Most of us lead very busy lives. We are striving to juggle career goals and ambitions, while cultivating our personal lives beyond the workplace. For most, that includes time with our families, as well as the pursuit of health, leisure and recreational activities. This inherent tension between “work” and “life” goals has become known as a “work-life balance”, and though the effort to strike a proper balance is a worthy endeavor, succeeding in doing so is often difficult and demanding.
We are working more. Some of us have jobs that require us to work 40-60 hours a week, sometimes even more. And some of us have long, arduous commutes to the office, which can dramatically stretch the length of the workday. On top of that, the invention of new technology – from smart phones to tablets and laptops – has blurred the boundaries between work and personal time. There is a notion that we are always on, always available, always plugged into work, and if an issue should arise – even on nights or weekends – the expectation is that we will address it, regardless of other personal priorities.
There seems to be a consensus among human resource professionals that long hours and the never-ending workday are taking its toll on American workers. The stress it is creating can be a source of problems in their health, relationships, happiness and even their productivity at work. As a result, striking a work-life balance is even more critically important but in reality, is it achievable or is it just an elusive, impractical myth?
In previous blogs, I have written extensively about how life is often a series of trade-offs – more of one thing generally means less of another – and each of us has to define for ourselves what is most important to us. Would you rather spend more time at work in hope of climbing the corporate ladder, or is spending time with family a higher priority? Are you willing to forego weekends off and vacations in favor of more responsibilities at work?
Work-life balance means something different to every individual, but here are a few tips that may help you to discover the balance that works best for you:
Technology is a double-edged sword. The same devices that keep you tethered to work can, at times, set you free. Many employers these days allow their employees to work remotely under certain circumstances. This arrangement would allow you to save on commuting time to and from work, in addition to saving money and reducing stress.
Also, as long as everything is agreeable, you might be able to combine a family visit or a long weekend getaway with a commitment to telecommute during the day. Most employers are amenable to this kind of arrangement as long as the work is being done. The point is to make technology work for you.
Though technology can work in your favor, there are times when you simply have to unplug. There are times when you have to shut off your phone and fully enjoy the moment in front of you. Whether it’s watching your child’s soccer game, or engaging with family and friends, or involved in some form of exercise or meditation, it’s important to completely disengage in order to enjoy true quality time away from work. You are likely to be a happier and more productive employee if you do.
As I mentioned above, you must first decide what’s most important in your life. Then, you can establish firm boundaries around those high-priority activities and people. After that, it will be easier to determine what can be trimmed from your schedule so that your genuine needs can be met.
For instance, are social media and internet surfing consuming large chunks of your time? Are less productive people at work making unnecessary demands on you time? Are you spending too much time socializing with co-workers after work when that time might be better spent?
Again, it’s all about trade-offs and knowing that time is a precious, finite resource. It’s best to focus on the people and activities that reward you the most.
The reality is there’s never going to be a perfect equilibrium in the balance between work and life. However, if you’re genuinely committed to making some changes in order to become better aligned with your true priorities, it’s probably best to start small. Drastic changes in either your work or personal life are usually a recipe for disaster. Start by making small changes and allow your work-life balance to evolve naturally over time.
Finally, be prepared to reassess your priorities in life as changes occur. Marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, a promotion, a relocation – all of these life events can cause a shift in your priorities and impact your work-life balance. Along with your spouse, reassess your priorities and goals every few years to make sure they are still aligned and still on track.
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