One of the biggest challenges people tell me they face is finding a work-life balance. As a parent to a three-year-old, and as a fiercely independent person, I can certainly see the struggle in my own life. So I thought I’d share the secrets that have helped me grow a business while staying sane(-ish).
Here’s the first thing you need to know: you don’t have a work-life balance problem.
Work-Life Balance: Less Work
I’m going to assume you have a job with blurred boundaries, where little bits of work leak into your home life. Where there’s no real “clocking off” time (even if, technically, there is). Where you’re on call, or you finish projects outside of your strict working hours, or you bring a lot of work stress and anxiety home with you.
If you’re one of those people who has trouble switching off, or who always finds themselves staying late, consider this: work is like dressing the bed — no matter how great a job you do or how long you spend at it, it’ll still need doing tomorrow.
I don’t say that to deflate you — rather, to get you to realise that work is just one of those never-ending things. You’ll still have to wake up and start all over again the following morning. It will always be waiting for you, whether you clock off at 5 or 9.
Yes, sometimes you’ll have a deadline and you’ll need to put in a little extra effort, but if you’re constantly on deadline time, you need to take a step back and come up with a solution — either a new job, or a new way of doing things.
And, if my 15 years of experience in retail is anything to go by, the more you do, the more you’ll be expected to do. I’ve always been a hard worker, and have huge attention to detail, so employers were always happy with me. But here’s the thing: it was never a case of pats-on-the-back and “keep up the good work, Laura”. Instead, it was more like, “you’re doing great, now let’s look at different ways you could do even better”.
Every. Fucking. Time.
I was given more and more responsibility and expected to do the job of 3 people.
I’m not saying don’t be ambitious — I’m simply saying that working longer hours isn’t always to your benefit and won’t always get you the kind of recognition you want.
Give an inch, an’ all that.
If you’re worried you’re working too much, do something about it. Go home!
Work-Life Balance: More Life
Having said that, the problem is rarely about finding a balance between “work” and “life” — there’s always plenty of “life” to be getting on with. Cleaning is “life”. Cooking is “life”. Shopping is “life”. Looking after the kids is “life”.
The issue is that you’re not allowing enough time to recharge your batteries.
Your personal time should always be your priority. This is the “life” you’ve been missing. Start setting aside at least 15 minutes every evening to do nothing but relax and indulge in something that makes you happy. (And I mean truly happy, not mindlessly-flicking-through-channels happy.) It will go a long way to restoring the balance, if not the whole hog.
And schedule that shit, don’t expect to magically find the time. Life has a tendency to slip by quickly and quietly. If you don’t grab it firmly by the horns, it will slip through your fingers.
Still struggling to find some time? Start culling, especially anything unnecessary that saps your energy. Write a list of all the things you do in an average day, and then examine it to see where you could scale back. Even cut out some cleaning if needs be. And draft in your family and friends to help out and take some of the pressure off. (If they’re dicks about it, THEY’RE the ones that need culling.) Trim a little fat off the edges and you’ll soon find a bit more flavour in your day.
When you ARE doing something, make sure to give it your full focus. A lot of the time, it’s not the fact that we’re doing a huge amount of stuff that’s stressing us out, it’s thinking about the huge amount of stuff we have yet to do. Our brains are often our own worst enemies. Train it to focus on one thing at a time, and it will eventually learn to stop sweating everything else.
While you’re at it, give yourself a bit of a digital detox. For me, it’s not always about not having enough time, it’s that I’m wasting the time I do have scrolling through someone else’s selfies. I’ve recently culled a massive amount of the accounts I follow online, and it’s made a noticeable difference in the time I spend on social media.
And don’t forget to use up those holiday hours; they’re there for a reason. But use them judiciously. You don’t have to take them in one block if that doesn’t suit you. Consider using them to take half days on a regular basis throughout the year. Or even to ensure that you have frequent long weekends. Or the odd mid-week break.
Treat your holiday hours like rations and spread that shit out to make it last as long as possible.
But if you do want to take a whole week off, consider doing it on the week of a bank holiday so that you only need to use up 4 days of your holiday allowance rather than 5. If you’re going on an actual holiday, and you’re anything like me, you should allow at least 2 extra days off at the end. There’s nothing worse than having to head straight back to the office before you’ve even had time to unpack.
And don’t feel guilty for taking time off — there are no medals at the office for ‘last man standing’.
Finally, stop stressing so much. As I said above, it’s usually more about all the things we think we should be doing. It’s about a PERCEIVED lack of time rather than an ACTUAL lack of time. All the advice above should definitely make a big difference to your days, but remember that it’s rarely a problem with work-life balance, it’s more likely a problem with your work-recharge balance.
In other words...
It’s not about having more “life”, it’s about enjoying the life you do have.
You may also be interested in: