Constant pressure and gnawing stress are tell-tale signs that work and personal life are out of kilter. Pushing on day after day, hoping it will all magically ease off or that someone is going to just give you a break is not likely to happen – even if it does in a moment, changing circumstances or other people cannot offer any long term solutions. Now more than ever it is difficult to keep work from invading personal life. Global workplaces increase competition for jobs and we feel a pressure to work harder and longer just to protect our jobs. 24-7 business creates a demand to be on call all the time and information technology makes it possible to work from anywhere. For those intent on climbing corporate ladders, working longer than a 40-hour week has become the norm. Changing family roles increases the pressure to meet commitments to children, partners, friends and community. Many organisations don’t implement work-life strategies, and there’s a real fear that letting on that we have a life outside of work will be construed as lack of commitment or personal weakness. With these forces stacked against us it is easy to feel like the victim and to believe it can’t be any different. But it can be different if you take charge. Being accountable for your work-life balance is a long-term solution with spectacular pay-offs that makes it worth the effort. Establishing and sustaining work-life balance is an active, committed process that you have to do yourself. If you don’t take charge you risk costly mistakes and poor performance at work; alienation and dissonance with the family and friends you need; and a decline in physical, mental and emotional health. The following exercise is a good starting point:
- Prioritise – take some uninterrupted time out to contemplate the priorities in your life. Then write down in order of importance the top five priorities in your life. As a mother my list would be along the lines of child, partner, job, home and community. While my single colleague has a list that includes friends, job, gym, travel and studies. Don’t forget to include your burning interests and passions such as religion/spiritual practice, sports and arts.
- Keep a log – create a 7-day timeline and log your activities for an entire week. At the end of each day highlight the time you have spent on each of your 5 priorities. At the end of the week assess how much time you have spent on activities that are unrelated to your 5 priorities.
- Make a new schedule – as far as possible eliminate or reduce time spent on activities that are not part of your priorities. Allocate priority time instead wherever you can.
Now if you thinking ‘I know what I do each day I don’t need to do this’ – you probably really need this exercise. It is surprising how many good hours we spend on ‘auto-pilot’ doing things that are not priorities. For example, the aforementioned colleague has a list with friends as her top priority. In her assessment week she logged 8 hours of TV watching alone and a mere 2 hours of socialising. So the next week she cut the TV watching by half and scheduled 2 extra dates with her friends. She reported she had a better time – she had more fun, she got some support she really needed when she had coffee with a particular friend and she was more relaxed and hopeful at the end of the week. There are a myriad of small ways to improve use of time and get more of what you really want. Many small steps add up and before you know it your life has changed for the better. It helps to adopt some firm attitudes:
- Honour all the different aspects of your life – work, family, friends and play are all important
- Learn to say ‘No’ – think about whether you really want to do something before you make a commitment; and say ‘No’ if it doesn’t contribute to you and your priorities. Having boundaries is an important aspect of self-respect, and others will respect you more for having them
- Nurture your support system – everyone needs harmonious and fruitful relationships will others in order to thrive. Give your time and attention to those who are important to you
- Give up mental multi-tasking – put your whole attention in the moment. When you’re at work don’t be thinking about your date last night; when you’re at home with the children, focus on them and don’t think about work
- Protect your private time – make the time for yourself, your interests and your people sacrosanct, and don’t be ashamed or embarrassed, be proud
- Schedule time for fun and relaxation – it doesn’t just happen; you need to plan, arrange and arrive
- Get support – if you need help, then actively seek it out. If you can’t get what you need from your existing people, then invest in professional help whether it’s a therapist, a coach, a spiritual advisor or a fitness trainer.