5 Tips to Balance Work and Life
“I’m sleepy“, said my friend after taking a sip of his favorite drink. “I’m not, I’m a bit anxious”, I reacted, “Today I got this new assignment, where I’ll have to engage a certain amount of creativity and you know that creativity and myself are not exactly best friends”. “Yeah, I know what you mean. These last few days at work were so stressful. I was asked to do a couple of tasks I’ve never done before and, even though it was a great opportunity to learn new things, it was so exhausting. I barely slept and now I’m just feeling worn out”. I had nothing to add because I knew that same feeling is out there waiting for me to finish my work assignment. So we just continued with sipping our favorite drinks, in our favorite bar, in complete silence.
It was one of our usual get-togethers after work that was supposed to be quality we-time, where we don’t talk about work or problems we have at home, but rather about a book one of us read or a movie one of us saw, about a gig we want to go to or about what one of our friends did last Saturday when he got wasted on a wedding party. Lately, however, these gatherings became a safe place to complain about difficulties we face at our jobs and to sob out our troubles to each other.
It was a conscious attempt to separate life from work and it was failing.
Later that evening I came to a conclusion that maybe our premise was completely wrong to begin with. It’s not like life represents this big circle on one side and work that other bigger circle, full of stress and responsibilities, on the other. It might have been like that with school, when we were kids. It’s more likely that today, as grownups (according to the age group we’re in, at least), we carry around this one huge sack on our backs and everything gets thrown in there, family, friends, work, self-care, vacation, learning, sleeping…
Of course, most of the time we feel like we’re running two lives, one that is measured by our company’s profit and the other by our health and the time we were able to relax and enjoy. But, maybe the goal here should not be to keep our professional life from “intruding” on our personal life and vice versa. Maybe we should change our perception and stop seeing it as a constant battle between the two. We could see it as one thing, where becoming better in our career motivates us and gives us the means to be better in our relationships and activities outside work; same the other way around.
However, the realization on its own is not enough. In order to lead a satisfying life, there needs to be a balance between our work and life, but not in a good vs. evil kind of way, where work is on one end of a seesaw and life on the other. The term balance should be viewed more as a consistent action in both professional and personal field that will gradually help us reach our full potential in life as a whole.
So, before you start googling ten steps for successfully pulling a sickie and not showing up for work tomorrow, have a look at these 5 tips on work-life balance.
1. LEARN TO LET THINGS GO
The pressure to perform and be perfect in a way that would make others proud or happy have an undeniable impact on our life. From an early age we’ve been exposed to this addiction to praises and approvals and for most of our lives we care more about other people’s opinions than what would nourish us.
The modern society salutes our high standards of brilliance and practically makes us invest more in our perfectionism, whether it is to make everyone happy, be universally liked or just not to damage anyone with the choices we make.
On the other hand, if you look at our friends and family, at our colleagues, you hardly ever see them as perfect or imperfect. You simply love and respect them without any concerns about their perfection. So why not apply that same perspective towards yourself?
Trying to be everything to everyone will inevitably result in failure. If you learn how to say “no” to the things in your life that just don’t matter that much to you, you’ll free up more time and save energy for the things that actually mean something to you. Focusing on activities you specialize in and value the most will help you not to fall into a pattern of working non-stop both in the office and at home.
It is also important to recognize the role of a strong “support network” around us. So reach out to that network in times of need and don’t think of it as a “delegate and outsource” kind of action, but rather as a humble asking your friend or a co-worker for help that can be beneficial to them as well. It can give them the opportunity to grow, as Stewart Freidman, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, says in his book “Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life”.
Of course, always be sure that, when the tide turns, you’re willing to lend a hand to them as well.
2. BE SELFISH ABOUT YOUR ME TIME
Even when your calendar starts to get full, don’t give up on your “me” time. You cannot be the best version of yourself, if you don’t recharge from time to time. In the same way you find the time to eat or sleep, you should put a little extra effort each day and dedicate a bit of time to self-care. Exercise, meditate, keep a diary, do yoga or watch an hour of mindless television, anything that would help you recharge your batteries. Try to integrate those activities in your lifestyle on a daily bases.
If you are really struggling to find that “extra” time, start small. Do a quick five minute morning/night meditation session or allow yourself quiet 10 to 15 minutes for any restorative practice that suits you best. For all those yoga enthusiast (myself included) Yoga International gives a variety of online classes to choose from.
With time, you’ll be able to assess your daily chores more objectively, cut out the activities (and people for that matter) that seem meaningless and build your new schedules from there. It might come as a surprise how suddenly you’ll have time for that watercolor painting hobby you’ve been dreaming about for such a long time or that cooking class you’ve been wanting to take with your friends.
3. LIMIT THE DILLY-DALLYING PRACTICES
Try to make a list of the most important things in your life, but let that list truly reflect your priorities. Now, think of the way you can devote quality time to those activities and people. It might mean you will have to give up on that mindless internet surfing, when you should be getting things done, or you’ll have to find a way to diplomatically excuse yourself and not go to a bar with your co-workers the night before an important meeting.
Where and how you spend your time can have a major impact on your success in achieving work-life balance. Spending quality time with family and friends can bring new ways of thinking and boost creativity you can apply later on in your working environment. By boosting your energy level, exercising can help you be more concentrated when facing tasks at home or in the office. In return, the achievements in your professional and personal life we’ll bring you a sense of accomplishment and motive you to do even greater things.
4. START SMALL AND BE FLEXIBLE
Whether you are trying to make a change in your daily routines at home with your family or at your workplace with your colleagues and tasks assigned to you, don’t start drastically. Try not to commit to too big changes too quickly. Don’t let it be like with those New Year’s resolutions you forgot about by mid-January.
Start moderately, set smaller goals and observe your success. Focus on setting strong habits that gradually will reflect in your mental clarity and feeling of improvement, but stay flexible.
There will be times you’ll have to work outside office hours, especially if you’re in an international team, but don’t look at it as a sacrifice. Maybe you’ll finish earlier a different day so you can catch a bit of sun outside with your children. Of course, you’ll need support from those up in hierarchy at your workplace and if this is not the case, it might be hard to make flexible working a success. But, don’t let anyone stop you, keep trying.
5. HAVE FUN
Most of the work-life balance recommendations will be about finding time, between work and home duties, to do all that cool stuff with our friends, family, lovers or complete strangers. But what if work and homework could be part of the cool stuff, or partially cool at least?
If you’re given an assignment you’ve never faced before, don’t think of it as a grim thing. Look at it as an opportunity for your self-growth, as an opportunity to learn something new and acquire additional skills. It will motivate you to feel good about being at work. If you’re a team leader, think about how you can make your team work better together, look for the ways to make each and every one of them interested in the project you’re all working on. Motivate them to express their own creativity and contribution to the overall productivity.
Try to make the most also of the daily chores you do around the house. Involve your kids and make it a fun experience for them. You’ll get to save time you can then spend in a different way or with your precious little helpers or by yourself. On the other hand, by doing things together your kids will feel close to you and in time will feel competent enough to complete those activities on their own. Here are a couple of ways to make household chores fun for kids.
Or, if you’re a single, aspiring, young individual and your kitchen needs a proper cleanup, it really doesn’t have to be that tedious as you may think. It can be a great time to put on some good relaxation music and start to reflect on life as you rub your way through the stains. Then, you can call your friends to come over, so you can all cook together and mess it all up again.
However, if all else fails, you can always consider a carrier change as a way to achieve work-life balance. If this the case, maybe you’ll find “The 29 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance” list on Forbes website to be helpful.
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