This is a topic that has come up a lot recently for me both personally and professionally, and so I have garnered together some of my thoughts on how everyone can achieve, or at least work towards an optimum work/life balance that works for them.
I hope you find the tips useful.
1. Think seriously about what kind of work you are doing/would like to do, and decide whether this is something you actually really enjoy doing and are fulfilled by, or whether it is just something you fell into. This includes both paid work and those who are at home. As people, we grow and change, and what suited us at one stage, may not always suit. So don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and think about making a change if this is what is required for you. Think about the amount of time you spend at work – it’s SO important to enjoy it!
2. If you decide to make a change, it may be the case that you need to study or play a longer game, such as working towards a promotion at work. Studies show that we can tolerate some short-term pain if we know that it is leading us to where we ultimately want to be, so don’t despair. Get strategic, and make a plan! Even if you are less than happy with your current situation, having a plan and progressing towards a goal will help you feel more satisfied than if you had no plan at all.
3. Whatever you decide to do work wise, make sure you have some clear boundaries between work time and life time. This may mean being clear with your Boss about your availability after hours, or it may mean being strict with yourself about doing household tasks after a certain time. What is important here is that you have a clear demarcation line for when you switch off, and invest your time and energy in other things, that fulfil you in another way.
4. I find the most effective way to do this is to PLAN. Bit of a dirty word, but it works wonders. Just as it is important to schedule time for work and for others, it is also critical to schedule time for yourself. What are your Absolutes Musts for this week/month/year? Schedule them and track your progress.
5. Typically these types of activities will fall into what I call the “nourish” category. What kind of fuel do you plan to put in your body this week? (I find batch cooking one evening a week will help me in this regard). Is there a class you want to take that will allow some creative juices to flow? What kind of exercise or nature exploits are you interested in? What are the relationships that inspire and fulfill you? (As opposed to draining you, as per #8). Whatever it is, make it a non-negotiable, and invest in your energy stores in this way.
6. And speaking of energy stores, studies show that we tend not to actively replenish ourselves sufficiently in terms of the rest that we take. That could be the quantity and quality of the sleep that we get each night, or it could be the number of mini-breaks we take during the day – I now understand the wisdom of “putting the kettle on,” from older generations! Taking the time to have a little break during the day, and making plans to allow for optimal and restorative rest at night will yield real dividends in the energy that you will have to fit in all you want to achieve in your life.
7. While most people focus exclusively on work/life balance issues day to day, it is important to schedule longer breaks for yourself also during the year. Some people like to plan these out on an annual basis, with very specific and detailed plans so that they can save for and look forward to their breaks. Others like to be more spontaneous, and will plan a break when they feel stressors building, allowing them to diffuse and relax when they need it most. Whatever your preference, just make sure you do it! The breaks can be alone, or with others, at home or abroad. We are not talking about expensive, exotic holidays (necessarily!), but the point is to have chunks of time wherein you can tune in and drop out.
8. A piece that consistently comes up with clients, and which is a key factor in the work/life balance conundrum, is to examine what is draining you. As with #1 above, this may be the current job you are doing, or for others, it may be some friends or family members. Whatever/whoever it is, it’s time to address it. If you want to have the energy to have a varied and fulfilling life, you’re going to have to have the energy to invest. Ridding yourself, or at least minimising your exposure to these drains, will really help you achieve that overall balance.
9. A development of this point is to look at your financial situation. In my experience clients have such a mix of situations, from solvent and saving, to in debt with no chance of saving! Either way, it’s important to get a really firm handle on your financial situation and to get help if needs be. What loan to pay off first, what project to save for? You get the picture. Having a longer term plan here, will again help with any short term pain, and I know for many clients this is a thorny issue and one which robs them of any sense of control over their work/life balance – until they get it in hand.
10. Remember that golden rule: no sooner will you have everything running tickety-boo, then everything will change! Once you’ve achieved that balance, you can rest assured that some factor will change, and it’ll all start all over again. Make your peace with that! It’s all part of the rich tapestry of life, and to my mind, a big chunk of the fun!
Our resident Organisational Psychologist, Coach and Mum, Leisha McGrath is here to answer your burning questions on returning to work from maternity leave and how to achieve a healthy work/life balance:
Do you have a question for Leisha McGrath? Send us an email in confidence to firstname.lastname@example.org or check out Leisha’s website, lma.ie for more info.
Or Catch up with her talk at The Beatyard Festival in Dun Laoghaire over the bank holiday weekend.