Finding the Elusive Work/Life Balance

Are you having a tough time coming back to work this week?  Already missing the sweet memories of summer: seaside, mountain views, freshly-cut grass.  If you’re in the U.S., you’ve just come back from Labor Day weekend, and in England the week before was the three-day end-of-summer holiday.  It’s back-to-work, back-to-school, welcome-the-autumn time.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article proclaiming the end of summer, and the beginning of a time of more focus and routine.  It noted that, for some Type-A people, the return to a predictable schedule can be comforting. 

Most of us long for work/life balance.  We love our work and find meaning in it, but we also need to recharge in relaxation, spend time with our families and friends, and get away from the pressure of the office.  But how do we do that when our jobs demand so much of us?  I’ve found the most effective way to do this is to follow the flow of the seasons.  Rather than demand that work and life be in balance all the time (which I’ve found impossible), going with the seasons of work has made a massive difference in my ability to be the most efficient and effective worker I can be, while honoring the need to care for my personal life.  Here’s how to do it…

January through Mid-June

January through mid-June is a busy time of the year.  New year, new budget, and new challenges force people to work hard.  Both in Europe and in the States, closed offices are rare.  The days are cold, and in many places, going to work and coming home in the dark is normal during this time. 

This is a season to work hard, but also to plan for the elusive summer vacation.  Decide what days you will take off, and at the same time plan for a lighter summer period.  Get the hard work done in the first part of the year so the summer can be easy.

Mid-June through August 31 / Labor Day

In the village where I live outside London, nearly two-thirds of the shops close during the last two weeks of August.  While Europeans tend to take time off all at once, in two to four week chunks, during the summer, Americans have a series of long weekends. 

I’ve seen many people make the mistake of working too hard through July and August’s quieter periods, only to come into the busy autumn season exhausted and thoroughly burnt-out.  When you don’t allow your mind and body to recuperate, you aren’t as effective as you should be.  Time away gives you new perspective and the ability to see things with fresh eyes.  Take advantage of it, because as soon as you know it…

September through Thanksgiving / Dec. 1

September through Thanksgiving (in the States) or Dec. 1 in Europe is extremely busy.  People begin working on end of year projects and deadlines.  Budget season begins in many companies, where requests are heard for next year’s projects.  Priorities begin to be set, and you need to be ready to make your case for resources. 

The autumn is also conference season.  I’m traveling for client or conference speaking engagements in three countries and seven cities in 6 weeks between mid-September and the end of October.  I’ll be home in London less than a week during that time.  Planning for the fall is critical, but equally, planning for the holidays makes it less stressful as a break will be coming again soon.


For some, December is busy with end-of-year deadlines, but for most, December is a time for family, friends, and merriment.  Take time to unwind during this part of the year.  Your nearest and dearest are probably in a lull at this time as well – able to leave after festive luncheons or to meet up after children’s holiday celebrations.  Be sure to take advantage, as the busy January season is just around the corner. 

Nature moves in seasons, and so does business.  Plan now to take time over the holidays to relax.  Without plans, it is far too easy to allow work to dominate all of the hours of your life.  Ultimately, we all need to find work-life balance, and doing it in a seasonal way is the best way I’ve found to make that happen.