Vintage green weight balance scale isolated on whiteWork Life Balance. It’s another one of those metaphors that feels OK until you actually start thinking “How would I do that?”. It assumes that your time is an external thing, with mass, and that you will know when work and life are in balance by some kind of external scale. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s how I do it. I make judgements on the fly, sometimes I’ll ask myself my favourite time question: “Is this time well spent?”, but I’m not weighing up my options in a considered way. I decide using a feeling – that I’ve been spending too much time working, or not enough time at the gym – it might not be objectively true, but subjectively it is. I’m using a heuristic to make my way to a decision – a short cut that allows me to reassess how I respond to the different demands on my time.

“Not all time has the same weight, does it?”

I guess the objective way to balance would be to keep a running total of time spent in various activities, placing them in different domains, like work, home, leisure, sleeping and decide how much time we wanted to spend in each domain, and plot it as slices on a pie chart. This appears rational, and it’s what many time management teachers advise, but it only tots up the quantity of elapsed time, not quality. Because not all time has the same weight, does it?

Contrast ten minutes spent waiting on hold for a customer service rep with ten minutes speaking on the phone to a friend you haven’t spoken to for ages. Which seems longer? Which is the better use of your ten minutes?

So when you’re doing that balancing act with time, your internal measurement system also has to take into account the heft of time, as well as the duration. It’s hard to map it out on a pie chart, and maybe that heuristic you’re using to weigh it up could do with a little recalibration.