Balance Isn’t Something You Have, It’s Something You Do
“Better work-life balance this year,” said my friend Hannah when I asked about her New Year’s resolutions in January. “Last year was too manic and out of control. I spent the whole year rushing from one thing to the next and it was just exhausting”.
Hannah is not the only one I know looking for better work-life balance this year. “No time to think” and “Life is flying by too quickly” were common phrases on the lips of friends, family and clients throughout last December. Does it resonate with you?
The winter months don’t help, do they? You can’t escape the darkness! Dark and foggy when you leave the house in the morning, dark and rainy when you come home in the evening, and every moment in between spent in the office. It’s hard to feel that your life is well balanced in these conditions.
So whether you’re suffering from the winter blues or still feeling hung over after an exhausting 2015, here are my top tips for getting better balance this year:
1. Treat balance as an action, not an objective
Most people I know talk about balance as something they want to attain, a state they want to reach. When you do this you are short-changing yourself. It means that anything less than a perfectly segmented life divided between equal hours spent working, sleeping, having fun, socialising, relaxing etc., will make you feel as though you are out of balance. As long as ‘work’ is the dominant activity on your list, leaving you less time to spend on your ‘life’ activities, you’ll feel a constant sense of imbalance.
All of this changes when you view balance as an action. In other words, something that you do each day to ensure your life is on the right track and to help you correct your course when it’s not. For example, if you have had a horrendous few weeks working long hours, instead of focusing on how little time you have left for your life stuff, you…
2. Get up an hour earlier
You may not like the sound of this if you feel forever sleep deprived and struggle out of bed every morning, but I assure you from past experience, and the experience of my clients, how effective this can be. The hour before your day typically starts is the one part of your day that you have control over. Every other part of the day is open season for everybody and everything else. Train yourself to get up earlier by starting slowly, and dedicating that time to you, just you and only you. No email, no work. Spend it thinking, meditating, writing a diary or just reading something of interest. In my experience this one hour of quiet time each day spent focusing on myself – what’s working well, what isn’t, what I want to change or do better and who I really care about – has had a greater impact on my work-life balance than any other work-life balance strategy I’ve tried.
Not the most obvious work-life balance strategy, but it works. When you are surrounded by clutter and stuff, not only does it create a sense of overwhelm and constant busyness, it eats up your time. When your environment (your work desk, your home) is organised, you can find things more easily and focus more effectively, instead of wasting time and energy looking for things you can’t find and feeling as though everything is out of control. Both of these make you more efficient, and with efficiency comes freedom.
4. Say no to friends
Yes, that’s right, friends. Now, I know this sounds like a crazy and counter-intuitive way of trying to get better balance. After all, I hear you ask, isn’t the quest for better work-life balance about having more time for friends? Yes, exactly. But most people have too many friends. By which I mean more friends than they have any hope of building or sustaining quality relationships with. But instead of admitting this to ourselves we put everyone we know and are friendly with into one box labelled “Friends” and spend our limited time spreading ourselves thinly between them. This approach will never help you to feel you have a good work life balance. What you need is to be fiercely selective about which friendships you want to nurture and dedicate to them decent chunks of your quality time. So grab a pen and write down your top 3 most important friends (your VIFs) and make them your absolute priority this year. Say no to invitations from everyone else. NB: You are not giving up on your other friendships, you are simply prioritising those which are most important this year.
5. Say no to extended family
See 4 above.
6. Make regular adjustments
It’s a subject I come back to with clients over and over again, and which I cover in my book, Baby Proof Your Career. Successful living doesn’t mean choosing a straight and narrow path and always staying on it; it means choosing a path and when (rather than if) you stray from it, using the skills and resources you have at your disposal to get yourself back on track. Getting yourself back on track can mean anything from checking you are on the right path in the first place (does it align with your values? Are you chasing the right dream?) to making minor adjustments in your schedule that improve your quality of life. When it comes to getting better balance, these minor adjustments are key. For example, when your diary is full to brimming and your work load is spiralling out of control, it may be time to cancel all non-urgent commitments and/or improve your delegation skills. When you feel it’s impossible to fit exercise into your routine, it may be time to re-evaluate how you exercise and when – if going to the gym at lunchtime doesn’t work, then perhaps it needs to be a run before work.
7. Question your assumptions
My work as a Coach is all about questions, and the question that usually brings the greatest revelation is: What are you assuming? When you feel your life is out of balance and you’re stuck for a solution, this question will bear all kinds of fruit. Are you making assumptions about how you will be judged if you leave the office early? About what others expect of you? About what is acceptable? About what it means to have work-life balance?
Which of these tips will you adopt this year, in your quest for better balance? If you’ve got any questions or would like to talk about how you can improve your balance, then please get in touch.