Here’s Why Work-Life Balance is Actually a Fallacy

by | BiggerPockets.com

For most people I know with successful and driven businesses, work-life balance is nonexistent. It’s not because they don’t have the desire to spend time with their family, operate a killer business, and do things that personally fire them up. It’s because balance doesn’t exist in the way most people think about it.

Take a moment and imagine yourself doing something you love to do. Does it involve your imagination wandering to something else other than that one thing? Of course it doesn’t! In personal development books, authors talk all the time about how the day before vacation you are so much more productive knowing you’re leaving the next day. Why? Because it’s not a balanced effort. It’s a full-out sprint toward the objective.

Each of these three areas—family, personal, business—are all interconnected. They live and breath through each other. But they are not the same. They do different things for your life, for your desires, and for the ultimate outcome of achievement; were you successful with ______ , or not? This is not balance.

Related: The Simple Truth To Accomplishing Significantly More, Faster

When I used to hear “work-life balance,” I’d feel like I was failing—basically at everything. And the truth is, I was failing (and still do) at certain things. Whether I wasn’t focusing enough time on my children, having date nights with my wife, leading my team as CEO at work, or being a great business partner. The possibilities of failures are endless. That’s why work-life balance is not only a false pretense, I almost think it’s dangerous.

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Personal Life

Any given week, you can find me training MMA with my pro-fighter coach, learning to fly an airplane with my 80-year-old instructor, or playing bass guitar and keys in front of hundreds or thousands of people at a worship service. Each of these are different exercises in a specific discipline. They require focus and specific skills within that disciple.

You think it’s good to be thinking about (or even making the mental space for) anything other than kick boxing when you’re sparring with your trainer? Have you ever been leg kicked and not checked it?–or punched in the face with a well-timed one-two combination you didn’t see coming? It hurts! There isn’t any balance here (other than your physical body in motion and movement within the mind); this is an all-out mental and physical effort.

Family Life

Our family recently bought a home on some acreage, and one of my kids loves to get into our ATV and roll around the property. We roll in and out of trees, around tight corners, up and down hills. It is so much fun. But do you think this is balanced time? I’m making sure my kids are safe, and the ATV still has all 4 wheels on the ground. I’m checking that the kids are buckled up and no branches are dangling too close to faces or eye balls.

We enjoy time in the house playing games, and my son could build legos everyday. If I am in the moment with my kids, I am not bringing anything else to the table other than a desire to be 100 percent all in with them. This is not balance! I’m not thinking about other things in life or “balancing them” in that moment. If I were, I would not be giving my kids and my wife my full attention.

Work Life

I remember distinctly a few weeks ago I sat with our main acquisitions guy from around 7 p.m. to well-past midnight working through dozens of potential deals. We had only 24 hours to work through everything, and the one and only thing that was important was working through the opportunities, quickly understanding them, dissecting them, and making decisions.

These were million-dollar decisions! It’s not a game; we don’t get a do-over. If you buy a house that’s a dud, you get to deal with it afterward (and I’ve been there, and it’s not fun paying to sell a house).

On our team, as a leader (or as a person in a specific position in an organization), you still don’t want balance. You want someone with a specific job who is at work to be supremely focused, clear on the objective, dialed in, and executing the activity.  This goes for leadership specifically. You can’t have balance doing a bunch of different stuff in your business at the same time. Now, there are different personality types who do different things (and some more than others) pretty well. But, this is not an excuse to be all over the place. It’s not an excuse not to get everything done.

Related: Why You Should Focus on Improving Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

Final Thoughts

I journal almost every morning before my day starts and often at the end of the day as well. Some days I am all about my family. Other days I’m all about the number of houses we need to buy, projections for our business that month, or what we need to do to execute that result. Sometimes it’s literally a task-oriented to-do list. Each of these take a specific focus and a specific discipline.

When I finally let go of the idea of work-life balance, I found something interesting in my life. Everything I got into during my day, whether it was buying houses, leading my team as CEO, flying an airplane, training in MMA, driving the ATV, date night with my wife, anything—the more I was interested and all in in that moment, the more engaged and more enjoyment I got from it. 

It’s time to stop trying to balance everything and realize you can’t. Instead, be focused in the moment on what’s in front of you. Put your phone down. Look people in the eyes. Be present. Be in the moment, and be all in.

We’re republishing this article to help out our newer readers.

I want to hear your thoughts! Do you agree or disagree about work-life balance? How do you separate the different aspects of your life?

Share below!

About Author

Nathan Brooks

Nathan Brooks is a dad, husband, worship leader, and real estate investor in the Kansas City market. Foodie. Coffee addict. Crossfit junkie.

51 Comments

  1. Ali Hashemi

    Interesting angle. I too agree work life balance is a fallacy but for additional reasons. If you align your work with your life goals then there’s not a separation between the two. Work life balance only applies to those who have two separate goals – a work goal and a life goal. If the goal is the same (and it should be) then you don’t have to balance anything…everything feeds into the same goal.

    • Rob Cook

      Very good point Ali. I am all for aligning life and work, and my passion is for just that. It is only “work” if you would rather be doing something else. I have, for the last 30 years, done this consciously, creating the work and lifestyle that provided me the constant satisfaction and purpose I desired. Not an accident in my case, but by design. Whenever something pulled me off course, as constantly happens with a busy business and family life, I would as quickly as possible address the situation and return to my purpose and focused zone where I was self-driven to progress. Fighting one’s true self is usually not going to last long or result in happiness or sustained success.

    • Nathan Brooks

      I like your thoughts here Ali. Interesting to think about if there are two different (separate) goals. I think a lot of times there are always different goals in different places of your life, which is totally ok. They just have to have their time and place. Clear expectations. A clear target. And then understanding that that means relative to everything else in your life.

  2. Rob Cook

    Good post, Nathan!

    You summed up my takeaway in the last sentence. No matter what you are doing, be in the moment. It is really all we can do. “Multi-tasking” is a fiction. By trying to “balance” or handle everything at the same time, all we do is self-sabotage our productivity and create conflict and stress.

    Good post. Thanks

    • Nathan Brooks

      Thanks so much Rob! Greatly appreciate you taking the time to comment on the post. I also agree, multi-tasking is not a real thing. Its a mind trick we think we play on ourselves, often distracting us from what is really important (or that we don’t want to deal with.) I think your comments are 10000% on point sir! Thanks for the wonderful contribution.

  3. Your blog resonated with me. As the saying goes – JACK OF ALL TRADES, MASTER OF NONE! When it comes down to survival and priory, there is no time to waste trying to be balanced. There is only so much time and energy available to optimize in a person’s life. In my case, trying to multi-task completely separate parts of life results in less than optimal results and more like outright failure. Success isn’t always about tangible results; it can be something that provides an intangible benefit such as meditation. . Everything should be looked as an investment, whether it’s time, expense, effort, or a combination. With only so much time we are allotted, focus only on the things that provide enough benefit that eventually override the time, expense and effort it takes to achieve such benefit. If you’re putting in more than you’re getting back (negative return), cut your losses, dump it from your life and move on! This applies to everything in life.

    • Nathan Brooks

      This is great Tim, and thankful this resonated with you. I always tell my team; there are only two things you can’t buy, time and experience. In this case, we are simply saying … TAKE the necessary time for the things you make important. Hold that time, hold that effort, accountable for what you are wanting its result to be. Thanks for taking time to respond on the post.

  4. Jerry W.

    Nathan,
    Thank you for the article. While it does take drive and hard work to succeed, we need to remember why we are working (to care for our loved ones), and make sure we share our most precious resource with them as well as money. That is our time and love.

    • Rob Cook

      No doubt Jerry! BUT, I think one point is, just focus on one thing and do it deeply, at a time! Whether it is playing with the kids or wife, or doing business. I am exactly that kind “compulsive obsessive” actor myself, and although it can drive others around me nuts, it has served me well. And, I should state, I have had the best of family life and raised three successful kids with my bride, as well as worked a lot along the way. Looking forward to meeting you in person Friday, brother!

  5. Brie Schmidt

    Great article! I had this exact life shift about a year ago and it has been awesome. I actually work less and accomplish more by allocating my time and focusing on that task. Some days I work 14 hours in the business, some days I turn my phone off for family time. I found I was able to cut at least 10 hours a week by not multitasking

  6. Jerome Kaidor

    I never understood “work life balance” to mean trying to do both at the same time. Who could do that?
    Actually, work is part of life. Who would want to be deprived of the joy of concentrating on something and working through it till it’s finished?

    Interesting you mentioned flying. I’m a pilot. I think of flying as sort of a “scattered” activity. You can’t concentrate on any one aspect or instrument. Concentrate on the heading, and your altitude goes off. Concentrate on the radio, and the airplane goes – who knows where? “Don’t forget to Fly the Plane”.
    You look at this instrument, look at that instrument, glance at the GPS, glance at the airspeed. Make a
    minute nudge to the trim wheel. Look at the other instruments. Come back and see if your nudge worked.
    Watch for other airplanes! Back to the altimeter. Back to the heading. Wings still level?

    • Nathan Brooks

      Jerome … MAN, is this on point. You’re so right. “Flying the airplane” means so many things doesn’t it? Just in my limited experience, you can really get lost looking at someone and realize you have not focused your attention on actually flying the airplane and watching outside of the plane as to what is happening.

      Work is a part of life. And life has all kinds of things that require work. This is such a great comment, and thanks so much for taking time to respond.

      • Doug Pokorney

        I agree Jerome. For me the article described what I consider work-life balance. I don’t attempt to focus all my energy equally to all facets of my life at one time; it is impossible. I focus on what needs my attention at that moment. I like that you mentioned about being in that moment. So if you are spending time with the kids…be present and engaged with the kids and not thinking about that next property purchase. Vise versa, when you are engaged on making a deal, focus all your attention to making the best deal. Again for me this article is what I consider work-life balance. Thanks for sharing

  7. Jonathan Arceneaux

    Great point of view. However, I believe that your article/life actually represents what work-life balance is all about. It’s a bit of a contradiction. We all want to enjoy the work that we, succeed at that work, and in the same life, we hope to enjoy things outside of work. Based on the article, it seems you have achieved work-life balance.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Hi Jonathan. I totally understand what you are saying, and I think the “idea” of work life balance means you have some concept that balance is there. And it has to be balanced all the time, like every kid gets the same to-the-dollar priced gifts, and on the same day, same … etc.

      For me, it has been a learning experience that I didn’t need to go back and “pay work” if I was training. Or I didn’t need to go back and “pay my kids” if I had to work. I just had to make sure I was present, and engage in the moment for what I was doing in the moment. And also, make great choices of where I spent that time.

      Thanks Jonathan! Appreciate you taking the time to comment on the post.

    • I agree with Jonathan here. The post is mis-leading. What you’re doing I think is life work balance. More importantly, you can’t define life/work balance unless you know what you’re trying to balance. If you work a ton and maybe playing legos does balance the scales–or ATViing. Unless you answer the question, “What am I trying to balance?/What am I trying to accomplish?” you can’t answer “Is this work/life balance?” So, if you think you’re doing a great job and the people and things that matter most to you believe the balance works for them too—then, yes, it looks like you’re succeeding. No where has anyone said you need to spend X amount of time doing Y, otherwise it’s not balanced. The equation is different for every person, couple and family.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Kevin, you are so right. It is definitely always a challenge. I really believe by having more clarity and time engaged with what those goals are, in all those areas, we are more easily able to say YES or say NO to things that don’t make sense.

  8. Paul Moore

    Nathan. Great post. This clarifies a lot of my thinking. I’ve been going through “The One Thing” book and podcasts (Gary Keller etc.), and you did a great job drilling home some of the points they make. Thanks!

    • Nathan Brooks

      Paul, what a great book. I loved that one, and really appreciated reading it. I’m also thankful to hear so many others, and specifically you, really thinking on this and what it means. It’s definitely something I think on a lot. Appreciate your contribution to the conversation.

  9. Chris Ayers

    Wouldn’t have believed you were a worship leader until I saw the beard. Now it checks out. 😉

    I think what you mentioned is work life balance. Being able to not think about work when I’m with my family is definitely balancing them out … at least in my mind. Shut off work brain and turn on family brain.

    My problem is my brain is always thinking about everything. When I’m at work I’m thinking about my family and when I’m with my family I sometimes think about work.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Chris! Love the beard comment … I mean, I’ve worked hard for it 😉 … The brain shut off is a wonderful, and a terrible problem. He is my best advice. Keep a journal, and start and end your day with your thoughts, and write out the target for tomorrow. I’d bet 95% of those nights I wasn’t able to shut off I now mitigate with writing in my journal. And the other 5%, just embrace it, stay up late, get fired up, and write everything down! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  10. John Murray

    I have always been amazed why people never find their passion. Most become prisoners of their own design. Freedom is my most prized possession, wealth provides freedom. Luxuries provide instant gratification but depreciate in value, freedom is priceless. A person can buy ATVs, vacations, houses and luxury cars. This is the common upper middle class fault. When a person finds their passion, wealth is accumulated and work life balance is not an issue. They are one in the same.

    • Nathan Brooks

      John – I have too. I honestly wonder, because I’m constantly finding new passions, joys, loves, and things I’m also NOT into. But I find myself a lot of opportunity to ask that question. BUT, maybe that is part of the answer too. Are we putting ourselves into moments we have to dig inside of ourselves and ask, “is this something for me…?” AND, are we putting ourselves into moments we are uncomfortable, and forced to dig inside again and see what we are made of? I think both of those are requirements.

      • John Murray

        Nathan you have found the key to success. Self discipline, being comfortable in uncomfortable situations. The hallmark of a true leader is the ability to adapt, change and pushing yourself to the upper limits of your potential. The true entrepreneur is a rare breed, best of luck finding your freedom.

  11. My initial thought is that you might be trying to do too much.

    Unscheduled time is valuable. Some people like to go go go, but if it feels hectic perhaps it’s better to not do so.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Ken – I appreciate the sentiment. The fact for me anyway, is … I will find to fill that void of time with something. So, I’d prefer to make a conscience choice of something I’m fired up about, than randomly surfing facebook for 2 hours a day, or some mindless video game. It’s way more fun to be excited about _______ / and go get after it in my opinion!

  12. This article misrepresents the concept of work-life balance. The concept is about making sure you have time in your schedule to take the MMA class and the pilot lessons, ride ATVs with your kids, and have date night with your wife. Someone without work-life balance consistently works 70-80 hours, and is tethered to a phone for important work messages in the remaining waking hours… someone whose work life occupies so much space that there’s little room for a personal life. As others have pointed out, it sounds like you have achieved work-life balance according to the standard interpretation of it.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Paul – I appreciate you taking time to comment here. Although I disagree. Work life balance doesn’t exist. People chase it perhaps, but I just don’t agree it is a real thing. The concept of the post here was my argument it doesn’t, and how by trying to find some “balance” we miss the opportunity in the moments we have by trying. Some weeks I work 10-15 hours, some I work 100. Some weeks I am not working at all. That’s not balance. It’s focused activity, where it needs to be, for that moment. Just the same as the training, flying, kids time, or otherwise. Work life balance is a thing people say to feel like they are trying to seek some in between space. I don’t seek in between space … I seek 100% presence and depth in the moments I’m in.

      I appreciate taking the time to comment, no less. Thanks Paul.

      • Nathan, your post was about segregating work activity from non-work activity, and maintaining 100% focus on what you are doing, whether that’s work, family, or personal activity. This is the traditional interpretation of work-life balance. My employer provides better-than-average vacation benefits, paternity and maternity leave, and days off for volunteer work that do not count against vacation allotment. These are all intended to allow for better work-life balance – i.e. more time away from work to be with family and pursue non-work passions.

  13. Fred Maul

    Your topic strikes me more as an article on multi-tasking, which I agree is not good, versus focusing on the task at hand for maximum results. The balance as I understand it means taking time to focus on other areas of your life besides work.

    • Nathan Brooks

      HI Fred. I would suggested you have completely missed the post’s overarching theme, as well as the direct arguments against what you just said. Maybe re-read… and reconsider your thoughts there.

      We can agree on, multi-tasking isn’t a good thing. Maybe you were multi-tasking while you read it, which is how we ended up with this response. Nevertheless, thanks for reading and pondering.

      • Costin I.

        I have to agree with Fred here (above, and Alan Brymer in next comment) – your article is about the necessity to focus on task at hand vs. multi-tasking, not the balance of life and work. Balance of life and work is not about doing work at dinner with the family, nor closing deals while vacationing with the kids or playing with them at your rehabs (and you are advocating you should only do one or the other, not mix “work with pleasure” and multitask).
        Balance is equal distribution of weight, equal amount of work and life. Although that “equal” might be subjective to each person (e.g. quality time with family might be worth a lot more more, although possibile less as absolute quantitative vs a lot of work time) – the main idea being it’s not “all work and no play”.
        Nevertheless, good article.

  14. Alan Brymer

    Good advice here but I believe you have mistaken what Work-life balance means.

    The phrase Work-life balance is not about being present in all situations or having a specific role or focus while at work (both of which are highly advisable), or about the various areas of your life intertwining (they do).

    It’s referring to the number of *hours* spent on average in each area of your life, and dedicating sufficient time to each of them to have a balanced, healthy life – particularly, not spending too much time at work and neglecting family, hobbies, personal development, etc.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Hi Alan… I appreciate your insight, but I challenge you on that. I am not saying we need to balance those activities. I am saying, when it is time for those activities (family, work, training, flying, etc) it requires our complete attention. I also don’t believe we need to have balance in that effort.

      Instead, I am suggesting that we focus our energy in the place we need to focus, without draw to other places in our life. And allow those opportunities to happen, for us to be completely present.

      I also think, people feel they NEED to do all these things, all the time (hence, work like balance.) And I also disagree with that. For me, I want to focus on specific things as much as possible… and I am not looking for a balance. I am personally looking for, and believe most people are … looking for time to do the things they WANT to do.

  15. I have never liked ” Multitasking” which is what you are really talking about. To be effective and do a good job you need to be focused on that task. The less multitasking the better. The best way, as you said, is to block out your time and spend 1- 4 hours doing one thing correctly and effectively.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Bob – you are referring to other comments on here I am assuming. And yes, I agree … multi-tasking just takes focus away from other things you should have your full attention to. Instead, block time, and crush the one thing you are focused on. Thanks for taking your time to respond here!

  16. Nancy H.

    I appreciate the article and your point of view, but I have been thinking about it on and off for the past 24 hours and feel a need to clarify as I think the article perpetuates the myth that work-life balance is about juggling everything you need to do simultaneously. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Work-life balance is creating the necessary flexibility in your life to decide what to do when. And when you decide what to do, when, it is about being in that thing 100%.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Hi Nancy – I really really appreciate the thought behind your response, and taking the time to do so. To me, the issue was this: work life balance doesn’t exist. I don’t think we were put on the planet to have to decide to work, and then divide that attention to our family or personal endeavors, and feel torn between them all the time.

      However, if for you, the post helped you process through your own time, however you are using it, and call it work life balance or whatever it is … and it is WORKING, then I am thankful that is working for you.

      No matter what, I do believe our life is about that 100% effort and focus on the ONE THING we are doing. And it requires an imbalance because all focus is diverted towards that one thing, for however long it takes. It’s not seeking balance, it’s just simply after that one activity you are working on.

      Thanks Nancy for your contribution!

  17. Laenny medina

    I agree i have ADD. And i cannot use that as an excuse for a “balanced life” at one point i had to take control of my life be it work,school or family. I have learned to live in the NOW! Put my focus on what is going on now.

  18. Eric Schenck

    Great article! Balance work and life in perfect equilibrium is impossible. A good book relating to this is “Choosing to Cheat” by Andy Stanley. Had a big impact on me. Look at the bigger picture to see what’s really important.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Hi Eric! Thanks for taking time to comment on the post here… I like your word choice. Equilibrium is SO true. And amazing (in our bodies) if that is off … same thing in our work, personal, family life.

      Thanks for the book suggestion too, haven’t heard of it but its on the list now!

  19. Corey Adams

    Nathan, first off thanks for writing, love reading these bp articles. But I’ve always understood “work-life balance” to be the idea that you shouldn’t work so much that you can’t enjoy time with your family, friends, etc. You hear of people working so hard to build a business or retirement to take care of their family that they actually miss out on many years with them because all they do is work. This is what I’ve understand about the whole work-life balance idea, work hard, but don’t only focus on work so you can still enjoy life as you reach your goals. Work-life balance to me does not represent the idea that you should be thinking about work while riding an atv with your kid. Of course 100% of your attention should be on whatever you’re doing. What you described sounds more like someone bringing work home with them, mentally speaking of course, or trying to to multi task and think about two things at once. Which we can all agree shouldnt be done, if possible.

    Now the work-life balance I described earlier, not getting so focused on your goals that you miss out on life while tying to reach them, is most certainly not a fallacy and should be of utmost importance to everyone, especially investors. Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks

  20. Scott A Smith

    Interesting – I never once considered work-life balance to mean anything like multitasking. More, I believe it to be more of a corporate term to describe the once required 60-70 hour work weeks that some employers had, which left the rat race employees to very little opportunity to engage in much of a social life.

    I personally see absolutely zero tie-in to multitasking or relating to entrepreneurship, as you’ve chosen the hours you dedicate as a self-employer to your business and personal lives.

  21. Dillon Reilly

    Nice writing Nathan! However, it sounds to me like you have a fantastic work-life balance, because you have been able to balance the work that you do with the other aspects of your life that would otherwise be pushed to the wayside. To me, the concept of work-life balance, as is generally discussed, comes down to putting in too much attention and time into your work (job/career/income-producing entity) and thus your social/family life suffers. As I was reading this, I felt like you were talking far more about being mindful and present with whatever task you are doing at that specific time and place, which is wonderful advice as well, and something I think many folks could benefit from, so thanks for sharing that insight 🙂

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