WORK/LIFE BALANCE: a statement that we hear so often but what does it really mean? What does it mean to you? Work/life balance is really about TIME and how we choose to parcel it up, or engage with it.
Have you stopped to consider how many phrases humans use to refer to TIME, and just how many carry a negative connotation?
- Time flies
- I never seem to find the time
- Time is running out
- Time is against me
- Time is slipping through my fingers
- There is just never enough time
- Time is money
- Time is not on my side
The main problem we are trying to combat with Work/Life Balance is that of being overwhelmed. Getting into a state of ‘overwhelm’, often a stressful state, happens when we can’t manage all the things we feel we ‘should’ be doing. First of all, we need to analyse the ‘shoulds’ – who says we ‘should’ be focused on this thing or that thing…..often these beliefs are drilled into us as children – by our parents, our teachers, society, and the media. But as we get older, and become adults who can think and decide for ourselves, how many ‘shoulds’ and ‘must dos’ are we carrying around with us like a heavy weight upon our shoulders?
Beliefs such as ‘I should do well’ and ‘I should be successful’ can be positive when they drive us to excel, but if these beliefs stem from our childhood, or translate internally to ‘I must gain approval from others, or else I won’t be good enough’, then these beliefs can be toxic, and worse still can be never-ending, as we search for success on someone else’s terms.
Defining what ‘success’ means to you personally is the key here. Success carries many forms and can even be different things to one person at different times in their life. Having success or being successful can be thought of in terms of money, volume of business, absence of stress, state of physical health, abstinence from alcohol or fatty foods, happiness with a partner, recognition in your trade or skill, relationships with family members, and so on. The values I attach to being successful are likely to be different to those that you hold dear. So this is a personal exploration. Think about these questions.
- “Who am I in the most fulfilling life of my dreams?”
- “Where do I want to be in 1 year, and 10 years’ time?”
- “What do I think about last thing at night?”
- “How do I feel when I wake up in the morning?”
- “When am I being successful, and is this enough for me?”
The main problem my clients tell me about is that they never ask themselves these questions! They don’t take time for themselves, but instead are focused on meeting the needs of their boss, their kids, their parents and friends, perpetually ticking off the ‘things I MUST do today’ list. They don’t stop to wonder if this is their choice, or their joy, they just carry on, plugging away, and then they find themselves in a state of stress, or fatigue, or ill health.
The solution, as I see it, is simple. You must start putting your own needs first. Only when you are looking after yourself can you really be of any use to other people. Please note: This is not an act of selfishness. This is a conscious and smart choice to take a step back, take a breath and reflect on what is important for you. A rare, but golden opportunity to restore some balance within. Here are some simple ways this can be achieved. You may come up with some of your own as you read these.
1) Set aside a fixed amount of time (e.g. 20 minutes) to read emails and then stop (maybe flagging some of them for action later) – but don’t check them all day long (a bad habit I used to have!)
2) Learn to say the word ‘NO’ when asked to take on extra responsibilities, at work and at home; you don’t need to justify why, just quietly say, “I’m sorry but I don’t have the time right now”.
3) If you find Number 2 really hard, start by saying “Can I just think about that and let you know in 5 minutes/1 hour / when I’m in front of my diary. Take the time to consider if you can manage it. If you can, what other tasks in YOUR schedule can you dispense with, so that you can help them with theirs. And if you can’t then, try Number 2.
4) Spend one night a week doing what you want to do – go to a gig, or out for dinner with a friend, get carried away with a good book, have a relaxing bath with music and candles, or put your feet up in front of the TV with a glass of wine; don’t check your emails, let all calls go to voicemail and only ring back if it’s an emergency
5) Whether you work or not, don’t plan all your free time, to be somewhere, doing something, or with someone. This can be more difficult if you have children, but certainly, leave a bit of unplanned space in your diary, one night a week (see number 4) or one weekend a month, just so that you have some breathing space.
6) Look after your health – True balance in life and work is only achievable if you are getting regular exercise, eating well, and sleeping well. You do not have to embark on a hard regime of heavy exercise and dieting, but small changes in your routine can work wonders for your overall health and energy levels – start swimming once a week, drink 2 more glasses of water per day than you do now, go to sleep one hour earlier, avoid carbohydrates after 6pm, walk up the stairs at work instead of taking the lift.
10) Set exciting goals for yourself – ones that have nothing to do with work to ensure that you are satisfying your personal needs and desires. Set goals that challenge you mentally and physically and relate to you as an individual, not in your role as mum, or colleague, or boss. It might be planning a walking tour in the Cotswolds, training for a marathon, attending an evening class, or making your own clothes.
Once you start to take some time for yourself, you may just find the time to stop and consider those WHO, WHERE, WHAT, HOW, WHEN questions again, and then actually do something about them!
We embark on this very exciting world of goal setting in my book, BIG WHEN LITTLE WHEN. You can buy the paperback for £5.99 + p & p, or even download the E-Book for FREE.
Please visit the website to get your copy: www.sashawallacehorizons.co.uk