8 TED Talks About Work/Life Balance That'll Change the Way You Think

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Lindsay Kolowich Cox
Lindsay Kolowich Cox



Everyone and their mother seems to have a strong opinion about work-life balance.

Some argue that balancing career and lifestyle is necessary for your overall happiness. Others argue that the concept of "balancing" your work and your life, which implies that the two are on par with one another, is plain old wrong. Still others argue the whole thing is completely imaginary and unrealistic, and that we're making ourselves unhappy by pursuing it in the first place.

But a lot of what we read about it in popular culture barely scratches the surface. There's a ton of cool, crazy research and science out there that's uncovered meaningful insights about work-life balance -- from how it affects our individual happiness and success to how it should affect the way companies are run.

Curious what the smartest people out there have to say about work-life balance? Check out these eight TED talks that dig in to the more unconventional and uncommonly useful advice when it comes to balancing career and lifestyle.

8 TED Talks About Work/Life Balance That'll Change the Way You Think

1) "Off-Balance On Purpose: The Future of Engagement and Work-Life Balance" by Dan Thurmon

According to Dan Thurmon, work-life balance is a concept that's intriguing, and desirable ... and also completely unrealistic. We're told work-life balance is the ultimate goal, and we beat ourselves up in pursuit of it. Maybe if we work hard enough, or if we're smart enough, then we'll get to this moment where it all evens out. But he's here to tell you that perfect balance is something you never attain; in fact, the pursuit of balance will have a negative impact on your life.

In this TED talk, Thurmon liberates us with a new philosophy: Rather than living our lives on-balance, we should live them "off-balance, on purpose." Being off-balance is our reality, but it's a good thing because it allows us to learn, grow, love, serve others, and improve ourselves in meaningful ways. The question is, are we off-balance in response to our world, or are we off-balance on purpose?

2) "How to Make Work-Life Balance Work" by Nigel Marsh

Author and marketer Nigel Marsh says work-life balance is too important to leave up to your employer. "If you don't design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance," he says. But being more balanced doesn't call for a dramatic overhaul of your life -- it just means investing in small ways in the right places. Do that, and you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life. You'll also learn what he thinks an "ideal day" looks like -- one balanced between family time, personal time, and productivity.

3) "Work-Life Balance: Balancing Time or Balancing Identity?" by Michelle Ryan

Some argue that many women choose not to go into particular jobs because of the long hours required and the sacrifices that need to be made -- thereby making women seem less ambitious and more attracted to the idea of work-life balance than men. But is there really something innate about a desire for work-life balance that women have, or is there something more complex going on here? In her TED talk, Michelle Ryan teaches us about the complexities involved in these decisions and presents cutting-edge research into ambition and work-life balance across the gender divide.

4) "Why Work Doesn't Happen at Work" by Jason Fried

Jason Fried has been asking people this question for over ten years now: "Where do you go when you really need to get something done?" What he's found is that the answer is very rarely the office. Instead, people say things like "the porch," "the kitchen," "a coffee shop," or even a time of day, like early morning or late at night. And yet, businesses spend a wild amount of money on their office, and they're making their employers go to it during a specific period of time. In this TED talk, you'll learn what the two main offenders are -- and what Fried suggests for making the office actually work.

5) "The Power of Time Off" by Stefan Stagmeister

Every seven years, Stefan Sagmeister shuts down his New York studio Sagmeister & Walsh (which designed the album cover for The Rolling Stones' "Bridges to Babylon," among many other famous projects), and gives his employees an entire year-long sabbatical. Why? Not just because it's enjoyable -- although that's certainly true. The main reason, though, is so he and his team can refresh their creative outlook so their work wouldn't get stale or look the same. In this TED talk, he tells us the origin of this idea, explains the oft-overlooked value of time off, and shows the innovative projects inspired by his time in Bali.

6) "The Happy Secret to Better Work" by Shawn Anchor

Shawn Anchor researches happiness for a living -- and he's found some really, really interesting stuff. Right now, most people believe we need to work hard in order to be happy. But Anchor's found that this is backwards. Our long-term happiness isn't predicted by the external world, but by the way our brains process the world -- and if we can change our outlook, then we can not only change our happiness, but we can actually change how successful we are at work, at school, and in other parts of our lives. In this TED talk, you'll learn how happiness inspires us to be more productive -- in a talk that's riddled with funny stories and one-liners.

7) "How to Succeed? Get More Sleep" by Arianna Huffington

According to Arianna Huffington, the single most important thing leaders can do is get enough sleep. To most, this advice is counterintuitive: After all, our society expects leaders to slave away at all hours and work themselves to the bone. But studies have shown that getting enough sleep can have tremendously positive affects on our creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership, and decision-making skills. In this TED talk, Huffington teaches us why hard work and long hours, while having a place in business success, should not and cannot be the norm. Instead, we can be more successful at our jobs and happier with our lives through this one, small change.

8) "The Puzzle of Motivation" by Dan Pink

Here's a TED talk that's loosely related to work-life balance, more from the managers-to-employees perspective. Most managers' general line of thinking is this: If we want people to perform better, we reward them -- with bonuses, vacations, commissions, and so on. But in this TED talk, Dan Pink tells us what most social scientists know and most managers don't: Traditional rewards at work aren't always as effective as we think. The incentives managers think will sharpen employees' thinking and accelerate their creativity actually does the opposite: dulls thinking, and blocks creativity. And yet, so many businesses build their operating systems entirely around those extrinsic motivators.

Using colorful stories and detailed examples, Pink illustrates why traditional motivators don't work and actually do harm, forcing people to work insane hours and generally be unhappy at work. Learn instead how businesses can properly motivate their employees and apply our human resources.

What are your favorite TED talks about work-life balance? Share with us in the comments.

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