My tips towards a happy, healthy, effective work/life balance
Whilst technology and the ability to have a mobile office have made working easier it has also brought its problems. Being able to work anywhere and everywhere has left the decision of when to work firmly in the hands of the individual.
Reports can be written during the commute; meetings can be held across oceans and round the clock: how does one, therefore, keep work life and home life separate when the lines dividing the two are now so easily entwined?
Boundaries are essential, if you’re to make the best of your time when working, or to effectively switch off when enjoying family life. Having clear separation helps you to focus and makes you more productive when you are at work, and your family will welcome your full attention when you’re enjoying downtime. So how do you achieve a balance?
- Although you can, physically, start work the instant you’ve finished ‘family time’ – and vice versa – allow yourself some breathing space and mental winding down before finishing one and starting the other. Take a short walk to prepare yourself when gearing up to work, or vent the day’s frustration on the car journey home, so that they’re dealt with and extinguished by the time you arrive.
- Try to structure your diary so that you know exactly what focus is needed when you start work. This saves you from wasting time. Can you make all your work calls in one afternoon, for example, rather than dotting them throughout the week? Working in ‘blocks’ helps you to organise your time more effectively. Aim to do one thing at a time, and to do it well.
- Just as it’s not healthy to offload your work problems onto your family when you get home, strive to talk over issues within your family so that you’re not carrying personal problems into work. Don’t let things fester in either camp: deal with issues as soon as possible; if things cannot be rectified immediately, don’t mull over the issue – if it’s out of your control in the immediate moment, nothing will be achieved from constantly going over it on your mind.
- Keep your work space at home professional: allocate some space if you regularly need to work from home. Try and remove (or keep to a minimum) personal and family effects in this space, so that your mind will not be continually conflicted each time you sit down to work.
- Barter: If work has to spill over, talk it over with your family and work out the best timetable. For example, if your family would prefer you to eat dinner together and be involved with bed and bath-time, agree to work once the kids are in bed; if it’s better that you finish your work as soon as you’re home so that you can ‘switch off’ and unwind with your spouse, do so. Asking for their input will help them feel better about the fact you’ll be working – don’t assume that you know what they’re thinking. Whatever the arrangement, invest your attention to both areas appropriately – don’t be running through your work mentally or thinking about all you’ve to do when it’s ‘family time’.
- Learn effective delegating: If you’re constantly taking work home that can be delegated ask yourself why this is. Are you nervous of giving orders to others in your team? Are you obsessing about your work and career? Are you, perhaps subconsciously, using work as an excuse not to fully integrate into family life? Do you need to say the word ‘no’ more often? (If you’d like leadership coaching or career coaching in this respect, get in touch.)
- Recognise that downtime is essential to a healthy working approach. It’s important that we recharge, however busy work may be; if you find it hard to voluntarily switch off, schedule downtime into your diary. Make an effort to spend time with family and friends so that your brain gets a chance to relax and think of something else.
- Recognise when you’re at your best. Do you stay up late into the night or do you rise with the larks? If you’re an early riser, try and fit in any work overspill before the rest of the house gets up. If you’re wide awake when everyone else is nodding off, use this time to catch up. Now that the lines between work and home are so blurred you have to be regimental about time-wasting. Make sure all your time is either productive or enjoyable; identify the time-sapping elements and cut them out completely.
- Learn that all technology has an off switch. If you have a dedicated work space at home and your laptop is always on, physically switch it off when you’ve finished your work. This helps prevent you jumping on and dealing with emails that can be dealt with later – just because you can. Even turn your phone off if you’re relaxing with your family or on a day out together. Everyone deserves a personal life – just because you can be contacted at all times doesn’t mean you have to be.
- Use technology to eke out extra family time. Can you have a meeting via Skype rather than travelling to see someone in person? If you’re hanging about between meetings can you be replying to some emails on your phone? Technology isn’t actually the problem – it’s actually there to help us streamline our time.
- Avoid clutter. Whether in your home office or at work, clutter saps time and focus. An organised workspace helps us gain focus and can stop us wasting time that can be better spent.
The fundamental issue with any of these tips is keeping focus. Being organised and having structure will help define the lines between work and play. Committing to what you’re doing, whether it’s during downtime or at work, will not only help those around understand when you’re able to give them the attention and recognition they seek, it also helps you sufficiently relax or perform at your best.
If you’re finding it hard to instil boundaries or distinguish between work life and home life, you will benefit from executive coaching. Contact me on 01302 220221 for more details.