Work/life balance is a contentious issue in modern society. Employers want to get the most work done, and employees are worried if they don’t keep up they will lose their jobs. Both of which leads to a difficulty in getting a good work/life balance.
But the simple fact is that human beings are not designed to work continuously for 8, 10, 12 or 14 hour days every day.
Our bodies and minds are just not set up to cope with that level of concentration, constant thinking, and ultimately, stress.
In order for employers to get the most out of their staff, and for employees to get a good work/life balance, they need to work together to create an environment that allows for it.
It’s important to have a work life balance – its true when they say that nobody on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time at work. So here are some basic tips on achieving a good work/life balance.
Set boundaries – leave work at work
Whilst I understand that in some roles its necessary to be ‘switched on’ while outside of work, but for the majority of people it isn’t. So wherever possible, when you leave work, leave the work at the office.
Don’t open your laptop to check your mail, switch off your work phone, and definitely don’t add your email to your personal phone. I’ve seen emails from colleagues sent at 11pm or midnight – I always want to reply “stop working and go to sleep!”.
It’s important to separate work from the rest of your life, if you want to achieve a good work/life balance.
Suggest workplace options
If you and your colleagues are always stressed out, complaining about workloads and on the point of burnout, why not make some suggestions at work to help alleviate the stress? Perhaps your bosses could create a quiet space for staff to go when they need a five minute switchoff – they don’t need to provide much, just a room with a cd player of calming music, a sofa and perhaps a dimmer switch.
Ask for flexible working hours – starting at 9.30 means you can see the kids off to school, and still do a days work. Or starting earlier could free you up later to attend an evening class, pick the kids up from somewhere or go to the movies.
Or you could suggest an annual teambuilding day – something fun for everyone to look forward to. Ask if they would allow staff two days a year to do volunteering or community engagement – its good PR for the company, and gives all the staff a little break from the office.
Think about your retirement plans
I don’t mean considering pensions, wills and what will happen to your house. I mean the real plans – the stuff you always wanted to do but were always at work. You’ve always wanted to go to Bali, so pop a photo of Bali on your desk to remind you of what you will be doing when youfinish working.
Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to go skiing, snowboarding or surfing (why not!) – book a lesson or two so you will be ready to go when you retire! Write a list of all the things you will do, where you will do them, and when. Keep your list in your wallet to look at whenever you feel stressed at work.
Learn to say no
You don’t have to take on every single task you are offered. If you have a huge workload and someone asks you to take on another case/project/assignment, tell them you wish you could but you already have too much to do to take it on. It’s important to learn to say no, and focus on what you are already doing.
Find time for you
I’m sure you didn’t get married/move in together/have kids/get a cat so that you could spend all your time at work, or all your spare time thinking about work! So make time for you, and make time for your family. Perhaps one day a week you could stop at the coffee shop on your way home from work, have a coffee and a cake, read the paper – take fifteen minutes for yourself, just you.
And make sure you have quality family time. Try to eat together, or at least have a catchup about the day. At weekends, try to get out and do something fun together, even if its just going out for lunch – its important to have quality family time with no distractions.
Get some sleep
There are people who brag about sleeping less and working more. But working more hours does not necessarily mean working better. If you are not getting enough sleep, your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders. This means that your productivity is lowered, and the quality of your work will fall. So get some sleep, work less hours, do better work.
Don’t try to be all things to all people
You are the office go to for everything. Sam needs a new keyboard; Emily needs you to go over a press release; David needs you to pick up a client at the station, and so on. Do what you are good at, specialise in that, and encourage colleagues to do the same.
If you are a whizz at press releases, do that, and ask if somebody else can order a keyboard or collect a client. If you all do the things you are good at, won’t that make for a more productive office environment?
Organisation and prioritising are the two key skills for anyone working in an office. I always have four trays on my desk:
- Immediate – for the tasks that won’t wait
- Urgent – for tasks that need doing today
- Important – for the tasks that I need to do in the next three days
- Other – for everything else, mostly those five minute jobs that I could easily do while on the phone, taking a tea break, etc.
Take lunch breaks
I’ve worked with so many people who eat their sandwich at their desk while working (and I have done it myself). There is a reason we need regular breaks at work (and its similar to why children need breaks in school).
- humans are not designed to work continuously for eight hours straight;
- it allows the mind to stay alert – just ask any writer who has stopped dead in his tracks with a completely blank mind, taken a break and got an idea on what to write next;
- breaks help to reduce stress and stop boredom;
- it can help the mind to retain information – by taking a break and relaxing, the mind is more likely to retain the information than if you continued to work and began concentrating on something else;
- breaks can help you to think outside the box – while sitting at your desk working, you are concentrating on one thing. Going to make a cup of tea or get some fresh air will allow your mind to wander, giving you a different perspective or maybe even a new idea;
- breaks can even help reduce the chance of injury of ailment; eye strain, headaches and RSI all occur from too much time in front of a computer screen. Taking a break reduces the chances of those;
Use technology to save you time
If you spend forty minutes of your working day going to a meeting and back, why not see if the meeting can be done over Skype or via a conference call? If you saved forty minutes each day, you would save over THREE HOURS each week!
Or perhaps you could work remotely one day a week, reducing the time you spend on the commute. It’s been suggested that working remotely makes staff more productive, less stressed and happier.
Don’t do something you hate, do something you love
Its an old cliché that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. But really its true. Those who are doing what they love, they get up and look forward to the day, work hard and enjoy it at the same time. I am not saying they don’t ever get stressed or bogged down, but they handle it better because they love what they do.
Of course, for most of us, we have to do what we hate in order to learn to do what we love, so I am not suggesting you just up and quit your job, but instead think of it as a stepping stone to get where you want.
In this modern time, with all the myriad of options open to us, there isn’t much excuse for doing something you hate. I understand that some people don’t have the luxury of giving up a job to do something better, but there are always options – instead of watching a movie at home, spend that 90 minutes researching your dream job, taking on online course or learning something new.
So there you have 11 ways to help increase your work/life balance. A final note – it’s important for everyone (and not just in work, but in life) to be self-aware about their own skills, personality and behaviours, in order to grow, learn and ultimately achieve what works for you.