Finding your own sense of work-life balance can be a daunting task. Depending on your current circumstance, the ability to find a real balance can be hard.
Is work-life balance a destination or a decision?
Much has been written about this elusive notion of real balance between your job and your personal life. How does family tie to work? And vice versa. Do you find yourself living a dual personality; one at work, the other at home?
Pressures of a fast-paced work world can certainly impact your ability to find this delicate balance. The problem I see is that too many of us think about work-life balance as something to achieve. Like a destination. “I’m going to get there” I hear people say.
True balance in your life is more about choices and decisions rather than final destinations. If you could “arrive” at a perfect balance, how long would it last? What other factors might tip the balance once you achieve it?
No, work-life balance is a continuing sense of equilibrium you can experience by making better, more consistent choices in what you do.
Work-life balance means something different to every individual. These days, work-life balance can seem like an impossible feat. Technology makes workers accessible around the clock. Fears of job loss make us work longer hours.
In fact, a whopping 94% of working professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly half said they worked more than 65 hours per week in a Harvard Business School survey. Experts agree: the compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health, and overall happiness.
Here are some quick tips to help ease the bad choices you might be making.
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, says executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, PhD, who wrote The Office Survival Guide.
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 workday never seems to end. “There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment,” says Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life.
Brooks says that phone notifications interrupt your off time and inject an undercurrent of stress in your system. So don’t text at your kid’s soccer game and don’t send work emails while you’re hanging out with family, Brooks advises. Make quality time true quality time.
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, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Limit those Time-Wasting Activities
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 cat blogs when you should be getting work done, try using productivity software like Freedom, LeechBlock or RescueTime.
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.
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, says Stewart Freidman, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life. Freidman recommends talking to the “key stakeholders” in different areas of your life, which could include employees or colleagues at work, a spouse or a partner in a community project.
These ideas may seem too large to tackle all at once. Start small. Make simple changes toward better choices.
Record your “wins”! I see too many high achievers who never celebrate a win. Our sense of knowing we’re winning helps build momentum in this life. Get it going in the right direction by recognizing the small wins in your day. Keep a journal if you need to. Write nothing but the wins you experience in a day. Enjoy the journey!
Make a difference for yourself. You can start today.
Written by Doug Thorpe. Read more blogposts by Doug Thorpe here.