As the saying goes that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. Work-life balance is a term used for the idea that you need time for both work and other aspects of life, whether those are family-related or personal interests.
It has, however, taken on a new meaning with the recent technological changes that have made it possible for workers to stay in touch 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Smart phones, remote working technology and the like have meant that, even on holiday, people find it hard to ‘switch off’ and genuinely rest, and the complaint is often that people are expected to be ‘on-call’ at all times, without being allowed to have a life outside work.
Work-life balance is an elusive goal for working parents. But, you can take steps as a parent to make it a reality for you and your children. Like many great achievements, it takes time and organization – but it’s well worth the effort.
Your work-life balance planning begins before you accept your next job. First, take the time to determine your real needs from the broadest perspective. You may be surprised to discover that a lesser paying job with proximity to great daycare is preferable over another option, for example.
Parents should think carefully about job location: the commute to daycare can make or break your ability to spend invaluable bonding time before, during and after work. The satisfaction you get from seeing your child more can make you much more relaxed and productive at work, and reduce your stress significantly. Make quality of life an aspect of your job criteria before you commit.
6 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance
1. Change the structure of your life
Sometimes we fall into a rut and assume our habits are set in stone. Take a birds-eye view of your life and ask yourself: What changes could make life easier? Instead of trying to do it all, focus on activities you specialize in and value most. Delegate or outsource everything else. Delegating can be a win-win situation. Find out what you can do to let go in ways that benefit other people by giving them opportunities to grow. This will give them a chance to learn something new and free you up so you may devote attention to your higher priorities.
2. Start small. Build from there.
We’ve all been there: crash diets that fizzle out, New Year’s resolutions we forget by February. It’s the same with work-life balance when we take on too much too quickly. Many of workaholic people commit to drastic changes: cutting their hours from 80 hours a week to 40, bumping up their daily run from zero miles a day to five miles a day. It’s a recipe for failure. If you have always been absent from family dinners, and have vowed to begin attending the meals nightly, then start smaller, began with one evening a week eventually working your way up to two to three dinners per week.
3. Limit time-wasting activities and people
First, identify what’s most important in your life. This list will differ for everyone, so make sure it truly reflects your priorities, not someone else’s. Next, draw firm boundaries so you can devote quality time to these high-priority people and activities. From there, it will be easier to determine what needs to be trimmed from the schedule.
If email or internet surfing sends you into a time-wasting spiral, establish rules to keep you on task. That may mean turning off email notifications and replying in batches during limited times each day. If you’re mindlessly surfing Facebook or general blogs when you should be getting work done, try being more productive. And if you find your time being gobbled up by less constructive people, find ways to diplomatically limit these interactions. Cornered every morning by the office chatterbox? Politely excuse yourself. Drinks with the work gang the night before a busy, important day? Bow out and get a good night sleep. Focus on the people and activities that reward you the most.
To some, this may seem selfish but it isn’t selfish; it’s that whole airplane metaphor. If you have a child, you put the oxygen mask on yourself first, not on the child.” When it comes to being a good friend, spouse, parent or worker, “the better you are yourself, the better you are going to be in all those areas as well.”
4. Exercise and meditate
Even when we’re busy, we make time for the crucial things in life. We eat. We go to the bathroom. We sleep. And yet one of our most crucial needs – exercise – is often the first thing to go when our calendars fill up. Exercise is an effective stress reducer. It pumps feel-good endorphins through your body. It helps lift your mood and can even serve a one-two punch by also putting you in a meditative state.
Dedicate a few chunks of time each week to self-care, whether it’s exercise, yoga or meditation. And if you’re really pressed for time, start small with deep breathing exercises during your commute, a quick five minute meditation session morning and night, or replacing drinking alcohol with a healthier form of stress reduction.
From telecommuting to programs that make work easier, technology has helped our lives in many ways. But it has also created expectations of constant accessibility. The work day never seems to end. For some time you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment.
Phone notifications interrupt your off time and inject an undercurrent of stress in your system. So don’t text at your kid’s school group and don’t send work emails while you’re hanging out with family. Make quality time true quality time. By not reacting to the updates from work, you will develop a stronger habit of resilience. Resilient people feel a greater sense of control over their lives; while reactive people have less control and are more prone to stress.
6. Let go of perfectionism
A lot of overachievers develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on their time are limited to school, hobbies and maybe an after-school job. It’s easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as a kid, but as you grow up, life gets more complicated. As you climb the ladder at work and as your family grows, your responsibilities mushroom. Perfectionism becomes out of reach, and if that habit is left unchecked, it can become destructive.
The key to avoid burning out is to let go of perfectionism. As life gets more expanded it’s very hard, both neurologically and psychologically, to keep that habit of perfection going; the healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence.