A new dynamic approach to managing work and family

Rebecca Anderton-Davies’ new book, Shifting the Dials, is a total rejection of the idea of work life balance and presents a new framework for our changing, multi-dimensional lives.


The phrase work-life balance has become so commonplace in the last years. It seems like the nirvana so many of us are seeking, but it is one that Rebecca Anderton-Davies describes as toxic. That is because she says it paints a picture which is impossible to achieve, a static, two-dimensional, conflict-prone picture which is out of sync with the constantly changing, four-dimensional world we live in.

The aim of her new book, Shifting the Dials, is, she says, to put “the final nail in the work-life balance’s well-deserved and long-overdue coffin”.                                                            

The book is aimed at the average working person rather than the freelancers, creatives, CEOs and entrepreneurs who, she says, tend to dominate the flexible working space. Anderton-Davies wants more voices to be heard when it comes to work, for instance, people like her – middle managers in corporate organisations who are grappling with a complicated mix of demands and needs on both the home and work front, demands and needs that change over time. 

Her book outlines a different way of looking at the issue – the shifting dials – which she argues is a much more realistic way of knitting together all the pieces of our lives in the present while allowing us to plan for the future.

From dashboard to resilience

The aim of the dials is to give people more control over their lives by making them more aware of the choices they have at any given moment and what drives the decisions they make. First comes what Anderton-Davies calls the dashboard. This is about who you are, what matters to you, what kind of life you want and what you want to achieve ie understanding what you want from life and what you have to offer.

Next come the dials on your dashboard – there should be many for different aspects of your life, for instance, several for work – not just what you are doing now, but promotions you are seeking, jobs you are applying for and so forth. There will be dials for family, for leisure pursuits, voluntary work and so forth so that the dials reflect your life as a whole. You may need to remove a dial at any given stage to make way for other dials. Honesty is vital. Anderton-Davies writes: “Your dials are about expressing your life as an expansive list of its component parts: how you are spending your time now and how you want to be – each as its own dial. Together, these handful or two of dials represent both what is important to you and what you are doing about it, day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year.”

These dials can change in intensity at different times in your life, reflecting that life shifts, for instance, your children don’t need you as much as they grow older, you may take on caring responsibilities for older relatives, you have to focus on work to get a promotion and so forth. The levels change as your life evolves and the levels allow you to be more deliberate and intentional about this. That means you can make trade offs. Perhaps you need to work longer hours to get to the next level at work at one point, but at another something challenging happens in your family that requires you to be less focused on your work. Perhaps there are times when you need to be more focused on your career and your partner can dial their work intensity down.

Last comes resilience, which includes building the mechanisms into your life that support the way you want to shift the dials at any given moment and for the long term. “Dials resilience is a reminder to create space in your life for the things that will allow you to stay in the game – a strong body, a happy mind, a chance to see and hear and touch the people you love as regularly as possible,” writes Anderton-Davies.

Indeed resilience is about having a rich and varied life that acknowledges that some phases might be more challenging than others, for instance, the first years of your working life.

Money matters

Anderton-Davies works in finance and so it is not unexpected that there is a whole chapter on money, titled money matters [particularly, she argues, for women who are affected by the gender pay and pension gaps]. She says it should have its own dials, for instance, earnings, savings, investments and pension. 

The book ends with a section on impact, that is, making a difference, whether at work, at home, in the community or elsewhere.  In Anderton-Davies’ case she says she has a feminism dial which sits alongside her work and career dials “because it is intimately linked to the impact I can have in the male-dominated spaces in which I operate”.

She is keen to make the point that her book is not saying ‘copy my way of life’, but about creating a framework for the many different ways people live their lives, “a framework which enables you to stay true to what is important to you in your life. A reflection of who you are and what matters to you. A mental model that speaks to the kind of life you want to live and what you want to achieve with it, and that is inherently dynamic – just as life, needs and opportunities are.”

*Shifting the dials: a new approach for success in work and life by Rebecca Anderton-Davies is published by Yellow Kite, price 16.99.

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