Forget Work-Life "Balance". Instead, seek Harmony
Life is like a well-made mechanical watch.
You are the craftsman. The Swiss master who tinkers with the vast arrays of gears to create a system to depict the passage of time.
For those unfamiliar with how a mechanical watch works, the watch requires movement (i.e. swinging your arms side to side, shaking the watch or a firm handshake) to wind up the spring that will set all the mechanisms (i.e. hundreds of gears) into action. Most watches now are quartz watches, meaning they electronically tell the time and not with the usage of gears. Yet if you look at most of the high end watches ($1,000 to $200,000) they will be mechanical.
The modern and futurist folk may wonder why such an archaic practice to tell time may still exist, and be sold at a much higher price than an average smart watch, but I think understanding and appreciating the beauty of a mechanical watch can have a positive view to how we think about our life's operating system.
The watch requires precision. If one gear is off, the mechanical watch won't function. At that point you won't be able to tell the time. Time will continue to pass but you won't know.
This is how I view life.
I view my life as a watch with numerous gears that need to be operating optimally for it to function properly. The gears depict various aspects of my life like friends, family, work, health (mental and physical), amount of fun I have, amount of love I receive/give and everything else.
It's a fully unified system where if one breaks down, it will ruin all else.
Well, if your career makes you miserable and you hate your life, I really doubt you will give a rat's ass about your physical health. I'm also going to assume your mental health is down the drain too because it's hard for me to imagine someone who hates what they do having a solid mental-state. This will probably trickle over to your relationships. Your friends and loved ones are probably sick and tired of hearing your complaints, negative attitude and years of inaction to solve your misery. You may even get angry at times and that may distance yourself from other people as well.
Same for physical health. I think work hard play hard is stupid. I think it's stupid because the people who tend to embody that don't seem to consider how wretched habits of poor diet, poor sleep, lack of exercise, excess sedentary-ness, and over-exhaustion will have horrible repercussions down the line. Neglecting exercise and proper nutrition will impact your ability to perform at work. Not just with physical energy but with your mind's ability to be creative and/or be n flow. Especially with "work" evolving to become more "knowledge" focused, creativity will be essential. I mean, if you aren't creative then you're no different from a software program (actually you're worse than a software program) so you'll probably be without work soon enough.
Just a few examples but I think you get what I mean.
Not balance. Harmony.
You have to continuously be mindful of your system. I'm not saying that you have to slot in equal amounts of time for each part of your life. Some require more time than others. Some parts of your life may actually become more negative with more time investment (i.e. diminishing returns to negative returns). Even when you look at a watch there are small gears and big gears. Not all gears are equal.
This is also why I don't believe in "work-life balance". I think that's just a one way ticket to become mediocre.
I believe in "work-life harmony".
Why harmony over balance?
Am I just getting too nit-picky over technicalities and details?
Yeah, probably. But the devil is in the details and the details are what matters.
As I mentioned before, a watch requires gears of various sizes and not all gears are equal. As such, various parts of life will require unequal amount of effort, time and resources to optimize. At one point in time your work may be the big gear that requires the most energy and your health may be the small gear that requires less energy to turn but needs to spin more frequently and vice versa.
My career may require times when I have to push things to some extremes like working 60-80hrs a week for weeks, months or even years to launch a company or project. Yet, my relationship with people isn't like a 4 week or 5 month project. Those require continued incremental investment. Spending 1 hour of 100% true quality time with my girlfriend where I am truly "present" (i.e. not checking emails, not answering dumb social media notifications) every day for a year may amount to 365 hours but that is very different from spending 80hrs a week with her for 4-5 weeks and then ignoring her for the other 47-48 weeks. Similarly, if I don't invest a large amount of time upfront to start a company it may never come to fruition. There is no universal answer but it's imperative to know who gets the solos, who will be the lead melody and who will play support in your life's orchestra.
Same logic applies to physical activity. You will not maintain levels of endurance, strength or muscular development you developed over 4 weeks of hardcore training when you sit in front of a laptop all day eating a shitty-ass diet for the rest of the year. You might be worse off actually. This is also considering the fact that your body requires time to recover for you to have physical growth. I personally train about 12 hours a week but that doesn't includes the 4x a week sauna sessions, the 2x a day cold showers, the diet, the quality sleep, the meditation and all other things I do to make sure my body recovers optimally so it can be stronger for the next training session. It's a full system. Nothing works independent of the other and most systems will break if done to the extreme.
Oh, and yeah you don't catch up on sleep you missed either. You also don't get to rewind the clock on your child's age to get back to when they were 7, nor will you get to makeup for the times you missed with your parents in their 50s by visiting them in the hospital decades later. Some systems require continued incremental investment.
Your allocations will change. It's only natural.
Everyone's own system is different. My needs, values and principles are different from my girlfriend, family, friends and you. Not only is it different, it will continuously evolve as I grow and become a different person next year. This means the system will have to be flexible.
If I want to achieve a major career feat or athletic feat I may need to reallocate my investment of time, effort and resources to different areas. This requires the various systems to be fluid and adaptable. To be adaptable the systems need to continuously be in harmony.
This might seem like I'm only talking from the "investment of time" standpoint but harmony encompasses the integration between the various systems in your life.
It's about merging work with your social life, merging physical health activities with work, merging relationships with mental health etc...
I find people seek to compartmentalize various aspects of their life when they seek "balance". In my experience, people seek compartmentalization for that part of their life they hate. The part that brings disappointment, sadness and overall negative energy. They don't want to let it spill over to other parts of their life. I get that. You don't want to be the "complainer" and the "downer". You don't want it to impact the gym session you've looked forward to all day.
But guess what? You can't compartmentalize it. It'll trickle over. Whether it's mentally or physically. It will. You may not be as present in a discussion with your parents because of some crap at work. You may not be focused on your work because of the horrible fight you had with your partner. You may not sleep well because of a poor diet you had and that may result in poor performance in the gym the next morning, which will lead you to be dissatisfied with yourself when you get to work and zap you of the motivation to do your work, which may lead to the boss showing disappointment in you, so you get more upset and then you lash out to your friends over dinner about it and then they don't invite you out the week after and then you get lonely and ...... well you get the point.
It's a big cycle and everything is all interconnected. When one gear is off, it eventually breaks the whole watch. Depending on the gear's size it may take longer or shorter to break the whole watch but it eventually will.
Don't deny or compartmentalize it. If you hate your job, then tell your friends about it and ask for help. Maybe you'll need to spend time finding a whole new career, so then lessen the time you spend in the gym. Change your training program to be less psychologically demanding to take the pressure off of you as you search for a new job. Spend your social time with family and friends getting advice and getting help to figure out who you are to figure out what you would rather do for work. If training isn't going well then fix your diet, fix your sleep, tell your boss that you're overworked and your physical health is suffering and that is stressing you out mentally and that it is impacting your ability to be creative to produce great work.
Harmonize all systems of your life.
A watch requires all gears to be operating properly to tell the time.
Don't let the passage of time be missed because your watch is broken. Make sure you capture the passage of time by having a working watch.
What are the gears in your life that are not doing its job? Why is it sub-optimal? What are you going to do about it?