Five Ways Work-Life Balance is Like Dim Sum

by Alli Polin on December 7, 2012

work life balance choices

I love going out for dim sum.  Never ending carts of interesting cuisine pops by my table for me to try.  Some things look delicious and our table decides to give it a whirl.  Other things come by and I find it hard to believe that anyone would ever eat that; I politely decline and wait for the next.  Before I know it, my table is full of small plates of known and unknown tastes.  I’d like to try more but there is not an inch available to put another plate. 

At this point in the meal I’m faced with several choices:

  • Finish something to make room for something new
  • Consolidate plates and start stacking
  • Remove one of the half eaten plates
  • Admit that I really hate one of the things I selected and let it go practically untouched.
  • Go with what I’ve got and ask for the check

People often think that work-life balance looks like scales that are somehow magically, and perfectly, in balance.  Actually, work-life balance is a lot like going out for dim sum.  The same choices available to us at a dim sum restaurant are also available to us when it comes to work-life balance.  The key is being conscious about our choices instead of getting buried by them.

Finish Something to Make Room for Something New

Every single time you say “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else.   There is no room for new tasks, relationships, responsibilities or connections if your smothered by the mix you’re already working.  Get organized, create lists to help you prioritize and cross things off when you’re done.  You will feel great as you focus, make progress, and get things accomplished.

Consolidate Plates and Start Stacking

We all know that when you stack plates they get higher and higher until things are perched precariously and could tip at any time.  The same holds true for work-life balance.  It’s not really an option participate in a conference call while you drive your kids to ballet lessons and the big soccer game.  When events blend, our multi-tasking skills get pulled to the edge, and whether we admit it or not, something (or someone) suffers in the process.

Remove One of the Half Eaten Plates

Every task you start does not have to be completed by you.  Delegation is a powerful tool for growth when you off-load something meaty.  Delegation is also key for overall effectiveness.  You can’t get everything done on your own all the time – even if you work 24/7.  When you have a great team both in and out of the office, and you get clear on what needs to be completed, someone else can run with it to the end.

Hate Something? Let it Go Untouched

This is hard to do.  By making a selection of dim sum, I’m paying for it so I should eat it, right?  Wrong.  The same holds true for the work-life balance choices you put on your plate; it’s OK to take some of them off untouched.  Try it.  Not every task we take on has equal impact or importance.  Work on the big stuff and forgive yourself when you let other tasks you hoped to get to pass by.

Ask for the Check

When it comes to work-life balance we need to know when we have just had enough and it’s time to unplug and recharge.  If we’re constantly in motion, choosing and acting on this and that our minds are going in 100 different directions and our stress levels can soar.  Be mindful and get to know your signs for when it’s time to check out.  Get a massage, cuddle with your kids, and watch your favorite show…. Just close your laptop and turn off your phone while you do it.

We all have the same number of hours in a day but we all make different choices on how to fill each one.  Ever notice that dim sum restaurants have huge offerings?  Different choices work for different people.  Your version of work-life balance doesn’t have to work for me nor mine for you.

How do you know when you’re in balance or need to make new choices?  How have leaders in your life empowered you to make work-life choices that work for you?

(Photo credit)

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Renee G December 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Every single time you say “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else – SO true, and learning to say NO is an important skill 🙂 – thank you for another great article!


alli December 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Thanks so much, Renee! It’s true – so often we forget that for every yes there is a flip side no. I agree! Saying no is an incredibly important skill that gets easier when we consider that with every no, we’re making room to say yes to something else in our life!

Really appreciate your kind words and your thoughtful comment.



Matthew Hawley December 7, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Excellent post! I really like the analogy to dim sum and how you related the different sorts of choices we make all the time to a dim sum meal.

I recently wrote about work/life balance on my blog and your article is a another great perspective.

The Fools Game of Balance

Keep up the great work, I’m enjoying your work immensely.



alli December 11, 2012 at 1:41 am

Matt – thanks so much! There are a lot of great posts out there on balance and for me, it boils down to conscious choices. Appreciate your comment and hope you visit again soon to continue to add to the conversation!




Vicki Childs December 11, 2012 at 6:32 am

I love this post. As I’m an advocate of balance (and even have it in the name of my business) I’m always having conversations about what ‘balance’ really means. I think you’re totally right Alli – balance isn’t a zen-like set of scales where everything is in harmony – it’s more about juggling balls and knowing which can be dropped and which can’t if it comes to that!
Our culture is all about speed and doing more in less time. You’re right when you point out about asking for the check and stopping once in a while! I think allowing yourself that white space to breathe and think is so critical to our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health but we often feel guilt for ‘not doing anything’ or not being productive.
Thanks so much for such a great analogy and such a clever and thought-provoking blog post!


alli December 11, 2012 at 7:08 am

Vicki –

Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I completely agree with you: “Our culture is all about speed and doing more in less time.” As a result, we all feel like we’ve got to juggle more and more balls or pile the plates higher and higher. It’s gotten to the point if we don’t return every email within hours of it hitting our inbox, we start to feel guilty and behind. It takes confidence and courage to make the choice to let some of the less important things go and discover that the world can run without our input.

Hope you’ll come back to the blog and add some more of your insights in the future! Thanks for adding to the conversation.



Tim Franey December 14, 2012 at 12:17 am

Alli — Great comparison, especially for those of us that love life (as well as Dim Sum) and with your permission I will use this in my coaching professionals in balancing their executive lives. Thank you, Tim.


alli December 14, 2012 at 12:54 am

Tim –

I’m so honored you stopped by my blog! It’s a metaphor that definitely hit home for me as someone that loves both Dim Sum and life! It can be tough for each of us to find our way to a balance that works for us. If this metaphor hits it home with someone – definitely use it!



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