IT DOESN’T EXIST – sorry to break it to you!
First off, the statement of ‘work life balance’ is just a misleading phenomenon thrust upon us by society. It makes us think that it’s achievable, that it exists and that some people have actually accomplished it. Let me tell you, that is not true. If you enjoy your job, then you’re most likely working when you shouldn’t be. Alternatively, if you dislike your job, then of course life doesn’t feel balanced, you’d much rather be doing something else. Let’s be honest, regardless of whether you like your job or not, we can’t deny that there is ALWAYS something else we’d much rather be doing. So how on earth can we ever find a balance…?
The first step to creating some form of harmony between different aspects of life is ACCEPTANCE. We must ACCEPT that work is a part of life. It can’t be separated, therefore it can’t be balanced out against ‘life’. It’s not its own individual part of you, but rather a small element among thousands that together form your lifestyle. Society tells us that it’s possible to do everything, that success only comes from insane work habits and the common saying that ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’, is just another lie we’re feeding ourselves. To make it all worse, we actually believe that people are living that way and that we’re not doing enough. It is not possible to consistently over work yourself and never take a break. There are no quick fixes and choosing to drastically change our situations just isn’t sustainable. The only way to take back control is to approach ‘work life balance’ in a balanced way. This means making small and gradual changes instead of large, drastic ones that will only tip the scales of life in the opposite direction.
I find that the next step to achieving the unachievable ‘work life balance’ is through scheduling. Finding a routine which works for you is honestly the answer to reduced stress, anxiety and worry. Using a schedule and a routine to get the most out of your time is not about cramming in the work and being ultra-productive! Use the schedule for everything you need, want and love to do. Make sure each week has variety and rest time, mix up your routine to find what works for you and physically schedule in free time. I love using a diary which shows a full week on a double page view. Being able to see the entire week laid out in front of you allows you to see where your time is going and get a feel for the balance between each aspect of life. The reason I prefer week views over single day diaries is that there’s simply NEVER enough hours in the day to get everything in that you want, so it’s no wonder we don’t feel balanced. Some days may require longer time spent working, whereas others may be filled with appointments and running errands, taking time away from seeing friends/family. Don’t judge the balance of your life from one individual day. Look at your week or two weeks on a whole and make sure to schedule in fun events as well as work time, making it as balanced as you feel it can be.
An important aspect to scheduling and productive working is to allow time to rest. It’s so easy when you’re wrapped up in a project to work none stop, all night, until it’s done. All this will do is tire you to the point of burn out and destroy the routine which you’ve worked so hard for. Therefore, setting and scheduling a cut off time for finishing a task or work is vital for productivity, happiness and rest time. You may initially think that this will reduce productivity levels and that you won’t have enough time to get things done. In truth however, work always has a clever way of expanding itself to take up whatever time you have given it. Therefore, saying you will only work until 5 O’clock will ensure you get the work done on time. However, if you say you have until 8:30pm to get the same work done, just like magic it will then take 3 ½ hours longer to complete the same amount of work, who relates? This proven fact is called Parkinson’s Law – that work does in fact expand to take up the time that is given to it.
Another useful tip to increase productivity and improve work life balance is through allowing yourself time to refuel and reward yourself after completing a project or large task. This can be something as simple as going for a ten-minute walk around the block, or reading your favorite book with a cup of tea before diving into the next task. This is crucial for avoiding burn out and will improve focus when you need it most. Overall, we just need to be more realistic with what we are planning to do. I am a nightmare for over filling my daily to-do list to the point that it’s impossible to get it all checked off. This is unproductive, unsatisfying and worst of all, demoralising. Be realistic in your scheduling and suggest time frames by which something must be completed for. This will give you an idea of how much time you have left in your day for the rest of your tasks.
Now that you’ve got a plan and scheduled everything from work commitments to walking the dog, it’s imperative that you honour this! There is no point in having a routine but never following it, you’ll only feel worse for having it and not using it. So be present in every moment. If you’ve scheduled in a meal out, be 100% in that moment. Don’t allow thoughts and worries of work creep in and take your concentration off that enjoyable moment, or you may as well be working. The same goes for scheduled work time. Give your full attention and focus on the task in-hand, allowing other thoughts to clog up your mind in these moments is counter-productive, it’ll slow the process down and the quality of your work will suffer. Giving your all in each moment is all that matters in that moment and you can then move onto your next task or fun activity knowing that you’ve completed what you needed to and you can enjoy the time away as rest. No matter what anyone says, MULTI-TASKING just doesn’t work. It’s not something to strive for and it’s not a special quality that only women possess, haaa! It’s just another lie. Our minds can’t physically focus efficiently on two or more things at once, we’re just constantly switching from one point of focus to another, never truly concentrating on either and not completing any of the tasks to our full potential. Opening your mind up to multiple tasks at once only allows for it to enter the ‘mind-wandering mode’. Whilst in this mode you are not focused on any one particular thing and therefore unable to give anything your full attention or quality of work.
Last but by no means least is the step of FORGIVENESS. We can schedule, plan and prepare all we want, but there are going to be times when things don’t go to plan and the routine goes right out the window into the rain and lands in a muddy puddle, later driven over by a large bus just as you made it outside to try and rescue it. That is ok! We’re not robots and we can’t see into the future. We must take these moments as they come and musn’t blame ourselves. Just remember, be kind to yourself and you can try again tomorrow!
My sources and inspiration for this post…