Safeguard your work-life balance
5 ways to keep that balance going
Having a work-life balance can sometimes seem like something you read about in magazines and as equally unachievable as the couture dresses or fabulous holidays when you’re more likely to be in something from Next, daydreaming over Kenyan safaris. But a work-life balance is achievable and the following 5 tips will help you get there.
1. Know what it is. During one of my career transition workshops when I was leaving the RAF, I causally mentioned one of the reasons I was starting a business was because of work-life balance. The facilitator asked, ‘what does that mean to you?’ In the moment, I had no idea! I’d never thought to describe it, to encapsulate what I meant by work-life balance. Now I know what it is. For me. For me it’s about being able to be flexible with work timings so I can help out at the school book fair, or pick up a sick child or take advantage of spectacular weather to read a book outside. It means very, very rarely working weekends but being happy to do a few hours in the evening some weeks. It’s about being able to do an hour’s work first thing in the morning and take a yoga class in the afternoon.
But that doesn’t mean that’s what work-life balance is for you. In fact, you may even detest the phrase work-life balance. Some people prefer blend, some people prefer life balance. But I don’t think it matters what you call it as long as you know what it is for you. Get as specific as feels comfortable to describe what you want. Because if you don’t know what you’re aiming for, it’s easy to fly off target.
2. Identify your typical obstacles. We’re not talking unexpected email from your boss at 9pm because of an unprecedented catastrophe. We’re talking regular things that get in the way. Examples from some of my clients include:
- Boss regularly calling at kids bed-time
- Fortnightly meetings often re-scheduled on days off
- Taking work home because it’s not been completed due to distractions.
3. Come up with3-5 different courses of action for overcoming those obstacles. You know what would work for you, but to take the examples of the boss calling at bedtime, some actions that my client came up with were:
- Switching the phone off
- Not answering the phone
- Calling 15 minutes before the kids’ bedtime
- Having discussion with the boss about calling at that time/or indeed any out of hours time
- Changing jobs
- Scheduling a catch-up meeting more regularly.
Work out which options you are willing to try and do them.
4. Seek help at home. Are there things that you’re doing that you don’t have to? If you live with someone, is the split of domestic chores getting in the way? What could your family or housemates do? And what gets in the way of that? Sometimes what gets in the way is our desire to have things done exactly as we would do them, which leads others into thinking what is the point of bothering. Is that happening with you?
Look to see if anything can be outsourced. Cleaning, gardening, shopping (I love a good meal prep box), car cleaning, dog walking. How do you want to spend the time that you currently spend doing things that someone else could do?
5. Co-opt support at work. If you want to leave the office by a certain time, tell your co-workers. Find someone that will support you when you want to. People often stay in work just to have face-time. Help each other avoid that trap.
If your work expands beyond your contracted hours, look hard at what you’re actually doing with your time. Are you really the most productive you can be? Where are you inefficient? Do you allow others to interrupt you so you can help them leave on time? Talk to them about it, be firm, say no, find a place/time where interruptions are not allowed. There will be some aspects of your job where that’s not workable, but it is rare that there is a job without at least one aspect where it is reasonable to expect to be able to work without interruptions.
The most common thing for clients to tell me when they’re working on balance is that it improves when they create stronger boundaries. Know what you want them to be; understanding where the pressure on them comes from, taking action and co-opting help at home and at work are all key. But if you still find it difficult, I’ll leave you with one last thought. If you’re working all the time, are you avoiding something else? You have to want those boundaries in place for them to work!