The idea most people have of work-life balance is flawed.

Usually it involves figuring out how to do just enough work to not get fired, then spend the rest of the day complaining about hating the job, the boss, the company, and the size of the paycheck. They blow off work in favor of social media trash, then spend all their precious ‘Free Time’ plugged into a screen.

Looking at the average worker, you’d think ‘balance’ means figuring out how to do ‘Work’ and ‘Fun’ as poorly as possible.

You can do everything that matters. You can even do some of the things that don’t matter. The people that make the most of their time aren’t any smarter than you – you can learn to do what they do.

Get Your Mind Right

When people think of balance, they’re thinking of a seesaw with ‘Work’ is on one side, and ‘Life’ is on the other. If one side shoots up too high, you add some weight. If one side is too low, you take some weight off. When the two sides are level, you call it balanced and you walk away while patting yourself on the back.

There’s just one problem. This never works. Ever.

That thing is never going to be stable. One small thing changes, the seesaw starts moving, then things start falling apart and alarm bells start ringing. The problem is how you think about it:

Balance is a thing that’s stable, but only if everything around it is stable.

Balancing is a thing that’s stable, even if everything around it changing.

Balance only works if you’ve got a simple life. Half your weight on one foot, half on the other. If you’ve got a complicated life (and you should want a complicated life), the skill you’ll really need is proactively shift your weight. Things around you are changing all the time – you need to be balancing to stay out front.

Balance is passive. Balancing is active.

Your work, your relationships, your health and your other pursuits are all dynamic. They’re all changing – balancing them means you’ve got to be active and start changing first.

Get Your Priorities Straight

The people that complain the loudest are often the people doing the least.

Busy people don’t complain, they look for results. Work, relationships and health are all important. You may have other commitments that are meaningful – like taking care of an older parent, making music, or coaching a Little League team.

People convince themselves into thinking they can make progress on all of these things at once. What they actually end up doing is jumping back and forth. It’s a bit like sitting in front of the television for an hour and flipping channels every few seconds. You’re constantly doing something – but nothing’s really getting done.

You don’t want to try to do everything. You want to try to do the things that matter the most.

If you don’t decide what’s important for you, the Universe will make that choice for you. If you want any chance of getting anywhere, you have to be clear about where you want to go. If you want to get promoted to an upper management position in your company, that won’t happen by accident. Nor will your relationship with your kid improve by accident.

Be clear about what really matters to you.

How It’s Done

Learn to Focus: Embrace the idea that getting ahead in one area means focusing a lot of attention and energy in that one thing. That means that for the time you’re giving to one thing, you’re only giving it to that one thing. If you’re spending the afternoon with your kid, turn off your phone and focus on them. If you’re studying or working, don’t do it with the television on.

Your focus and your energy is like a laser beam – and laser beams can only point at one thing at a time. If you’re smart about it, you’ll make light years more progress in all your priorities than the other guy who’s trying to do everything all at once. Treat it like sitting in a movie theater. The only thing you can see is right in front of you – to the right or the left and there’s only darkness.

Play The Long Game: What busy people do differently is that they shift priorities around. They know that they need to focus all their energy and attention on this thing for this time. Maybe that means focusing for an afternoon – maybe that means focusing for every afternoon for two years.

Getting ahead in your career means more money and more power – which makes it easier to do other things. Developing relationships means you’ll have more support when you need to focus on career. Leaping ahead in one area gives you more abilities to leap ahead in others. Ask yourself “what can I do to make sure I win in the end?” Paradoxically, that might mean stepping away for a while to focus on something else that will help you down the road.

Be A Creature Of Habit: Freedom of choice is overrated. Taking the guesswork out of what you’re doing saves energy and focus. Don’t decide every morning “Should I go for a run?” If you’re a runner you run every morning, no matter what. You don’t ask yourself “Should I put clothes on before I leave the house or just walk around naked?” You just get dressed, and get on with it.

Having things that you do every day, every week, and every month puts a lot of things out of your mind. Visiting your Grandmother every Thursday at six o’clock means two things: you prioritized your family, and you gave yourself more freedom because there’s less time planning and deciding what to do.

Meals, grooming rituals, exercise routines, the more things you have running on autopilot, the easier it is to fit in the other things that need to get done.

Get Support: If you’ve invested in your relationships, they’ll invest in you. If you know you’re going to have a busy week or month, ask family to lend a hand getting other things done. Colleagues, classmates and teachers can help you with work projects. Friends will work around your schedule.

There are plenty of things in life where having two people instead of one makes a thing go 4x as fast. Don’t be shy about giving and asking for favors. If you help push the people around you forward, they will help push you forward.

Wrap Up

Mastering the skill of balancing work/life is an investment. You spend some time and energy now, and it frees up much more time and energy in the future. The people that get the most done and make the biggest impact can do it because they learned how to do it. It’s a skill — and all skills are learnable.

Become an expert at balancing, and you’ll be miles ahead of the whiners and complainers. Focus on what’s important, mercilessly cut everything else. You’ll get more done, get ahead faster, and best of all you’ll enjoy the ride more.