This is a guest post by Cornelius Mota of Poise Catalyst.
Is it really feasible to achieve work-life balance nowadays? Or is it just a myth?
There were times I used to regularly work 14-hour days. I remember a discussion with a colleague on this topic. At one point I said “Yeah, but what can you do?” and she answered simply “There is always something you can do”. It was such a simple statement, but it hit me. I started to think about it and to recognize that it’s true. We always have a choice.
When you are entrenched into patterns of thinking and behavior, you tend not to look outside your box. Unless something shakes you up, you fail to see even the most common-sense options that are available to you.
Each of us understands something different by work-life balance. However, in principle we all share the idea that what this means is to have a satisfying amount of time available for outside work activities. This may mean time spent with your family, time dedicated to grow spiritually or get into a better physical shape, to pursue a hobby and so on.
We’ll approach work-life balance in two parts in this article:
- Firstly, we’ll assess the big picture. You need to frame life in a way that enables you to reach balance.
- Secondly, we’ll go through five specific work-life balance tips that enable you to make noticeable improvements to your life right now.
Part 1: Assess the Big Picture
A. Clarify Your Priorities
It all starts by clarifying your priorities in life. There is no set model that works for all people.
It may be the case that if you dedicate the larger part of your time to building your career, you are happier. Then, even if your time and energy distribution is unbalanced, this i by choice and it may be OK in your case, at this particular moment in your life.
There is an issue though when what happens in your life is not congruent with your values and priorities.
For example, spending quality time with your family may be very important to you. If in reality you are spending very limited time with your loved ones, because of work, then this is a problem.
Generally speaking, if you feel that you don’t have enough time for yourself and/or for your loved ones, then there is an opportunity to improve work-life balance.
A watch-out here is that you need to be honest with yourself in assessing your values and priorities. For example, don’t lie to yourself that you are happy to work all day long and spend very little time with your family, if this is not true.
B. Picture Your Ideal Life, Assess Your Current Situation and Determine the Gap
Picture your ideal life, in terms of work-life balance. However, it should be a realistic image, based on what is feasible with regard to your priorities.
For example, it is definitely not possible to set as your objectives to develop a successful management consultant career, spend a lot of time with your family, become a great tango dancer and read ten books a week.
Jobs in a particular field are particularly demanding on your time and energy. Then, it doesn’t matter if you change your job or not, because staying in that industry simply implies working very long hours. For example, this is the case with management consulting. If your career choice is to be successful with companies such as McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting Group and the likes, you need to be prepared to work very long hours and travel extensively.
Your current job may require that you regularly work 12 hours a day, no matter how productive you are. In this case you may simply need to look for another job.
Assess what is your current situation and the gap versus your ideal life.
C. Take Consistent Action to Close the Gap
Whatever the case, medium-term you do have a number of choices. You may change the industry you work in, the company, the type of job. This may require that you need to do some more work to meet education requirements, but if you are determined, almost anything is possible.
So never feel that you are a prisoner of circumstances. You always have a choice!
Determine what is the gap between your ideal and your current life in terms of work-life balance and then start to close the gap via addressing the most important improvement opportunities.
Part 2: Apply 5 Tips to Improve Your Current Work-life Balance
Tip #1: Become More Productive at Work
Get better at time management. Maximize your efficacy and after that, also your efficiency. You need to continue to ruthlessly apply the 80/20 principle along the way. If you step up your productivity, but take on more and more work, you will not make progress in terms of work-life balance.
Tip #2: Set Limits
In order to enjoy work-life balance, you need to become a master at setting limits. In the beginning of my career I used to put in long hours, thinking that “ok, I just need to finish this urgent project and then I will go for a more balanced schedule”. It didn’t happen, as there is always something more to do, always something urgent and/or important to address.
If you don’t set limits, you will find yourself at the mercy of circumstances and external pressures. Decide on a set hour when you leave office. You will need to be flexible in certain circumstances, but unless anything really outstanding happens, try to stick to your rule. If you don’t set an hour to go home, it is for sure that you’ll stay at the office more than if you do set one. And try not to take any work home. Separate your professional from your personal life.
Tip #3: Learn to Say No
This one is very much related to the previous rule. We all face many demands on our time and attention, in both our personal and professional lives. In order to be able to focus on what is really important to us, we need to quit spending time on low importance activities. There will always be pressure from others to do this and that, so you do need to learn to say no to low priority commitments.
Tip #4: Simplify Your Life
We all get used to do things in a certain way. Normally, we don’t assess regularly how we do them and if there’s a better way of doing them. So take some time now to think about the activities you do regularly. Is there a way to cut some steps, to do them in a more time-efficient manner or to just eliminate them?
Tip #5: Take Care of Yourself
This tip is about making sure that you observe the fundamentals. Have enough rest. Exercise regularly and try to eat as healthy as possible. These fundamental rules set a sound foundation for your sense of balance. These three elements are all extremely important and they impact your life tremendously long term.
It is important to recognize that you can’t change everything all of a sudden. Don’t make a plan to turn your entire life upside down. Pick one action and start taking small steps in that direction. If you are consistent in taking action, it is totally feasible to improve your work-life balance dramatically.