Fun vs. boring time.

Should we stop talking about work-life balance?

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Two years ago, I stood in front of a group of CHROs and talked about HR trends we might see in the future. 

Oh boy, little did we know what the future had in store for us.

I started strong, taking up their valuable time to explain why many HR departments were shifting from HR departments to People departments.

As I write about this, I laugh. I guess there were a lot of discussions about it then, but in hindsight, it feels ridiculous. What doesn't feel silly in my slides is the slide after the "what should we call ourselves" slide. In all honesty, it was one of the last slides I added to the presentation, and I felt slightly anxious about it. Was it too fluffy? Too vague?

The slide, in its entirety, read:


We stop splitting talking about work-life balance. We stop dividing work and free time and dare to talk about life.

Technology makes it possible to choose whoever you want to work for.

COVID-19 accelerated the last piece. Four months after it began, technology fueled the most considerable shift in how and where people worked since the industrial revolution. Even though it's tempting to write another article about the change, let's not. Let's instead talk about what on earth I meant by the first sentence on that slide. 

The Swedish internet guru Joakim Jardenberg has always been an inspiration for me. Instead of talking about work-life balance, he has spoken of dividing your time into fun-time and boring-time. It stuck with me, piggybacking on one of the first real YouTube-inspiration moments I've had. There I was, sitting in my dorm room where you had the kitchen conveniently close to the bedroom (you could literally cook from the bed). I'd watch the clip over and over again. 

Wake me up in the middle of the night, and I can still recite large parts of it. It's cliché, I know, but still.

It made an impression then, and it has, to one extent or another, impacted me, whether I like it or not.

The speech? Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Speech from 2005.

In it, he mentions:

/.../ for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

This combination has always been my view of work; simply put, I believe work should be fun. And to Joakim's point, I think it's more important to talk about what's fun or not versus talking about work-life balance. 

I've never been a fan of the term. It implies that work is evil. To be happy and well, you need to have other things that balance work. 

When companies say, "we offer a great work-life balance," I always wondered how they do that. Is it that you can work fewer hours? The ability to work from home whenever you like? No late calls? That no one is yelling at you for not hitting your targets? 

Is work-life balance even something you can offer at an aggregated scale? Work-life balance for me might not be work-life balance for you. 

Should we stop talking about work-life balance then? I think so. 

And no, I'm not suggesting that people should spend endless hours at work. We still, even in these days where you can work from anywhere at any time, should be cognizant of people's time. 

Instead of talking about work-life balance, shouldn't we try to get our people to a state of flow?

As Wikipedia describes flow, it is: 

The mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Hopefully, you have experienced it. (If not, perhaps follow Jobs' advice and change something.)

Isn’t that be a better end-state, that we have people who feel flow at work on a regular basis? This won't be as easy as saying, "we have a great work-life balance," but sure enough, the end results must be better? And perhaps we should, finally, abandon time as the scale to whether something is done or not? Or should we simply keep talking about work-life balance but define it better? I’m torn. What do you think?