Work-Life Balance: Is Achieving it a Myth?

Work life balance myth: flatlay with notebook, plant and coffee

In a thought-provoking Girlboss Radio podcast, Luvvie Ajayi, author, speaker and digital strategist, revealed an interesting conversation she had on the mythical concept of work-life balance with Thasunda Duckett, CEO of Consumer Banking at JPMorgan Chase. Thasunda told Luvvie how she viewed life as a portfolio that you put 100% of your assets (your time and energy) into. When she asked Luvvie to state how much of her life she spends working, Luvvie answered 80%, leaving just 20% for friends, family, self-care and everything in between. According to Thasunda, Luvvie and those who would give a similar response, need to diversify their portfolio. Investors wouldn’t put the majority of their money in one single place, because if the market goes down, you’re only left with 20% of what you put in. So, why should we?

This interesting analogy reminds us that too much of the same thing all the time can come at a cost. But, can we ever strike the perfect work-life balance? Or, is achieving it a myth?

Work-Life Balance: A Flawed Concept?

Setting Ourselves Up For Failure

Balanced means equal. In this sense, we should be spending 50% of our time working and 50% of our time doing everything else, which would be to chase an unattainable ideal. What’s more, this idea of equal parts suggests that to be living well, the 50:50 ratio needs to be maintained.

But, our relationship with work and ‘life’ is never static. At times, the majority of our energy goes into working and at others, we prioritise our relationships, self-care or hobbies. We can’t predict what life will throw at us and the constant adjustments we will need to make. The assumption that this equal parts split or someone else’s idea of optimal work-life balance is something to work towards, is most likely setting us up for failure from the very beginning.

A Division between Work and Life

To create a clear division between work and ‘life’ is also to suggest that they’re mutually exclusive – when we’re working, we’re not living, and vice versa. We might even have one personality we wear at work, and another outside of the office. Perhaps, those who see their working day as something that eats into their personal life, aren’t lucky enough to have found their true purpose, or be able to pursue it. The old phrase, “if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life”, springs to mind.

Work-Life Integration, Not Balance

One of the thought leaders on the subject of work-life balance, Professor Stew Friedman, has dedicated years of research to the paradox above. In his writing, he stresses the importance of bringing your entire authentic self to work and finding harmony between the four key aspects of life: work, home, community and self.

How? Talking to Forbes, Friedman explains his notion of ‘four-way wins’ as “an action or a different way of thinking that helps you see that what you’re doing is making a positive impact directly, or has a ripple effect” on the four aspects mentioned above. In other words, it’s about work-life integration, not balance, as the improvements we make in our wider lives can benefit our work.

Starting work 30 minutes later because you’ve chosen to do some exercise is a great example. You’ll feel more energised for the working day ahead, you’ll also probably be running on endorphins which will benefit those around you, and you’ll be feeling good about yourself having taken time to care for your body. In conversation with 1 Million for Work Flexibility, Friedman summarises, “My research indicates that if you focus attention on yourself or your family in ways that you expect will have positive, even if indirect, benefits for your business (by being healthier, more energetic, or less cranky, for example), then you’re probably going to see those benefits.”

The idea that work-life balance is something to be strived for, that it brings happiness and success, is a myth. Aiming for a 50:50 work-life balance is arguably chasing failure – we can’t achieve the perfect balance, only better integration. The demands on our time will always fluctuate and separating our career from everything else negates that it’s a core part of our lives. And, crucially, each person’s perception of the perfect balance will be different. Of course, in today’s digital era, switching off from work is increasingly important, but trying to constantly compartmentalise it is exhausting. Instead, Friedman’s method of making small tweaks and improvements that affect all areas of our lives directly or indirectly, is worth some thought.

Slow Living in the City: 5 Tips for Navigating London’s Fast Lane

London streets with checkerboard tiles

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat” – Lily Tomlin, American actress

There’s a reason they call it a ‘race’. In 2007, a well-cited British Council study revealed how our pace of life had become 10% faster than it was in the early 1990s. The research, which measured the walking speed of city dwellers in 32 countries around the world, found that Londoners had an average walking speed of 12.17 seconds. This interestingly only won the capital 12th position in the list of cities analysed, while Singaporeans were found to be pacing the pavement quickest at 10.55 seconds. Yet, we’ve probably all felt frustrated at one time or another when people are dawdling around us, or not keeping right on tube escalators.

Arguably, in the decade or so since the study, our pace of life has only accelerated further as we try to keep up with increasing technological advancements. In other words, pace of life increases with pace of change. Evening Standard suggests that the fast pace of life in London has something to do with the city’s youthful and diverse population – the capital is young at heart with 24% of inner London residents fitting in the 25-34 age bracket.

With a cohort of people open to new experiences, trends are born and die fast in the city, while new tech is often adopted quickly. Uber, Deliveroo and Monzo are just a few tech brands to mention, while on the lifestyle scene, a constant cycle of Insta-worthy hotspots seem to appear overnight. Freakshakes have made way for flower walls and poke is the latest bowl-based food of choice. Londoners are constantly pushing boundaries and this buzzy atmosphere is one of the reasons why it’s such an exciting place to live.

But, does this innovation and the rapid rise and fall of ‘the next big thing’ have a downside? Although glorifying busy is not exclusive to London, there is a perceived pressure to ‘make the most’ of living in the city, as well as pursuing a jam-packed working schedule. But, since when did burnout, both socially and professionally, equate to popularity or success? If your answer to ‘how are you?’ is often ‘tired’, ‘busy’ or ‘stressed”, it could be time to indicate left and move from the capital’s inside lane to the slow lane.

How to Navigate Life in London’s Fast Lane

1. Reclaim Your Time from Your Phone

While we’d never be without the likes of Citymapper, the amount of time we spend on screens each day is increasing. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night, we’re checking emails, Instagram and WhatsApp. There are many ways that tech overuse can leave us feeling far from our best – from creating a culture of comparison to stealing our focus from the present moment. Ever found yourself falling into a spiral of screen-scrolling? Before you know it, 30 minutes have passed and you’ve read three Daily Mail articles and stalked your ex’s sister’s holiday snaps. Tech is designed to help us become more efficient, but without boundaries, we’re prone to letting it ebb away at our productivity.

Try a screen time app and measure when you’re on your smartphone and what apps you’re using. It will help you work out when you need to reclaim your time from the digital rectangle in your hand. Not charging your phone on your bedside table is a often a good place to start.


2. Cook from Scratch

City living is about choice, but all too frequently, it’s about convenience. Since there are an ever-growing number of healthy takeaway options in London, the joy in cooking from scratch is often overlooked when we can still order nutritious meals to our door. Cooking is often seen as a burden after a long day, but it can be actually be a form of simple meditation and a great way to unwind. Following a recipe and using simple, rhythmic actions, such as chopping vegetables or stirring a pot, allows you to be mindful.

Still don’t fancy spending a long time in the kitchen? Make it easier on yourself by prepping a week’s worth of chopped onions on a Sunday and choosing meals you really look forward to eating.


3. Schedule Downtime

Even tech creators schedule ‘downtime’ for their software, so why don’t we create ‘recharge’ time? Time spent doing nothing can feel unproductive or wasted, but it’s actually incredibly important for our brains. Stew Friedman Ph.D, author of Leading the Life You Want, tells Shape“Research shows that after you take a mental time-out, you are better at creative thinking and coming up with solutions and new ideas, and you feel more content.” In this sense, we should stop seeing unscheduled time as unhelpful, and rather see it as a tool to help us be creative and find solutions to issues we’re facing.

Natalie Macneil, entrepreneur and founder of She Takes On The World, tells Girlboss that she schedules her first appointment of the day for herself. Instead of skipping self-care when other distractions arise throughout the day, she puts activities like meditation and exercise first by building it into her morning ritual.


4. Escape the City

Whether you live in North, East, South or West London, you’re only a short journey away from somewhere new to explore. Taking a day trip or weekend away is a great way to help yourself switch off and slow down by re-adjusting to a slower pace of life – one with much less pollution, people and public transport. And of course, escaping the city will help you reconnect with nature and enjoy its (free!) beauty.

If you can’t get out of the city, there are still many places within London’s boroughs that offer escapism from urban overwhelm. Kew Gardens, for example, are an oasis of greenery and easily reachable from Central London.


5. Embrace Your Commute

Commuting in London is a fact of life, but it’s still pretty difficult to adjust to. The average commute in London is 46 minutes one-way, adding around an hour and a half to your working day. When crammed against the tube doors (no leaning, please), grappling for a space to hold on and faced with someone’s morning coffee breath, the daily commute feels like a bore, a chore and a waste of time. That’s especially when you consider that both ways, the average commute is the same duration as an entire football match.

Yet, as with most things in life, you can make the most of the situation at hand. Rather than spending your journey glaring at that person with the disproportionately large backpack and arriving at work with less #mondaymotivation that you thought possible, turn your commute into time well spent. Listen to an inspirational podcast or meditation session, read a book, write your shopping list – whatever it is, there will be something you can do to switch off from the business backpackers around you.

If you’re looking to slow down and enjoy a better balance while living and working in London, give these tips a try for thriving, rather than just ‘surviving’ the capital.

4 Inspirational Podcasts To Transform Your Morning Commute

Inspirational podcasts for commuting - tea flatlay

46 minutes. That’s how long the average Londoner’s commute lasts each morning. It’s the longest of any region in Great Britain. Surprised? Probably not. According to TfL, there are up to five million tube journeys made each day.

While we’re minding the gap on these underground trips, we’ll likely encounter many of the same, tiring situations each day. We’ll experience heavy eye-rolling, plucky people who think they can squeeze into non-existent gaps, visitors creating vast delays on escalators by not observing ‘keep right’ and an invasion of personal space by other people’s limbs, books, smartphones and enormous rucksacks. And that’s all before 9am. Don’t even mention the words ‘signal failure’ or ‘severe delays’…

It’s easy to become one of the eye-rollers, sighing as another person falls into you as they failed to hold on as the tube or bus came to a stop. It’s also easy to see this time as wasted. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Adding listening to podcasts to your morning ritual could help you arrive at work feeling inspired or having learned something new. 51% of podcast listeners said they listen because they find podcasts interesting and 26% shared that their motive for listening was to learn something.

Eager to put those 46 minutes to better use? Here are four inspirational podcasts for your morning commute.

4 Inspirational Podcasts to Listen To While Commuting

1. Your Dream Life by kikki.K founder, Kristina Karlsson

Founder of Swedish stationery brand kikki.K, Kristina Karlsson is determined to empower 101 million people around the world to live their ‘dream life’. The podcast, which supports her new book and journal, shares inspiring stories from people who followed their dreams, even in the most unlikely of circumstances.

This is the perfect podcast for a Monday morning – it’s uplifting and enlightening. Start with the moving two-part interview with Dr. Tererai Trent, who has been named Oprah’s favourite-ever guest.

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2. Girlboss Radio

“We exist to redefine success for millennial women by providing the tools and connections they need to own their futures.”  – Girlboss’ mission.

Girlboss, founded by former Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso, is a resource that helps to entertain, inspire and inform women to pursue their aspirations through great content. To support the popular website, Sophia developed Girlboss Radio which features honest conversations with “boundary-pushing women” to offer listeners valuable insight from people who have been there and done it before.

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3. Conversations of Inspiration by Not On The High Street founder, Holly Tucker MBE

Spend a lot of your commute longing to be your own boss? Not On The High Street founder and ambassador for UK creative businesses, Holly Tucker, has developed a podcast that explores the highs and lows of starting your own business. She talks to inspiring entrepreneurs, such as Jo Malone, and shares their insights and advice.

Keep listening until the end – each interviewee reads a moving letter they’ve penned to their younger self.

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4. Deliciously Ella: The Podcast

To accompany Deliciously Ella’s immensely popular app, cookbooks and website, the podcast, hosted by Ella and her husband Matthew, discusses physical and mental health, well-being and what it’s really like to build a brand. Ella’s podcast reminds you of the importance of taking time to reflect on your own self-care, especially in today’s fast paced world. It’s honest and interesting, and will inspire you to live a better life in London.

Those 46 minutes could be put to much better use than counting tube stops and scrolling on your smartphone. Including inspirational podcasts in your morning routine could encourage you to slow down and reconsider your commute as your daily opportunity to learn something new or reflect on your well-being and other thought-provoking issues. What are you waiting for?

Making Time for Slow Moments with SlowBox

Slow Box - Slow living subscription box

SlowBox is a monthly subscription box that challenges the way we live and consume. It’s lovingly curated by Glasgow-based wife and wife duo Gabby and Sally, who decided to slow their own pace of life and pursue a more considered way of living. Originally founded a couple of years back as ‘Hyggebox’, the brand decided to move away from the Danish concept of ‘hygge’ after it started to become over-comercialised, thus diluting its meaning.

Founders Gabby and Sally would arguably agree that slow living is also not something you can acquire with a single purchase. Instead, with SlowBox, they offer more than a monthly delivery of products. SlowBox is a collection of five carefully sourced items that aim to help recipients embrace a slower lifestyle, while at the same time supporting local talent and small businesses. It reminds us to celebrate things that take time to create and in turn, to take our time to enjoy them. After exploring the glorification of busy and stats about just how stressed the UK and Londoners are, it’s likely that many of us could benefit from a few more slow moments.

SlowBox – “Slow down to live well”

“A good life is one where we are fulfilled and make a positive contribution to the world. Many people say they are too busy and stressed a lot of the time. We want to show that there is a better way.” – SlowBox

Every month, there is a new theme to look forward to. For October, Gabby and Sally chose all things Scottish. The products are inspired by Scotland’s wild winters and landscape and aim to invoke cosiness. Inside the box, the items included:

  • Ochre Geometric Paper Vase by Kate Colin Design, Glasgow
  • Wild Gorse Candle by Arran Aromatics, Isle of Arran
  • Sloe Gin Skin Candle by Siabann, Sterling
  • Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate by Shetland Fudge Company, Isle of Shetland
  • Tunnock’s Teacake, Glasgow

Alongside the thoughtful artisan products, a highlight of SlowBox is the ‘mini magazine’ that explains each product in detail and offers tips on embracing slow living during autumnal October. The recipe for Cullen Skink (a Scottish soup) is a fitting touch.

Wild Gorse Candle Arran Aromatics

Standing Out with Sustainability

Entrepreneur reported that of February 2018, there were almost 7,000 subscription box companies around the globe. So, how does SlowBox stand out? Aside from the message that the brand is trying to relay and the personal touch, SlowBox stands out due to its curation of products and sustainable ethos. They lovingly choose artisans and small businesses to support, which are as sustainable as possible. In turn, this ensures subscribers receive good quality products with a stronger sense of heritage or meaning, that hopefully help them reflect on their own way of living. In addition, the monthly boxes are made from recycled materials.

Without a doubt, a monthly surprise delivery of beautiful items that help to support small businesses and promote a slower lifestyle, ticks a lot of the feel-good factor boxes and would make a thoughtful gift for a friend.

*SlowBox kindly gifted their October box for this post.

4 Places to See Autumn Colours in London

Much like blossom in Spring, Autumn enters majestically with an explosion of colour. It’s easy to lament the loss of summer for another year, even if you are partial to a cosy knit and hot chocolate, but slow living is all about noticing more deeply what’s happening around us. Plus, the beginning of a season reminds us of the reassuring pace and pattern of nature. Whatever happens in life, the leaves will fall, the cold will come, the fresh green shoots will appear and the sun will shine brilliantly again. And it’s not just in the country where we can enjoy this natural procession, London has its own leafy hotspots to visit. Discover where to find some of the best autumn colours in London and celebrate the new season.

Where to Enjoy Autumn in London

1. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

With impressive Victorian glasshouses and beautiful landscape design, Kew is a great place to visit at any time of the year, but it’s particularly special when the seasons are changing. With the vast arboretum and the Treetop Walkway that takes you above the canopy, autumn is a highlight at Kew Gardens.

Treetop Walkway Kew in Autumn

2. Kyoto Garden, Holland Park

Part of the 22 hectare Holland Park, the Kyoto Garden was a gift from the Japanese city of Kyoto. It celebrates the relationship between Great Britain and Japan and features relaxing waterfalls and even peacocks. The leaves of the Japanese acer trees turn vibrant shades of red and orange during autumn.

3. Regent’s Park

One of London’s most famous royal parks, Regent’s Park was named after Prince Regent, later known as King George IV who lived between 1762 and 1830. The tree-lined pathways make Regent’s Park a great spot for both spring blossom and autumn leaves.

Avenues of trees in Regent's Park

4. Notting Hill

A walk through Notting Hill’s pastel-coloured streets is uplifting at any time of the year, but during autumn, the area is especially picturesque with crunchy leaves lining the pavement. Get off the tube at Ladbroke Grove and walk down, or start at Notting Hill Gate.

Whether it’s golden hour before sunset or a misty Monday morning, make time to enjoy the colours in all their glory this autumn.