time!”
Life always seems to “catch up” and we often seem to “fall behind,” which can stir anxiety, making us feel like we are not living a full life. Meanwhile, productivity is a booming industry. Some of the attempts to stimulate more productivity and less stress are almost funny: You can use an app to simulate the sound of a coffee shop to inspire productivity, for instance. Meanwhile, as more virtual work options emerge, more remote work arrangements are being tried, all in the hopes of creating a better flow, a better balance in our life structure of family, personal commitments, and faith. As 21st century human beings, how do we live the balanced life?
But is the balanced life even our goal? Is it not a myth? What can it possibly mean to have balance when work takes up so much of our life? In an article in The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman aptly describes:
The allure of the doctrine of time management is that, one day, everything might finally be under control. Yet work in the modern economy is notable for its limitlessness. And if the stream of incoming emails is endless, Inbox Zero can never bring liberation: you’re still Sisyphus, rolling his boulder up that hill for all eternity— you’re just rolling it slightly faster.
At the heart of our anxieties about time is a desire to live a meaningful life. So a better question than how to achieve the balanced life is this: How can I make my work an expression of my love and a place where my love is heightened? For, as Matthew Kelly puts it in Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction, “Satisfaction comes from emptying ourselves into things.”
Live Out Loud
Here are some questions to consider for practical application. These can help you move beyond an obsession over balance, shifting your focus to living your life out loud, now, in the present moment of today.
Bring Your Home to Work
First, can you bring your home to work? Do your children, family, and friends know what you do and why? Do people at work know about your family, your religion, and your values? While not being holier-than-thou, are there ways to more fully integrate your values in the workplace, to bring your home life closer to your work?
Find Work You Love
The next question might be alarming but it is a necessary one: Do I love my work? If not, why am I doing it? It is true that we have commitments to financially support ourselves and others we have made obligations to. At the same time, our lives are not really worth money. If at all possible, we need to find a career that furthers our passions.
God speaks into our desires and gives us passions for a reason. In Business As a Calling, Michael Novak describes how a mark of a true vocation is a love for it, even for the drudgery that it necessarily requires. True writers, for instance, find something they love in the written word, even when the typing and editing is tedious and exhausting. How does Novak’s comment resound in your life? How can you further the way your work aligns with your passions?
Tithe Time and Talent
Do you value tithing your time, talent, and treasure? Are you emptying yourself intentionally into the things you profess to value the most? Tithing obliges us to do this with our money, but we also can and should tithe our talents and treasure, whether it be by coaching a local soccer team, teaching a class at a co-op, or volunteering at a homeless shelter.
Ultimately, it is Jesus that we seek, not productivity. So our goal needs to be more intentionally seeking Him in the different but united areas of our life: faith, work, family. This can bring about integration and at the same time move us beyond the pursuit of balance, into a life fueled by purpose. St. John Paul II’s famous words on the human desire for happiness can be our inspiration in this quest:
It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.
Limitations, Yet Real Possibility of Integration
Because of original sin, we are limited by time and space. We can’t bilocate (at least, most of us can’t!) and we can’t stop the sun from setting (at least, most of us can’t!). The temptation can be to resist these restrictions by jamming more and more items and achievements into each 24 hours, then fretting that we haven’t found the proper balance in the Catholic life. But, as former productivity speaker and guru Oliver Burkeman, who gradually gave up that job because of its unfulfilling nature, realized, “If you’re just using efficiency to jam more and more stuff into your day… well, how would you ever know that that’s working?”
In other words, how do you know that doing more or doing work more efficiently is working for your ultimate good—your true happiness? Being more “productive” while imprisoning our hearts from reaching beyond itself in love will not make us happy. Better integration of our faith, family life, and work life is difficult but possible; it comes from focusing less on living the balanced life and more on living life out loud.
Let’s live life out loud by starting with our priorities— what makes us truly happy— and making more room for that first. Let’s more intentionally enact our values in the workplace— by treating people as people, with respect and dignity. Let’s live life out loud by sharing lessons at home that we’ve learned from work, and vice-versa.
For further thoughts on productivity and time management, check out this intriguing article, “Why Time Management is Ruining Our Lives,” by Oliver Burkeman.