Work/Life Balance - What does it mean and how do I get it?
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
My daughter is 11 today. What has this got to do with work-life balance I hear you ask! Well over her lifetime I think there has been a monumental shift in working practices. Literally just before she was born in 2010, I bought my first iphone. I thought this was incredible, I could read the news while feeding in the middle of the night. I could google any baby related questions I had, and I could take spontaneous baby pictures and immediately ping them to grandparents. What was not to like? Then I went back to work….
My husband and I have recently reflected on how rapid technological shifts in the last decade has meant work has increasingly seeped into our home life. No longer is work left at the office where it waits until the next day, because everyone has gone home. Now we can be contacted, updated, messaged, called 24/7. And more often than not the expectation is that we will respond. It might be the weekend, but an urgent project update is required. You wake to find you need to respond to a work email from your bed that your customer in a different time zone sent you last night. You are trying to sit down for a family dinner, but a client calls you wanting some urgent advice. We are ON, all the time. And when you are the business owner that is even more true.
And while technology has meant many of us can work from home in the current pandemic, it means the lines between what is work and what is personal time has become even more blurred. In fact, despite the time saving from the absence of a commute a recent study found employees were working longer hours at home than in the office.
So how do you know when the ‘balance’ is out and the scales are far too much tipped one way. Firstly, you need to really nail down what the ideal work-life balance means for you and it will be a personal definition unique to each of us. For me, it is having the headspace to deliver the expectations I set myself at both work and home, and not feel totally overwhelmed. As a mum with two young girls, I am constantly juggling, answering a client call while dashing to the car, feeling rushed, not doing anything well. While I know that this is part of the deal for any working mum I often know when it is gone too far and one area of my life is totally dominating the other.
When I was in my twenties my work-life balance was something entirely different. I was ambitious, hungry to learn and gain promotion. I worked long hours in the week but weekends were key for my love of travel, meeting friends, keeping fit, mountain biking, entering running and adventure races (yes I was that mad and that fit.) I worked hard, played hard and studied for my accountancy exams hard and that was how I liked it. Now in my forties, my priorities are different. A quiet hour to read a book without interruption allows me to feel ‘in balance’.
So get clear on what work-life balance means to you? Is it to be able to work flexible hours, work from home, have the time to travel, enjoy hobbies, or conversely the freedom to throw yourself totally into a work project without outside distractions or pressures? I work with clients to get really clear what it means to them, what their boundaries are and what their ideal looks like. Most importantly how will they know when you have it ‘out’ of balance. For me, when I don’t sleep well, my mind continues to race at night and I don’t make time for exercise I know I have got it out of sync. It has taken me many years to recognise when I need to listen to my body and mind and know when it needs to unplug for a bit.
So even if you know one area is dominating the other, what do you do about it? My big learning is I need to be better at saying ‘no’. Sometimes that catch up with a friend is just too much, that extra client to take on who you know in your gut is just not right for you is ok to say ‘no’ to. Looking through my schedule and working out a few commitments to postpone and not feel guilty about is my coping mechanism. What you need to do is work out yours.
Some ideas my clients have come up with include:
Setting aside one hour in the week where I sit without tech to just ‘be’.
Asking for help, delegating a piece of work.
Pushing back on a deadline that is just too unrealistic knowing you will deliver a better piece of work if you do.
Getting the kids to take more responsibility to help out at home.
Accepting it is ok to miss your exercise class once in a while because your body and mind is saying it really needs to catch up on sleep.
Commit to leaving work on time and enjoy a family meal twice a week.
Just as your work-life balance is personal to you, learning to recognise when it is ‘out of balance’ and putting strategies in place is equally as individual to you. Have a go at these three questions and see what you come up with?
1. What does an ideal work-life balance look like for me?
2. How will I know that it is ‘out’ of balance?
3. What strategies, actions or shifts can I put in place to get it back in ‘balance’?