Achieving the elusive work-life balance
Picture this scenario: You are finishing up your workday with a deep breath and a to-do list ready for tomorrow. You are about to disconnect with anticipation of the 6pm yoga class you are finally able to join, when your coworker messages you with a question. The next thing you know an hour has passed and the yoga class is a distant memory. Maybe tomorrow you hope.
While the details differ for each of us, the underlying conundrum is the same. There are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. It is even more complicated when the boundary between our work and our personal life seems to disappear. It can leave us feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled.
How exactly do we achieve the elusive work-life balance?
Before we tackle the million-dollar question, it is helpful to first define work-life balance. Cambridge Dictionary defines work-life balance as:
“the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.”
Sounds simple right? Of course, it doesn’t define one key component - balance. The term balance can be misleading as it may imply that there is equal weighing to work and personal life. In reality, the use of “balance” when describing work and life is a bit more general. It is a sense of putting in enough time in each of these areas to feel satisfied. That amount of time, however, differs for each one of us.
To create better separation of work and personal life we need to understand our vision and current circumstances. Here is a helpful exercise to perform.
Pie chart exercise:
Define the major areas of your life. For example: work, family, friends, fitness, sleep, hobbies, personal development etc.
Now draw two pie charts.
1) The first chart is your ideal week. Assign a percentage of time that you would prefer to spend on each category each week.
2) The second chart is your typical week. Assign a percentage of time that you typically spend on each category.
It may help to break it down by hours and then arrive at a percentage (e.g. if you ideally need eight hours of sleep per night that is 56 per week divided by 168 hours in a week, or 33%).
Here is an example:
Pie chart 1 – ideal week:
1. Family – 35%
2. Sleep – 33%
3. Work –20%
4. Friends – 5%
5. Fitness – 3%
6. Hobbies/Personal Development – 3%
7. Other - 1%
Pie chart 2 – typical week:
1. Work – 35%
2. Family – 25%
3. Sleep – 25%
4. Other –10%
5. Friends – 3%
6. Fitness – 2%
7. Hobbies/personal development – 0%
Compare the two charts. Notice the difference in each area. In the example above there is quite a difference. The second chart shows most of the week spent on work with little sleep, the remaining time mostly on family and miscellaneous tasks (other).
Defining what work-life balance means to you and assessing your current situation is just the first step. The second step is to start practicing better habits to bring you closer to your ideal week.
Plan your priorities
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey, Author.
The pie chart exercise helps us identify our priorities. However, that is not enough for most of us to ensure we are going to spend time on what is most important to us. We also need to plan how our priorities fit into our week.
It is easiest to start with routine priorities, e.g. work and family. Take a weekly planner and block out your standard work hours and other recurring weekly commitments (assuming these should remain as commitments). Now schedule in the other items that you want to achieve that week. By proactively assigning a day and time to certain activities, such as exercise, you will increase the chance that you will follow through.
Today many companies offer flexible working arrangements, including working from home or flexible hours. On the surface this is a wonderful perk, though, it is up to each of us to ensure we are using these benefits as intended. In the current environment (with so many working from home), it is easy to lose the separation between work and home.
It is critical to exercise boundaries. Boundaries are like a muscle that needs to be used consistently to show results. Start by making small shifts. A small shift could be committing to finishing work 10 minutes earlier this week. Or not responding to emails after a certain time of day. It may be skipping that meeting that you really don’t need to attend. The more you practice setting limits and focusing on what is important, the easier it will become to make these choices consistently.
In a world of never ending “to-dos”, we need to be realistic. There has not yet been an invention where we can be in two places at once (as far as I am aware). The number of hours in our week also has not changed. That leaves prioritising our tasks and delegating our tasks. We don’t have to do it all. Think about what you want to accomplish and if it really needs your time. Most likely you will find there is quite a bit you can outsource in your life.
In parting, know that time is precious, and you have a choice how to use it. These choices will add up to great results. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it.
Remember the famous saying:
“No one ever said on their deathbed ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office'.” — Harold Kushner.
Refer to my article “Doing Less for a More Fulfilling Year” for additional tips.