Work-Life Balance: The Impossible Dream?

Ah, work-life balance. We must hear that phrase every day. Philosopher Alain de Botton said that “There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” I would say it is almost an impossible task; with the glow of technology we are all available 24-7. Not sure about you, but I often respond to e-mails late at night (and early morning), sleep near my laptop and look at my I-Phone around the clock. The habit is tricky to break. I took a zero technology holiday last year for the first time in about eight years and it was very invigorating.

Harvard Business School recently reported that a massive 94% of working people disclosed working 50 plus hours per week and over 50% said their working hours are in excess of 65 hours per week. I am sure there is no-one out there who would not agree that the stress of limitless work levels, over time, is damaging on so many levels. It is massively harmful to relationships, health and overall happiness.

Work-life balance is a pesky concept. It can mean so many different things but, at the core of it, health and well-being are very closely entwined. Here are some tips you can try to help you get back on the right track:

  1. Let It Go, Let It Go!

When I worked in the Corporate world, I clung onto perfectionism like grim death. Nothing would leave my desk or Outbox until it was proofed to within an inch of its life. But what I have learned working in my own business is that is just not sustainable. Life is tricky enough, without adding that extra pressure. As your family grows, as the demand for your time increases, the quest for perfection is futile. It becomes unattainable and it can become paralysing (if not kept in-check).

To avoid burn-out, you must give yourself a break. As your life gets busier, more complicated, multi-layered, it puts a strain on you both psychologically and also neurologically; striving for perfection is a not achievable. Try and look at it differently and rather than perfection, put all your efforts into excellence. Switch your mind-set.

  1. Move Away From The Laptop

Technology is amazing, I think we can all agree. But there is definitely a dark side. Over the last decade, it has impacted accessibility and with it the expectation around ability to work and respond. As a result, the working day never actually ends. Phone notifications, text messages constantly interrupt your time away from the office and the physical impact can be huge. You’re having a lovely time one minute and then you receive an e-mail and the stress levels can rise. The key is make quality time, real quality time. If you’re at your child’s swimming lesson or watching their basketball game, be there! Don’t send e-mails, respond to texts. Throw your phone into the bottom of a bag. By not instantly responding to anything work-related, you are actually helping to build your own resilience. As a long-term result, resilient people have a higher sense of control over their lives, whilst reactive people are more likely to suffer higher levels of stress and lose control.

Small actions in your day to day will accumulate.

  1. Exercise – A Tribute To The Heart

I was chatting with a client recently who had recently increased his activity level from zero to playing sport three times a week. He was massively feeling the mental benefits of doing something positive for himself after feeling low on energy (and mood) for quite a while. I personally have used the excuse of being too busy to fit in some form of exercise for a long time. Knowing, of course, that I make time to eat, sleep, do the things I want to do. Yet, possibly the most critical (and positive) thing was always far down the list of priorities and is the first thing to get taken off the calendar. But exercise enhances your mood, lifts the spirits and can put you in a meditative state (according to the Mayo Clinic).

According to betterhealth.vic.gov.au, exercise can distract you from negative thoughts, provides opportunities for increased social contact and improves sleep patterns, changing the level of chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin, endorphins and stress hormones.

We are not talking about spending an hour on the treadmill or smashing out a spin class, even small amounts of activity can pay dividends with a major return on investment (as I can attest).

  1. Drop The Energy Vampires

What is meaningful in your life? People’s priorities differ. Whether it’s your family, friends, hobbies, or career, this list will be different for everyone. It is imperative to create boundaries, giving precedence to the people that are important to you, devoting your precious time to the things you deem high priority.

If the diary is bursting at the seams, what can you trim? If scrolling endlessly through Facebook seems like a waste of your precious time, there are a number of productivity tools to help you keep on track. Similarly if there is a constant stream of e-mails dropping into your Inbox, switch the notifications to  silent or only look at them at certain times of the day. Don’t be a slave.

Similarly, if your day is being consumed by people who are not filling you with sunshine or contributing to your day constructively, find ways of keeping these interactions to a minimum. We’ve all met the person who could talk all day, corner you at a work event (and talk about themselves). The people who contribute to your life and well-being are the ones you should focus on.

Putting up boundaries is not a selfish act. It is self-preservation. If you are feeling good, positive, energised and replete, the ones around you are going to benefit anyway.

5. 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? 

Marilyn Puder-York (Ph.D), author of The Office Survival Guide, talks about meeting a senior female executive who, for 20 years of her marriage, arranged dinner for her husband every night. But as the higher earner with the more demanding job, the trips to the supermarket and the daily meal preparation were adding too much stress to her life. Puder-York says “My response to her was, “Maybe it’s time to change the habit”. The exec worried her husband might be upset, but Puder-York insisted that, if she wanted to reduce stress, this structural change could accomplish just that.

So instead of trying to do it all, focus on activities you specialise in and value most. Delegate or outsource everything else. Delegating can be a win-win situation. According to Stewart Freidman, author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life, the best strategy is talking to the “key stakeholders” in different areas of your life. Whether it’s employees or colleagues at work, a spouse or your partner. “Find out what you can do to let go in ways that benefit other people by giving them opportunities to grow,” he says. This will give them a chance to learn something new and free you up so you may devote attention to your higher priorities.

6. Start small. Build from there.

We’ve all been there: crash diets that fizzle out, New Year’s resolutions we forget by March. It’s the same with work-life balance when we take on too much too quickly. If you are looking down the barrel of a ridiculous week, month, year, you need to commit to some changes. But if you’re planning to cut your hours from 80 hours a week to 40, increase your couch potato ways to five miles a day on the treadmill, you’re setting yourself up for big-time failure. Go big or go home does not apply here.

If getting home on time for the family evening meal has been impossible, suddenly vowing to get home five days a week on-time is too big a stretch. You need to start smaller. Think one evening a week. Eventually, over time, you can work your way up to two to three dinners per week. If you’re wanting to make an impact on your life, start smaller and see some success, not all in and failing.

All-in-all, juggling life’s responsibilities is a tough gig. There is some balance to strike between earning money and fulfilling your life outside of the office. The perfect work-life balance does not exist, but what it looks like depends on what suits you and the people who are most important to you. In an ideal world, your personal and professional life should reinforce and improve one another. It sounds a really obvious thing to say, but creating a distinct barrier between home and work can reduce levels of stress – even small changes can make a big difference.

What changes can you make today?

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