Work life balance

Illustration of man juggling work and parenthood

In modern life, an imbalance between work and home life is inevitable – and usually signals our devotion to something very important to us. The big task, then, is not to find the perfect balance, but to be able to choose your particular imbalance wisely.

The inevitability of imbalance

It’s easy to set yourself up for an unrealistic work-life balance and then fall into two problem areas.

You might try to cram everything into one particular amount of time and then feel disappointed that you can never manage to fit everything in. Or, you might think ‘I’ll just work as hard as possible for the next 25 years so I can finally do what I want when I retire’. Neither of these is optimal for your well-being.

Secondly, the demands of work tend to be clear and precise. You are told what needs to be done and by when. But the ‘life’ side of the equation is harder to pin down. At home you can put things off or tell yourself a walk in the park or coffee with a friend is not a pressing priority.

In this article we help you to focus more on a particular area of your life. It might be your relationship, the baby, the promotion, the new job – each of these requires a concentration and devotion so intense that it pushes the most reasonable of other goals aside. What’s needed is a more refined perspective on managing our time.

Choosing your imbalance

Everyone talks about getting their work-life balance in order and it’s important to get the most out of your life, by finding a solution that’s right for you.

For example, if your career gives you great satisfaction and is a big source of motivation in life, it may be exactly the right choice for you to spend an enormous amount of your time at work. After all, as the essayist Anais Nin noted, the most meaningful achievements in civilisation have always come from a certain kind of excess - from people who were willing to put in a lot more time on something than everyone else around them. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to work exceptionally hard - or not to. The clincher is whether it is something you have consciously chosen.

We need to select our focus and then develop our own, very personal, work-life balance to match it. This won’t be the same as everyone else’s, because we’re all unique, with different responsibilities and delights.

Choosing a focus also means emphasising some things at the expense of others, which means that we’ll inevitably have to accept sacrifices and trade-offs. We can’t do it all, so something will have to go in order for us to commit to something else we care about even more.

It can be painful to think about making these sacrifices, and therefore difficult to adopt a more single-minded focus. One way to uncover the best imbalance might be to consider what the worst outcome would be. You might ask yourself, what will I most regret not having done?

Managing your imbalance

Whatever our personal balance looks like, there are some things that will always be essential; for example, staying physically healthy, eating well, spending time with our families and getting enough sleep. If we let these things slide, we may find ourselves lacking the energy to support our chosen imbalance, however passionate we feel about it.

Below are some practical tips that may help:.

If you feel the ‘life’ side of your work-life balance needs more attention:

  • Celebrate what you’ve accomplished in the day, rather than worrying about what remains.
  • Take a digital blackout, and turn off your phone before bedtime. Feeling that you need to be ‘always online’ can be very stressful and can get in the way of real conversations or a good night’s sleep.
  • Commit to a regular ritual or fun routine with your family or loved ones, and prioritise this over anything else during the set time.
  • Set aside some ‘me time’ to do the things that make you happy, this is crucial to staying balanced and in control.
  • Stand up for your health: we know that sitting for long periods at our desks can be bad for us, but getting enough exercise doesn’t need to involve hitting the gym every day. It might mean walking an extra stop to the bus or suggesting the occasional ‘walking meeting’. Taking just a little exercise each day can make you more creative and productive.

If you would like to be more engaged by the ‘work’ side of your work-life balance:

  • Set a new professional goal. Sometimes we get caught up in the day-to-day and lose track of our long-term ambitions. In this way we can end up falling short of our true potential. Regain focus by taking some time to consider what you’d like your next professional step to be.
  • Boost your daily ambition. It’s good to have big goals, but you can also benefit from small ones. You might try mini-goals designed to increase your productivity and effectiveness.
  • Make time to get out for a healthy lunch – it’s easy to fall into eating a quick snack ‘al desko’, but over time, failing to take adequate breaks and eat healthily will make you less efficient and productive.
  • Schedule dinner or coffee with colleagues or other professional contacts. It’s never too late to build up your professional relationships - or form new ones.

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