When people talk about ‘work life balance’ what they actually mean is ‘doing less work, so you can spend more time with your family’. Here’s how.
In 2009 An Australian palliative care nurse wrote down the five regrets she’d heard most from the dying. This is the second one on the list:
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
We all need to work and we all have to pay the bills. Yet as much as we enjoy our jobs or the company of colleagues, our work shouldn’t take over our actual lives. So how do we get that balance back, so we can spend more time with friends and family, working to live, instead of living to work?
The first step of re-balancing your work and life priorities is to realise that you have to do something about it, you have to speak up. Your boss isn’t going to waft down on fairy wings and make life easier for you unless you let them know when they’re asking too much and conceding too little.
If you’re stressed, keep a private log of hours worked, both at the office and if you have to take work home. You should do this over a month or two so you get a real idea of the hours you’re keeping, if only for your own understanding.
Leave on time
We’ve all felt the pressure, even if it’s unofficial and unspoken, to stay in the office a bit later than we’d like to. And we all know that sometimes we really do have to work late – it’s part of being in a team.
But if it’s happening regularly, that’s a sign you need reclaim the right to leave on time. You can look into what’s happening – either you’re being given too much to do, or projects aren’t being planned properly – but always try to find the reason and suggest a solution.
It’s OK to say no
A great piece of advice that I was given was to manage your manager. That means keeping them updated with the status of jobs and deadlines, taking the pressure off them to keep an eye on you.
But it also means learning to say no. Not in a huffy-puffy toddler type of way, but in a calm and reasoned manner where you can say that taking on any extra work right now isn’t going to be possible, because it will affect your other tasks, quite apart from the impact on your personal life.
Work when you’re at work
Often people will complain about being overworked, but won’t pay attention to the time they spend on Facebook or futzing around at their desks. Of course we must take regular breaks and eat lunches away from our desks, but when it’s time to work then get down to it, without distraction.
If you’ve been clear to your boss about how much of a workload you can handle, you should find your productivity increases, reducing your levels of stress. You will also find it easier to leave on time, since you’re hitting your targets.
Here’s a video based on the Pomodoro technique – spend 25 minutes working at full concentration, then take a short break. Use this to help you get into the habit of working and relaxing.
And if you have to work at home
Then you must set a definite start and end time and pick one place in your house where you’ll work, whether that’s a spare room or always using one chair at the kitchen table.
Having a fix period to work stops the drip-drip-drip of work over your whole evening, so it doesn’t spill into meals or family time. By picking a single spot, you’re also cordoning off your job emotionally, stopping the feeling that it’s taking over your private space.
Ultimately, it’s not about an either/or situation. Show that you can be generous with your time and effort and expect the bosses to be the same with their understanding (after all, they need to have a work life balance, too).
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