Blend or balance?
So we’re all striving for a better work-life balance, but is balance the right word? That suggests there’s a kind of perfect balance point but maybe it’s a bit difficult to attain it and to keep it there, as though one little extra thing on either side will unbalance it and then all is lost? Perhaps the phrase work-life blend describes it better because then work and life are more integrated….dynamic….forgiving? We can strive for the right blend for us but we’re learning all the time and that learning helps us get it right more often than not. Plus our needs and expectations change, so sometimes more work is better, sometimes more not work. Or maybe what’s more important is how to make sure that your work and your life are working for you.
Getting it right
So from all the work we do with people where striking the right balance between work and life has become a big focus for them, here are our top tips for getting it as right as it can be:
1. Get clear on your boundaries
So first, get clear on your boundaries. This is such an important thing to work on for most people, not just relating to work-life balance but to life and work in general. You need to be certain of the line between ok and not ok for you. That is in terms of what you’re being asked to do, how far you’re willing to stretch and risk your time, your energy, even your reputation in order to help someone else out or to get that vital piece of work over the line. Being clear about your values helps you define your boundaries because when something or someone starts to threaten one of your values, they’re standing at that boundary line. And what you say or do next defines that line in terms of both your expectations. So say that you really value time with your family and that you want to make sure that you get home each evening to spend time with them. But if a colleague or a boss approaches you and asks you to work late repeatedly, and you agree, you are subconsciously resetting that boundary line in favour of work, or the person who has asked for help, and the value of family and family time becomes compromised, so you end up feeling drained and guilty from that. The best way of avoiding situations like this is to know where your boundary lines are and to keep them there so that they don’t start to become fuzzy, because when they become fuzzy, you’ll start to ignore them and so will other people. So, be clear on when you’re working and be clear on when you’re not so that other people respect the time you’re keeping for you.
2. Learn to switch off
Secondly, learn to switch off. Learning to switch off isn’t just about moving away from digital. It’s also learning how to leave work at work and not carry it round with you the whole time. Creating clear transition points or rituals between work and not work can help with this, whether you’re working in an office, from home, or somewhere else entirely. You can train your brain to recognise when you’re preparing to move into ‘work mode’ by creating habits and rituals that set you up for that – a walk to work, listening to motivating music or podcasts on the way in, checking emails or social media. And potentially doing the same but with a different aim at the end of the working day – walking from work, listening to or watching more home-related music or content and closing off emails, looking at more home-related social media. And you can do that wherever you’re working, including working from home – your body and brain will recognise the rituals even if the location is different. And those rituals in themselves can help create clear boundaries that should enable you to step into not work mode each day and move into time for you and for other things.
3. Lose the guilt
Third, and this can be tough, but lose the guilt. This is probably the biggest cause of people ignoring their own boundaries and not switching off. You know, that gnawing sense that you SHOULD be available all hours, maybe because you feel other people are, or because it’s expected somehow, or that you SHOULD take on that piece of work that someone else hasn’t got the time for, because what would be the consequences if you didn’t, it would upset other people and they would have to work harder, or whatever. But if you’re caught in the guilt trap, take some time to check around and see what’s really going on – is it really right and fair that you should be the one taking up the slack, giving up extra time? Or are you allowing yourself to be taken advantage of? Give yourself a break and appreciate the things that you do and have done…show some self-compassion. And imagine yourself in the shoes of the person who is making you feel guilty. If the situation was reversed, would you expect what they seem to expect of you? All of these practices can help you shake off that guilty feeling.
4. Find a job you love
OK, roaring in at number 4 is good old Confucius saying (like only 2,500 years ago)…find a job you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life. The idea here is to follow your passions and dreams and go get that job that you really really want to do, the job that’s aligned with your own purpose and has real meaning for you, and where you get to play to your strengths most of the time because they appreciate your talents and what you can bring to work. That way, work doesn’t feel like work at all and the work-life blend idea maybe becomes more relevant, because then you’re almost having to create space from work because you LOVE IT SO MUCH! Anyway, it’s clearly easier to find the right balance or blend between work and life if you love one or both elements, so do your best to find that job that you love.
5. Manage your energy
Finally, be conscious of your energy and make sure you’re keeping it topped up with the things that give you energy rather than having your energy sapped bit by bit and not giving yourself enough time or space to recover during each day. Energy management involves becoming good at spotting what it is in your life and at work that energises you and drains you, whether it’s a person or people, a place, a task or project, whatever it is.
When you get good at knowing how your energy works, you’ll be able to manage it throughout each day so that there’s plenty of battery left by the time your work day is over and your evening’s beginning.
So there it is, to get that elusive work-life blend working for you: get clear on your boundaries, learn to switch off, lose the guilt, find a job you love and get savvy at managing your energy. Finally, enjoy your week and go easy on yourself!