To you, what does work-life balance mean? Is it an equal balance of time spent working and time spent at home? Is it possible to spend adequate time both at work and at home without adversely affecting either one?
Most of us have a different understanding of what a work-life balance is, but many find it hard to establish. Even when they do, it's often short-lived, as work and family pressures can quickly tip the scales in one direction or another. Most people agree that today's world is faster, busier, and more hectic than ever before, making it difficult to allocate equal time to work, family, friends, and other obligations, while still finding a few moments to take a breath, relax, and enjoy life.
We all want to know how to find work-life balance, which can mean different things to different people. We are led to believe that it exists for some people but not for others. Is the image of the high achiever who seemingly can have it all--a great career, a loving family, various hobbies, time to go to the gym, bake cakes, and shuttle the kids to soccer practice, all while looking fabulous and having a flourishing career--just a figment of our imagination? Is it possible to truly "have it all," or is this concept of a perfect person merely a product of our own imaginations and a source of unrealistic expectations for ourselves?
Many people are perceived as "having it all" and as having achieved a perfect work-life balance, but in reality their situation is usually much different than it appears. Throughout my life, I have encountered numerous high achievers who seemed to have an abundance of energy when others were tired... they appeared to be totally in control of their lives and able to do everything on their own, without any help. Nevertheless, the truth was usually far different; these individuals often endured physical ailments, depression, strain, tension, and low self-esteem in private.
I recently read an article discussing how women in the UK, in their effort to "have it all," are turning to drugs like Adderall to help them stay energized and prevent burnout due to exhaustion. Now is the time for people, especially women, to find that long-sought-after work-life balance if ever there was a real need for it.
If you're looking to create a work-life balance for yourself, here are some tips to get you started...
Sometimes, learn to say no.
Although it sounds easy in principle, most of us have a difficult time saying "No" - whether it's to an invitation from an old friend for coffee, a boss demanding more hours at the office when we'd rather be home with our family, or our children begging for something we've said no to - it would be much simpler to agree in the short-term. By learning to say "no" occasionally, we can reclaim a feeling of control over our own lives, which can be incredibly empowering.
It is important to remember that not everything on your "To Do" list requires immediate attention.
One day when he saw how stressed I was with all of the things that had to be done, a gentleman I worked with many years ago at the beginning of my career gave me some very valuable advice. He imparted the advice, "Don't try to do everything on your 'To Do' list at once - learn to prioritize instead," and it really stayed with me. Afterwards, I number all of the things I have to do in order of importance that I have written down ever since then. We often set ourselves impossible goals and then are disappointed when we fail to achieve them! By learning to prioritize, you will quickly become aware of which tasks are less important than others and can be completed at a later date.
Try not to be everything to everyone.
High achievers in particular often feel the need to give their all, do their best, and always be at their best in every situation. The consequence of trying to do everything is typically either a person becoming too ill to help anyone or making mistakes that prevent them from doing anything adequately. I attended a session last year that was centered around increasing our energy levels. At the session, the consultant discussed the concept of our body being like a battery and how we should be aware of our energy levels throughout the day. Operating at the highest energy level (a "5" on the battery scale), if we do not take time to recharge, we will rapidly become exhausted and our battery will be completely drained, dropping us down to a "1". I was deeply touched by this, and I think it's important for us to be mindful of our energy levels throughout the day, in order to prevent burnout.
Have a break.
Due to our ever-growing "To Do" lists, most of us are so busy that we forget to eat and end up skipping lunch. Research has shown that taking even a ten minute break at regular intervals throughout the day can be hugely beneficial for both our body and mind. We experience more energy, better concentration, and an overall improvement in our wellbeing as a result. If you are in an office setting, taking a stroll to the water cooler to get a glass of water is enough. If you are working from home, take a five minute break and go outside to get some fresh air, away from your usual workspace, whether that be your kitchen, home office or living room. By stretching and moving around for a few minutes, you can provide your brain and muscles with oxygen, thus enabling you to think more clearly and be more productive.
Show yourself kindness.
Sometimes life is so hectic that it can be hard to find time for ourselves. With our time split between work, family, and other interests, it is often difficult to reach the goals we have set for ourselves. At the end of the day, we can often find ourselves wondering where the day went and how we didn't even have time to properly relax. Set aside at least one hour per week to do something just for yourself. If you have some kids, you might want to ask your partner or a friend to look after them while you go for a swim, head to the gym, or treat yourself to a massage. It is important to occasionally do something that is just for yourself in order to be in a better state of mind to handle any challenges that may arise, so try to remain relaxed and calm.
Pick up the smartphone, power off the tablet and turn off the laptop!
Many of us have become so reliant on technology that even for short periods of time, it can be difficult to be away from our phones, tablets, or laptops, for fear of missing a text message, tweet, or email -- though it may sound simple. I recall a story I heard once about a man who had gone to his son's football match, yet he missed seeing his son score a goal because he was occupied with checking his emails on his phone. Try to dedicate a few hours each day where you leave your phone in another room, close the door to your home office, and use that time to do something that you truly enjoy with family or friends (or by yourself!)
Rather than asking for help when we need it most, many of us would prefer to just struggle on doing everything on our own. There is an immense amount of pressure placed upon both genders nowadays, both financially, personally, and professionally, and many men feel that seeking assistance is a demonstration of vulnerability or that they will be perceived as being unable to handle matters on their own. Increasingly, people are recognizing that seeking help is a demonstration of strength and should be commended. Asking for help is the best thing you can do, both for yourself and for those you love, if you are struggling - either with your career or in your personal or family life. Don't be afraid to reach out to one of the many organisations that can assist you if you require assistance. After all, we are all just human.