How can you achieve ideal work/life balance in a 24/7 world?
“There’s no such thing as work life balance,” declared Sheryl Sandburg recently, best-selling author of “Lean In.” “There’s work, there’s life, and there’s no balance.”
What do you think?
What are your thoughts about Yahoo recently withdrawing the treasured right to work at home?
The viability of work-life balance is a hotly-debated, contentious topic. I’ve read recent articles suggesting that it’s good to merge your working and personal life and that its positive that some companies make it easy to work all day and often at night by providing dry-cleaning services and free food and drink (I strongly disagree by the way)! Or another article complaining that working mothers are unfair on their single colleagues because they leave early and expect them to do an unfair share of work.
When you work at home, where (and when) do you draw the lines between work and home? And how do you do that? If you work in an office, what time do you leave, and do you then continue working later at home?
Where work begins and ends has never been more important to resolve. Do you find yourself spending Sunday evening checking your work emails and getting ready for Monday morning?
On Thursday at 8 pm do you find yourself desperately trying to finish an urgent report instead of having dinner with your partner or going to the gym? When you’re on the school run, are you multitasking with your mobile? Heaven forbid, are you taking work calls by the pool during your summer holiday?
Uh oh! What about your work life balance?
With boundaries between your work and your life so blurred at the moment, work time encroaching on you time like a hungry amoeba, work-life balance may seem like a quaint, outdated concept. Is it realistic or even possible? If so what does it mean and how do you get it?!
Here are 10 tips to help you achieve the nirvana-like state of mutually inspiring work life balance. And yes it IS possible, as I know from 12 plus years coaching high-performers to achieve more while having & enjoying a life!
1) You need to love your work (or be able to adjust it or your approach to it so that you DO love it). Or change jobs or even career if not. Fundamentally, for work life balance to be possible, your work needs to reflect your values and strengths, to be harmonious with your vision and purpose. If your work works with your values, there can be a connected flow between your work and your life with mutually energising momentum. But if you don’t love your work now, it’s impossible to create great work/life balance as your work and life are intrinsically incompatible and opposed: it is literally your work or your life. You’re checking yourself out when you check yourself in.
2) Get clear on what your values, strengths, passions are, so that you can make sure your work aligns with them. Change your job, your career, or start your own business if it doesn’t. Creating a clear, inspiring personal vision and purpose is powerful, not just effective, but even transformative.
3) Take time for your life…Assuming you do fundamentally love your career and your job (you may love one but not the other of course), you still need to take time for your life in order to feel balanced and happy. All too often people make the mistake of trying to fit their personal life around what is left of their time and energy after they finish work. Guess what? They are then exhausted and out of time and their personal life gets put on hold. Which isn’t sustainable-you will get squeezed out and ultimately burnt out. Your relationships will get impoverished, your health will suffer, you will be miserable…So make crucial appointments with yourself or they won’t happen – i.e. I know a news anchor who works out 4-5 days a week at 5.30 am. As challenging as it is to get out of bed so early, especially in winter, she finds that her new energy reserves make every other challenge seem like a positive opportunity she can sail through successfully. Scheduling regular date nights, gym times, meditation times, spa appointments etc is absolutely key. Equally, set boundaries for your work, around travel, not working evenings or weekends etc. The resulting balance will actually make you more successful as well as happier.
4) Accept sometimes balance will tilt one way or another because of unusual circumstances, but have that be an exception for a predetermined short period of time. You might decide to take an extended holiday for a month. Fab! You might have an urgent project that will have you working all hours for 2 weeks. Ok! But don’t say, for example, that you will knock yourself out for a year at work in order to achieve something. You won’t get that year of your life back, and you’re setting dangerous precedents and habits that will compromise your quality of life.
5) Practice exceptional self-care. Because you’re worth it and it will allow you to feel your best and deliver! That means physical self-care-eating lots of fruit and vegetables, not just sandwiches, drinking lots of water and not so much coffee, and getting brilliantly physically fit by creating the discipline to exercise regularly. And don’t forget care of the soul too, just as important, whatever that means to you.
6) Be mindful. Be present. Don’t multi-task. Being present rather than distracted makes you centred and grounded and also creates an impression of gravitas and presence. Multitasking with young children is particularly dangerous. A client told me recently that her young daughter threw something heavy at her in sheer rage when she was distracted from their play date by a business call.
7) Achieve more success through balance…Far from compromising your work effectiveness, individuals who protect their energy by looking after themselves and maintaining strong boundaries, are able to demonstrate more creativity, big-picture thinking, better empathy and communication skills, all qualities that are essential for long-term success. With my own executive coaching clients, I consistently see evidence that better work-life balance correlates with professional achievement and promotion – without exception, in fact.
8) Happiness..If you have better work-life balance, you are likelier to enjoy a more rewarding, inspiring, and restorative personal life, be happier, and have higher self-esteem. If you look after yourself, you give yourself the message that you matter and are worth taking care of.
9) Resilience….Poor work-life balance will lead to getting stressed out, exhausted, depleted, and ultimately burnt out. It’s not sustainable. It’s therefore in companies’ interests too to make sure that their driven high-achievers aren’t overdoing it.
10) Career leverage…Balance allows big-picture clarity about your career vision, the space and mental energy to nurture your professional networks, keep your head above water, understand the bigger trends in your industry, connect with head-hunters, get invited to speak and raise your profile, be front of mind for exciting new job opportunities. Whereas being exhausted by over-working and under-living just gets you stuck and keeps you stuck.
Let me reassure you that your fulfilling work can inspire (and be a part of) your happy personal life, and your happy life can inspire your successful work. I have many former and current coaching clients who have created exactly this kind of mutually reinforcing energising balance. So what’s the secret?
As the poet E.E. Cummings says, “There’s a hell of a good universe out there, let’s go!”.
One of my favourite quotes about the beauty of balance is from poet W.B. Yeats – Among School Children:
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
To dance, you need balance!