Dr Dawna Ballard puts it out there and questions work-life balance’s utopian promise with a much more modern and refreshing approach steeped in a ground-breaking new theory around time.
“Time is not the problem to be solved, but the relationship we have with it” asserts associate professor Dawna Ballard, an expert in chronemics (the relationship between time and human communication) in her compelling and articulate SXSW key note on the last day of the Interactive stream.
Even the words “measuring work life balance is a mechanistic approach to trying a solve a problem with an industrial age filter,” she says in her softly spoken and gentle demeanour about her seminal work in the medical field, where she researched this premise among professionals working with children suffering from abuse.
The room sat spellbound by her research and her findings. It always struck me as a binary concept, the whole notion of time management, and in our company culture research, it is the single most important issue facing organisations and professionals from CEOs down, the working parents trying to juggle all the needs of a modern and complex world.
In her research, Ballard asked men and women about what work life balance was to them, and inevitably and in equal measures, the distress of a lack of it had her cohort in tears. There is a sense of failure over and over for men and women equally in their pursuit of this Utopean state of work-life balance that is not practically achievable.
Her findings showed unanimously work life balance wasn’t achievable, but she says the notion of “alignment”, which is grounded in a new theory, was. Alignment is a new concept and importantly we can all be aligned based on our own individual internal clocks and rhythm, which varies greatly from person to person.
In 2017, the Nobel Laurettes for medicine and physiology Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young won the prize for identifying that every human being has its own internal human clock or rhythm and the “chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our individual and inner timekeepers is associated with increased risk for various diseases.”
Additionally, “Lifestyle as medicine has the potential to prevent up to 80% of chronic diseases, no other medicine can match that,” David Katz MD MPH claimed.
This is a mind-boggling statistic from a scholar and doctor. This research pretty much throws out all the outdated theories and techniques of so called “time management”, programs and courses and tools and techniques designed in a binary and mechanistic way. It’s a bit like trying to get a horse and cart to take you to London from Sydney.
This has implications for how we design jobs, how we structure companies and how we can recognise every staff member has its own pace and rhythm and tapping into that will give organisations a lead over their competitors and their performance.
So, what is Alignment?
Alignment is an ongoing dynamic process where you as an individual work out your alignment needs. This is a three step process:
1.) What are your Pacers?
These are the external things that supports your sense of well being and these are all individual but for me they were things like doing interesting and challenging work, making time for my children, spending time with my best friends, seeing my elderly parents.
These are the things that hep you to recover and sometimes they can be the same as above and other times not. So for me its, exercise, meditation, reading a book, not drinking alcohol and going to the movies.
The final step is to evaluate your pacers and recover points from a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual time line and work out what works for you
3.) Practice and Refine
Keep at it gently and with great humour.
Here is a snippet of Dr Ballards’ tips she gave in relation to FOMO at SXSW…
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