Achieving the Elusive Work-Life Balance
In today’s environment of being connected all the time, it can seem like a far-fetched goal of achieving the ever-elusive work-life balance. There is no proven method, flow chart, or simple formula to reach a perfect work-life balance. It is going to require you to understand why you work and live, and to define what a work-life balance means for you.
Think of an old balance beam scale, like the one Lady Justice holds. Achieving a sustainable, productive, and enjoyable work-life balance doesn’t mean the scale is going to remain equally balanced all the time. This is going to change at different points throughout life. A recent college graduate may have the scales tilled more to the work side as they get established in their career field. On the opposite end of the spectrum, someone nearing retirement may lean heavily to the life side as their career winds down. The key is to make sure neither side hits the ground because it becomes too heavy and overwhelming. I look at the work side of the scale as your career goals and accomplishments and the life side as your personal goals - the things that bring you happiness.
Achieving a good work-life balance isn’t something done without a focused effort. It is important to avoid the dreaded “when I get a chance” or “if I have time” phrases. Too many of us, at one time or another, have fallen into this trap. Once these words are said, more often than not the scale is going to tip too far in one direction and there will be no balance. In reality we never get a chance or have time to do things unless we plan to do them and are proactive.
Just like with most projects we tackle, developing a good work-life balance requires a planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and maintaining phase.
Planning is critical if you want to get something done and achieving a desirable work-life balance is no different. Determining what you want to achieve in the balancing of your work-life can be challenging. This will require self-awareness about your personality, along with your tendencies, in order to make a plan which will work for you. Realistic goal setting in both your personal and professional life will allow you to properly prioritize what needs to be done. For example, do you want to earn the next promotion or be able to spend more quality time with family, or simply level out both parts?
Once you know what you want to achieve then you are ready to develop and prioritize the plan. An important part of this is learning the art of saying “no”. This can be rough at first. By nature, most of us don’t like to disappoint others, so it can be uncomfortable to say no to your boss, family, or friends. It may seem selfish, but you have to think of this like you would scope creep on a project. Not prioritizing your tasks will lead to a to-do list growing to a point where it can no longer be accomplished. If too many things keep changing or the scope continues to grow out of control, you’re not going to achieve your stated objectives.
With a focused plan on balancing out your work-life scale in place, it is time to put it into action. This can be challenging as requirements change and issues arise, but it is important to stay on schedule. Managing your time effectively is a necessity. To do this you need to set expectations and boundaries for your work and life sides of the scale in order to prioritize your time. Establish times dedicated to work and life activities and stick to them. Most likely things are going to come up beyond your control which require you to change these times. A good way of handling this risk is to allocate yourself a couple of exemptions per month to deal with these issues on each side of the scale. Another part of time management is if you are doing things which aren’t productive or having interactions that bring no value then dismiss those activities. Time is one thing you can’t get more of so manage it wisely.
Monitor and Control
This is the time to see if your plan is actually achieving the desired results. Revisit those personal and career goals developed during your plan and ensure you are making progress. Conducting a weekly assessment of your work-life balance can keep everything in perspective and allow you the ability to make changes in case you happen to let the scale tip too far in one direction.
Life will always happen, so you will need to make adjustments as the things making you happy and your career aspirations change or evolve over time. Regularly assessing your scale will keep it balanced and if time starts slipping away, a good solution is to develop a daily calendar to account for your entire day in no less than 15-minute intervals. This will identify any time wasted on items not contributing to your desired balance. It can be surprising how much time is wasted on things which don’t add value.
Achieving a work-life balance to work for your environment and life style will provide you with a sense of ownership and control over your life. You will have less personal and professional stressors and feel more motivated to accomplish the things you need and want to do. This will likely result in better relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and bosses while enhancing your overall quality of life. At the end of the day it is up to you to define and create your own best work-life balance and produce the results you desire.