It’s a much used phrase but what does work-life balance actually mean for you? For me, it’s having enough time (and energy!) to feel happy and fulfilled in all areas of life. Others have suggested:
- Being able to meet deadlines at work and still get home on time for dinner with your family.
- Having enough free time to pursue hobbies, a social life, and meet all your family commitments in addition to a sense of achievement and fulfilment at work.
- Having peace of mind that your family and household responsibilities are taken care of, so that you can fully focus on your job.
You may have other ideas too. But why is it so important to aim for this balance?
Well, the lines between work and personal life are becoming more and more blurred as technology advances and becomes more readily accessible. We are now available 24 hours a day thanks to that little block of metal and silicon in our back pocket and this is becoming normalised. More and more people are feeling stressed as the demands of work encroaches on their personal time. When does the working day end if you are expected to respond to emails late in to the evening or at the weekend? What’s the impact on your relationship with your partner and family when you aren’t fully present? When your focus has been dragged elsewhere by the ping of notifications?
Add in working from home (or hybrid working) and those lines are blurred even further. When your bedroom isn’t your sanctuary anymore because the laptop glowers at you from the dressing table; when the kitchen table is out of bounds to the kids because ‘mummy is working’; when the singing and laughing has to be shushed because ‘mummy is taking a call’ – is this working from home, or living at work?
All this impacts on your health and wellbeing, both physical and mental, your relationships and your overall joy in life. Now that was a word I hardly ever used in the past – Joy. I thought it was something that other people experienced and I wasn’t entitled to it. But guess what? Joy is free for everyone! I now believe it’s one of the factors we should be seeking if we are to achieve balance in our lives.
If it gets to Sunday evening and you feel exhausted rather than refreshed and the prospect of another week makes you feel anxious and overwhelmed, you realise that the weekend hasn’t provided the replenishment and re-charge that you needed. If you’re also feeling defeated, demoralised and disillusioned, it’s not far to burnout my friend. Time to seek some balance? Time to make some changes?
Here are a few tips on how you can address this:
1. Make your calendar work harder for you
Try colour coding your calendar entries to denote whether work related, social or other commitments. You get a much clearer sense of your week at a glance. I use yellow for social – it gives me a little lift to see that block of bright, sunny colour!
Set deadlines for jobs – even when there isn’t an obvious one. This helps prevent that seemingly innocuous job from hanging around at the bottom of the to-do list until all of a sudden it’s really urgent and causing you major stress. Remember, making a will doesn’t have a deadline…until it’s too late!
Block out time on your calendar which is sacred time for you and absolutely MUST be preserved for whatever helps you de-stress, fill up your energy tank, find a moment of peace and quiet etc. You’re effectively making an appointment with yourself – you wouldn’t double book over any other appointment would you, so follow the same rules here!
Then block out some time every week for contingencies, to allow for those emergencies and curve balls that life throws at you. If your schedule is already stretched to capacity and another urgent request crops up, you’ll just snap.
Finally, learn to recognise the energy you need for different jobs/tasks and batch together all the tasks that need the same energy. I teach two tools, ‘Batching for Energy Matching’ and ‘Energy Allocation’ which address this in detail. Many clients say this has revolutionised the way they plan and actually seems to free up an hour each day!
2. Make changes at home
Agree ‘No Work Zones’ in the house. For instance the laptop and phone stay out of the kitchen. The phone is banned from the dining table. No work talk during dinner. Make a point of being really present and focussed on the people you are spending time with – they are the ones you love the most after all!
I worked in my husband’s business for a number of years, although we didn’t actually spend much time together at work. So we often found ourselves talking through work issues at dinner and it infuriated our teenage daughters. Being told off by your children for not prioritising family time is a reality check I can tell you!
Set rules around when your work day is going to finish so that you can fully commit to family and social engagements. Now set a bridging ritual for yourself to help demarcate work and home. This could be as simple as having a shower or changing your clothes after work. It could be some physical exercise to shake off the day. Whatever works for you, it really doesn’t matter; the importance of this is to prevent you bringing the energy from one aspect of life into another.
Ensure that you have help, systems and delegate where needed. Perhaps that’s reliable childcare, a cleaner, a food shopping delivery, an agreement about who cooks dinner each night etc. The peace of mind this brings will allow you to enjoy home life and feel secure that all is taken care of whilst at work.
3. Make changes at work
Learn how to set boundaries about how much you take on. If you’re a people pleaser or problem solver this can feel very difficult at first.
Explain your boundaries regarding your working hours to colleagues and your reasons for this. They will accept that you aren’t going to reply to an email at 10pm if you can demonstrate that you are conscientious and productive during office hours, and this will manage their expectations.
Suggest a zone of time during the working day to allow focussed, independent working. Perhaps two hours with no meetings, no phone calls, no expectations of email responses. Other people might thank you for this initiative!
If you are considering a job change, look into whether there is the option for flexible hours. Even just an hour difference in your start or finish time can be helpful to manage family commitments, fit in the school run, ease the rush hour commute, or allow time for your exercise routine. What is the company’s attitude to hybrid working, time out for medical appointments, staff wellbeing days etc. Asking the right questions can help inform your decision about whether this is the right job for you.
More and more companies are recognising the benefits of the four-day week. Productivity remains high and employee satisfaction is vastly improved. Is this something that would help you achieve the balance you are seeking?
When you set a vision for your ideal life, take into account your values, your priorities and those of the people in your life. How big is the gap between your current situation and that vision? How can you close that gap? Look at all the options and remember you do have choices. It doesn’t have to be done the way it’s always been done! Don’t live life as though it was a tug of war contest!
I’d love to chat with you and see how I can help you reach this vision, your ideal life. Calls are completely complimentary and no obligation, just a chance to see if we can work together to help you.