Finding Balance: Finding the right ‘fit’ for life’s priorities

During this uncertain time in our nation’s economy, it’s easy to get carried away worrying about finding a “balance” between increasing demands of our employers and the increasing demands that our households, our families and our creditors have put on us.

In the most recent surveys of American workers (completed well before the current crisis) about one-third of us reported that we didn’t have time for our families and other important people in our lives, brought work home once a week or more, weren’t in a good mood because of our jobs or just simply reported feeling “used up at the end of the workday.”

Indeed, many of us are having a really hard time finding any kind of “balance.” We’re working more hours earning less, and are trying to “balance” our lives with a dwindling stock of personal resources, especially time.

Luckily, every once in a while, someone will write a self-help business book that really does help. Recently, I picked up a copy of Cali Williams Yost’s book, “Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You,” published by Riverhead Books. This book has really helped me in asking myself the question, “Is ‘balance’ in my work and personal life really what I’m after?”

Yost is a Columbia Business School graduate who not only had a successful career as the vice president of a New York bank, but who has worked for one of the nation’s leading research groups studying the issues of work and family balance, the Families and Work Institute.

She bases her arguments on both solid research and extensive real-world work experience. Yost’s conclusion: “We shouldn’t be focused on finding ‘balance’ in our lives, so much as creating ‘fit.’”

In fact, she argues that it’s impossible to find balance between work and personal life.

Instead, Yost believes that because we have a fixed amount of time and energy in our lives, we have to allocate those resources to both to our personal lives — our families, our friends, our passions outside of work — and to our careers.

At some points in our lives we must choose to allocate more time to personal endeavors. At other times, our jobs become the priority. So what we’re seeking isn’t a 50-50 split.

Sell the plan

Yost encourages each of us to map our priorities and to take responsibility for dividing up our time and resource “pie” into slices of our choosing to resolve the constant conflict created by trying to balance our lives.

Yost’s solution is that it is up to us to take control of our priorities, rather than waiting for the HR department, our boss or the company to act on our behalf. Instead, she argues, determine your life priorities and come up with a clear plan of your own. Value yourself enough to rearrange your work life to fit the demands of your personal life. Then sell that plan to your employer.

The book is filled with examples of employees who achieved work and life “fit” by changing the way they worked, proposing new schedules, rallying their co-workers, proposing new schemes and pitching new ideas to their employers.

Why would any employer want you to create a better fit between your personal needs and your work life? The answer is in a mounting body of research indicating that employees who don’t have the flexibility to deal with their personal and family lives needs are less productive, less loyal and less committed than employees better able to fit together work and family.

What’s unique about Yost’s arguments is her assertion that you bear the primary responsibility for designing flexibility into your work life.

Interested? Come hear Cali Williams Yost discuss these ideas in person. She will be the featured speaker at UNH Cooperative Extension’s first New Hampshire Summit on Work and Family, which will be held Oct. 29 at the Holiday Inn in Concord. You can register for this free conference and get more information about work life fit by visiting

Dr. Malcolm Smith is family life and family policy specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension and teaches in the UNH Family Studies Program. He can be reached at 603-862-7008, or