Those three all-important words that most of us have contemplated, worried about and strived for at some stage in our career: ‘work-life balance’ — but how do we define it and is it really attainable? Linda Bridge, career and life coach and founder of Accelerista Coaching talks us through how to get an achievable and long-lasting balance between your personal and work life.
As a professional career and life coach, I talk about this every day with clients. Indeed, a recent survey suggests a quarter of professionals are dissatisfied with their work-life balance. Everyone wants balance, but many of us have no idea how to go about achieving it. We live in a world where ‘success’ quite often equals long hours, being on call 24/7 and a perception that to really stand out, our career should often take priority over everything else in our life. The UK hasn’t got a great reputation, with the average Brit putting in an around 39.2 hours per week, but many working much more.
Technology doesn’t help; even when we eventually leave the office we’re often still online. It’s easy for the fine line between work life and home life to be constantly skewed. Before we know it, we’re caught up in a never-ending cycle of living to work, with very little downtime. Ultimately, this can have a detrimental effect on all areas of our life and usually our work suffers too.
So what does work-life balance really look like? You’ll find lots of definitions out there but I’ve come to realise there really isn't a ‘one size fits all’ ideal. All of us are leading different lives with different priorities, passions and dreams. We each have a different set of values which defines who we are and what makes us happy. What feels right for one person may not for another.
The definition of balance also changes over time. What we want from our life in our 20s may not be the same in our 30s or 40s. For me, the best work-life balance is when you generally feel happy, healthy and able to spend time on all the areas of your life that truly fulfil you.
With the emergence of dedicated wellbeing policies to support employees, there is a growing recognition that it needs to be central to the way that organisations do their business. This is great to see, however, a culture of presenteeism is still very real and every individual has a responsibility to change that.
Here are my 7 top tips for you to stop your career taking over your life:
1. Define your idea of ‘happy’
In order to find the right balance for you, you need to define what’s really important to you. It sounds simple, but when was the last time you actually took a step back and asked yourself that question? Think about your life as a whole and identify what really feeds your energy. Think about your family, your relationships, your career, what you like to do for fun. Think about the things you want to do to develop yourself. Take some time out and allow yourself to think big picture. In an ‘ideal world’ how would you be spending your time? Compare it to the time you are allocating to those areas right now. Where are the big differences?
2. Ensure you’re in the right job
We spend a lot of time at work. Research shows that those who are most satisfied and motivated by their work are in careers which reflect who they really are; careers which reflect their true nature and their real passions; careers which draw on their innate strengths and employ their favourite skills; careers which allow them to honour their deeply-held values. Are you getting up in the morning feeling truly fulfilled or are you continuing in your job just ‘because’?
3. Set small goals to make big changes
It’s one thing knowing you need to spend more time on other things, finding the time is another, right? The good news is you don’t need to turn your world upside down to introduce some positive changes. Small steps are very powerful. Think about an area you want to spend more time on. Maybe it’s a new hobby, seeing an old friend, making more time for your family. Identify one thing you’d like to do more often and find a free hour in your week. Don’t just think about doing it, schedule it in your diary, then stick to it. You’ll be surprised how you can find time when you see it as a priority. The key thing is taking action. Remember, small steps lead to big changes.
4. Avoid the noise
It’s common to feel like you never get to the end of that to do list. You start with a good intention to achieve, then your day disappears and before you know it, it’s home time. Scrutinise how you spend your working day. Think about the tasks which are really making an impact to your overall goals and those that are zapping your time. Be selfish with your time and remove the noise. Max out every hour and you’ll enjoy the results it brings.
5. Learn to say no
We routinely overestimate the cost of saying no. One person really can’t do it all and you need to be the one that controls how you prioritise your time. Eliminate the guilt. Say no politely and you’ll earn more respect, whilst giving yourself back some all important time to focus on what’s important.
6. Health comes first
It’s widely known that stress, mental exhaustion and fatigue affects your ability to work productively. Ensure you always make time for exercise, eat well, enjoy regular fresh air and have a good night’s sleep. If you look after yourself, you will boost your energy levels, feel more alert and you’ll be able to concentrate much better during your day.
7. Guard your downtime!
Technology follows us everywhere. Work is accessible around the clock and you can easily fall into the trap of never switching off. Hit the off button and protect your private time. Set your own clear boundaries and then respect them. Switch your phone off and enjoy your time away from work. Also, ensure your holidays are just that. The more you cross the line and allow work to creep in, the more others will expect that of you and the cycle will continue.