In today’s hectic 24 hour connected world, everyone is searching for that elusive, personally satisfying work life balance.
What is this thing that we are all striving for, that we all endlessly go on about?
Well, it is exactly what is says on the tin. In a nutshell- Not overworking yourself so you don’t have a life – any life – outside of work.
Does the balance predicament sound familiar?
It may seem obvious, but if you have no work life balance, in the long run, this is likely to stunt professional and I hope to give you some kind of overview – and personal insights – in this blog.
Does work life balance even exist? Or is it in reality, unattainable? This is a question I hear regularly.
So, first thing’s first. What does the word balance mean? Okay, trick question. Balance means something different to each and every one of us. It’s not about sticking to a strict timetable – it’s about feeling happy and fulfilled. If you don’t feel happy and fulfilled, it affects your mindset, which ultimately, affects your work. Anyway, working out the balance you need is about recognising what is important to you personally, to help you feel appreciated and ‘loving life’.
In my opinion, work life balance does exist. When people ask me to define it, I always say the same thing; I don’t think it’s necessarily about how we actually spend our time, it’s about whether we feel happy with how we spend our time. Essentially, work life balance varies for everyone.
Avoiding a burnout
Not being able to balance your work and personal life is one of the biggest pains that the current generation is facing. I’m convinced that in my parents’ day and age, work life balance wasn’t even a ‘thing’ back then. Burnout or no burnout, you just kept going. You just got on with it! It has to be said that they, of course, didn’t have mobiles and the internet to interrupt their attempts at leisure time relaxation. The world now is fast, very fast, and people need a new level of flexibility in their working lives.
Could this be because of the increased number of women who have office jobs, who bring a new perspective to office life? If I had my diversity hat on, I could talk to you all day about this. Anyway, that’s for another time – I will let you stew on that one.
Where were we? Yes, burnouts. Time management – be good at it. Have minimal distractions – focus on the task in hand. Cue quote from Richard Branson –“life’s too short to waste your time doing things that don’t light your fire. I don’t look at work as work and play as play; to me they are the same thing.” I’m sure you that you will agree that he is a perfect example of how to stay away from the work-life balance burnout by doing something that you love, where work is fun.
Maybe you aren’t in at the potential burnout stage yet. In that case I would advise you to develop a passion for what you are doing right now – this is the first step towards enjoying what you do. When you get to that point, you will miraculously find a balance.
Flexible working and career development
I hear endless discussions about how flexible working is good not only for you but also your career. Is it true?
Interestingly, a recent study, highlighted in The Guardian, concluded that flexible working can actually boost your professional progress. A survey of 3,000 professional and managerial women and men from the UK and US showed that a good work life balance not only improves job satisfaction and employee retention, but it is also linked to faster career progression.
Whether it’s flexible start/finish times, reduced hours, working from home or compressed hours – all of this is classed as flexible working. The study found that using at least one of these arrangements leads to a significant improvement in relation to balance and, surprisingly, enhanced career prospects. So, you heard it here first, striving for balance between work and outside work time does not mean you’re a skiver!
So how can you achieve this work life balance?
My first piece of advice is to assess the big picture. What I mean by this is – look objectively at your life, think about areas you want to change and then take the necessary steps to reorganise your life in a way that allows you to find that work life balance you have been so solemnly looking for.
If you apply the below to your daily life, I’m certain that you will see an improvement. Personal experience is my source!
- Become more productive at work. This is all based around time management and organisation. A book by Sarah Knight taught me a few things. I now write myself a “to do” and a “must do” list, for example, which helps me to prioritise for that day.
- Set limits. When I know what I am doing for the day, I set a time that I will leave the office that day. Of course, one needs to be flexible in certain circumstances, but unless anything outstanding happens, I’ll desperately try to stick to that rule.
- Learn to say no! Possible the toughest thing to do, in my opinion. There will always be pressure from others to do this and that, so you need to learn to say no to lower priority tasks.
- Self-care. There are numerous different options open to you here. Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular, for example, but, from my own experience, exercising regularly and eating healthily are my top two. It’s surprising how much impact this has on your mindset and mood. Try it!
To put this into a personal perspective for you, I have to go through a wind down process after work. This involves yoga, cooking, reading, or simply flaking out in front of the sofa to watch a few episodes of the Netflix series I am obsessing over at that time. You get the idea.
Don’t go to bed with a million and one thoughts running through your head about what you need to do tomorrow or what happened that day. You won’t sleep well and you will wake up exhausted! In my case, I plan my day the night before. Write myself to do list. There, now it’s on a piece of paper and not running through my head. I can sleep.
In short, do what you need to do to switch off.
Just make sure you don’t try and change lots of areas of your life all at once. Choose one thing at a time and take small steps. Do this consistently and you will notice a difference!
So, that’s it. You can make your own decisions on whether you think work life balance will help you get where you need to be in life. But if you are struggling with work life balance, I hope this blog helps you. If you don’t believe in work life balance, if you think it’s all psycho-babble from people who don’t like hard work, who like to prove their machismo via the workplace, well at least you have read something from a different point of view.
And for those of you who are at a junior level reading this, don’t let an eagerness to succeed put you off looking for balance! If you manage your time correctly then (hopefully) you will be able to achieve some balance, be more productive and build your career pretty darn quick. Good luck!
Maintaining work life balance
Maintaining work life balance is not only important for your personal health and relationships, but it can also improve the efficiency of your work performance. If you need further convincing – familiarise yourself with the below three reasons.
1. We become less susceptible to burnouts
Whilst occasional stress is normal for every job, burnouts are certainly not. According to, burnouts occur “when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands”. The negative effects of a burnout impact every area of your life, including your personal and social life. Work life balance is important as it allows you to separate work and home, meaning that the stress of work should stay at work, and not follow you outside of office hours. Allowing work stress to infiltrate your home life is one of the primary indicators that you are not achieving a work life balance. If this is happening to you, take the time to talk this over with your manager, or come up with a plan to avoid a burnout as a result of your professional demands.
2. Attention is paid where due
With a balance between work and home, comes greater control of where your focus remains. If you leave your work at the office, your full attention will be on your home life and giving your relationships the attention in which they deserve. When spending time with your partner, children or friends, your mind should be solely focused on the experience you are having, rather than thinking of work concurrently. Similarly, if you are in the office, greater focus should be paid on the tasks at hand. In turn, this makes you a more efficient worker, and demonstrates one of the many benefits of achieving a work life balance.
3. We experience fewer health problems
It’s no secret that when we are run down, tired or stressed; our immune system is the one to suffer.explains that “stress can cause a variety of symptoms and can affect your overall health and wellbeing”, from less serious conditions such as the flu, to more serious health issues such as respiratory or digestive problems. Either way, the fact that stress can impact your health so much is even more of a reason as to why maintaining a healthy work life balance is important. Taking the time to look after yourself by exercising, eating well and relaxing can contribute to limiting your health problems and make you a more efficient worker during business hours.
“Work/Life Balance” – This phrase has become something of a cliché.
Some people surmise that as long as you love what you do, there’s no such thing as work/life balance; that work/life balance is a function of “work” being something you don’t like to do, something separate from “life” or living.
I generally love to write, but when I also love to hike, cook, volunteer, and develop meaningful relationships with people, the “work” required for my writing career comes in conflict with these other activities. It’s not that I don’t like the work (or most of it, anyway); more that the “work” of writing is a necessity required to enable me to enjoy the other activities of “life” that I so relish.
And when something you do regularly is a necessity (regardless of whether you like it or not), it becomes “work”.
I believe that time management is the root of work/life balance issues for most people. I can speak for myself in saying that time management has been a crux of my full-time travels. How do I manage my writing career, research and book upcoming travel arrangements, stay in touch with family and friends, connect with new friends on the road,, and enjoy whatever the country I’m visiting has to offer (which is supposed to be the point of being a full-time traveler)?
Fitting all that in makes for a bloody long day.
Choosing from the Three Pillars of Life
There is a school of thought that says there are three pillars in life, and you can only ever excel at two of them. The three pillars are career, family & friends, and health & fitness. And at first blush, this makes sense.
If you excel at your career and like to run marathons, then you’ll spend 8-10 hours a day at the office, and another 2-4 hours training – not leaving much time for your family & friends.
If you excel at relationships with family & friends and a rewarding career, then you’ll probably have trouble finding time to exercise.
And on it goes.
This brings up the question: what defines “excelling” at something? Does it mean being the best of the best? Always rising above others? It seems that the very definition of the word “excel” implies a comparative angle that means you must exceed the average, surpassing expectations.
If this is the case, then yes, you can only ever excel at two of the three pillars in life. Somehow you must, and live with the (sometimes unfortunate) consequences of that choice.
The Courage to be Average
But what if we forgive ourselves enough to not excel? To instead, be very good at what we do (regardless of the average, or the norm), comparing ourselves not to others or some pre-set benchmark, but instead to our ideal vision of life?
What if we had the courage to simply be average at two of the three pillars, possibly excelling at just one? Or (yikes – heaven forbid) excelling at nothing, but happily balancing all three pillars?
What Time Management Really Is
Time management has only a minute relevance to the actions of planning out your day. It has little to do with “balancing” work and life in the precarious way most of us try (unsuccessfully) to.
I’d like to illustrate this by way of personal example.
When I first, I was considered to be a “full-time” volunteer, in that my 30 volunteer hours per week fully paid for my accommodation and meals. But I found this to be quite onerous over time, since I work another 14-28 hours per week on my own business.
Some people balked at my complaints that there weren’t enough hours in a day, suggesting I needed to “suck it up” by citing their own 60 hour work-weeks as being commonplace. Others who saw me guiltily tied to my computer during most of the off-hours asked me why I work so hard and suggested I was a workaholic, or that I needed to take a holiday. (Imagine that! A full-time traveler being told to take a holiday).
When I later returned to Mana to heal from the cumulative effects of, I knew that a full-time volunteer work-load wouldn’t be conducive to the down-time I was craving. So I arranged to volunteer part-time (about 18 hours per week), and pay a fee to compensate for the rest. In theory, this would allow me plenty of time to work on my writing, as well as enjoy the people and property to its fullest extent.
Instead, I found that even though I had “bought” myself an extra 12 hours per week, I still finished each day with a wild look in my eye and a sense of disappointment for not getting everything done that I wanted to.
This is when I discovered the root of my problems: I had thought that by logistically creating time in my life for the things I wanted to do, I would have a satisfactory “work/life” balance.
But this wasn’t the case. Time management, I discovered, comes from within. It has very little to do with creating space or time in our day; instead it has to do with how we view our day and how forgiving we are in setting (and sometimes revising) our expectations.
Shoot for the Stars…
By suggesting we need the courage to be average and to set forgiving expectations, I’m not saying that we should aim low in life. I believe it’s important to shoot for the stars, but also to be happy when the moon is as far as we get.
I could have returned to Mana and volunteered only five hours per week, and still I would have fought the same “time management” issues. This is partly because there is so much I like to do here, and partly because I tend to set demanding goals for myself. It compounds when all the extra time and space I create gets filled with “stuff” that isn’t necessarily on my pre-determined list of things to do, but “stuff” that is rewarding nonetheless.
Take my run-in withor : I didn’t have “time” for these encounters given what I had planned for the day, but they ended up being defining experiences for me; crucial travel encounters that unspeakably enriched my life. All I had to do was to rearrange a few of my expectations for the day and forgive myself for not getting everything done that I had intended.
Not only does time management come from within, but it evolves with our day and our lives.
And when we manage our time from within, each day truly defining for ourselves what we need to do and what we want to do – and ultimately marrying need with want– then maybe work/life balance and time management can go from clichés to misnomers.
This was originally published on.