Do you have a good work/life balance? Do I? Does anyone?
Ironically, I wonder if this topic on the whole can make people feel a little uncomfortable. Are there fears amongst the work/life balance ‘achievers’ that people will think they are not dedicated enough to their careers? And on the other side, if we are to admit to not having this balance do we fear people will think we are too career minded and not family oriented enough?
To understand this concept a little deeper and hopefully quash the niggling discomfort in the small of your back the next time someone broaches this topic, in this article, we will explore exactly what a work/life balance is, why it is important and how to go about finding it in the modern working world. But before we dive in, perhaps take a moment for yourself to think about where you find meaning and purpose in life. It could be through work, family, hobbies or something else entirely. Aligning to your values may help you notice when life is out of balance.
There are two questions that can help you realise where your values lie that you can ask yourself in most situations:
What do I really want here?
What can I do right now to express or move toward it?
By being honest with yourself about what you want and acting on your true values you become authentic. It can be unnerving to show up as our authentic selves as it makes us vulnerable. However, vulnerability is an essential part of finding our balance and realising our values.
So WHAT is a Work/Life Balance?
The Oxford dictionary defines a work/life balance as:
“The division of one's time and focus between working and family or leisure activities.”
I’d like to highlight the word focus. This is perhaps the most important part of this definition. We can be physically with our families or at a leisure activity, but if our minds are still in work mode, we are not fully present. And not being able to switch off from work and live in the moment in our personal lives is a key sign we are not achieving a good work/life balance. We may think that the time we spend away from our screens and office means that we’re not working, but if we’re still thinking about work, making plans and consciously processing the working day, we are.
There are many reasons we need a break from work. Even if we love our job and get joy from our working lives there are other areas of life that require and deserve our full attention and our brains need rest and a switch of focus to perform. Our partners, families, friends, hobbies and bodies all need a present mind feeding them regularly to keep our relationships with others and ourselves healthy. We are not built for monotony so changing up what our minds are focusing on can help keep the brain active.
We have identified three key themes to help you achieve a good work/life balance. They all require the most important driver toward this: a positive and self-affirming mindset. The way we think about ourselves, our lives and our work is extremely powerful. Start by allowing yourself to have a work/life balance, knowing it is not only good for your home life but also good for your working life.
VALUE yourself and the work you do, this includes thinking, planning and reviewing time. Yes, it all counts. Try not to fall into feeling guilty when you’re not working. You both need and deserve time off, time out and rest. Your work also needs this time out so your mind can perform appropriately when it is work time again.
MANAGE your time. As we highlighted in our article The Complexity of Simplicity, if we do not organise our time appropriately life can get overwhelming and stressful and, if we are not careful, work and family life can slip into each other.
REVIEW what works and what doesn’t for you personally. No two workers are exactly alike when it comes to how they achieve their ideal work/life balance.
We are all unique; we work, live and achieve results in different ways. We also have different family commitments and hobbies. For some, a work/life balance may be based on working a set number of hours in one go, for example 9-5, and ensuring we switch off the rest of the time. Others may prefer to do little spurts of high focused work with longer breaks, perhaps starting the official working day earlier and ending later. Whatever works for you is perfectly valid.
Complications may arise when we try to align our ideal working pattern with the company we work with, so bear in mind that you may need to be flexible and understand what is achievable in alignment with the needs of the company. Hopefully, if your current working pattern is not feeling right, you can have a conversation with your manager about reasonable adjustments to your schedule. If they are a good manager they will value you, manage you appropriately and review what works for you and the company regularly.
Whether work/life balance is myth or matter is really up to you and how you choose to approach it. Our advice is to really focus on your core values, align your life to match how the authentic you wants to work and don’t get trapped into feelings of shame because you’re either ‘succeeding’ or ‘failing’ at work/life balance as, actually, it’s not a question of achievement and failure. You won’t win any medals for finding a balance but you might find peace of mind, something I think we could all do with more of. Good luck.