Work-Life Balance has been a hot topic for a number of years. It’s sometimes hard to recall our lives prior to covid, but finding balance was definitely challenging for many.
Some people may consider they have a better work-life balance since the pandemic started, requiring them to work from home. This certainly saves time and effort on commuting and allows for other elements of life to become more visible and prominent.
However, for others, their work-life balance is far worse with the lines between work and other elements of non-work life more blurred than ever.
Below, I explore what work-life balance is and whether it’s the same for everyone. I look at the consequences of poor work-life balance as well as some of the benefits of getting it right. I also share 8 ways for a better work-life balance. Most importantly, I have developed an online course for those who struggle with work-life balance, check it out here.
Define work-life balance
Work-life balance isn’t just how many hours you work or how flexible your employer is, but these can play a role. It encompasses the division of time & focus between work & family or leisure activities. It’s also the balance that a working individual needs between time allocated for work & other aspects of life. Note that ‘work’ could include employed work, running your own business, or even studying.
In simple terms, it’s about having enough time for all the things you want to accomplish in and out of work.
Does work-life balance exist?
There isn’t a unique definition or a one-size-fits-all approach. We are all different and have different needs, preferences, and tolerances. What works well for one person could be totally unacceptable for others, even in the same organization or team. This is actually an important point to bear in mind for anyone with management responsibilities.
The appropriate work-life balance for a particular person could also change or evolve over time or during different life phases.
If I think back over the 25 years I’ve been working, the number of hours worked has changed based on what was going on outside work (in terms of study, childcare, and other commitments) as much as the ebbs and flows of the work itself.
I also worked remotely for a few years in the middle of my career. I’d often log on at early a.m. and log off again at late p.m. but my days were punctuated by family, meals, exercise, and other life events. Yet, that balance suited me well.
What gets out of balance?
I’m not sure too many people would be overly concerned if their work-life balance was skewed towards life or non-work aspects. Most of us work to live, after all, and this is obviously a good thing. Although some people probably fear for the security of their role, or ability to progress within their organization, in case their lack of commitment is sensed.
However, when we talk of being out of balance, this is almost certainly because work is taking up more time than desired.
This often starts on a temporary or ad hoc basis and can become more permanent and habitual. Over time it can become a working norm and often affects others in the same team or organization.
Reasons, why people work long hours, including simply having too much work to fit into normal working hours, the culture of the organization and not wanting to be seen as incompetent or uncommitted.
Consequences of poor balance
There are various consequences of a poor work-life balance.
In the short term, these probably start with unhappiness and tiredness. However, when it prolongs, it can lead to frustration and resentment. Resentment about other employees who don’t work the same hours or against their manager or the organization who expects it. This in turn can lead to mistakes (potentially dangerous ones), as well as disengagement from the task at hand or the organization.
Ultimately, the poor work-life balance could make us sick. Either leads to burnout or other stress-related illnesses, or it could lower our immune systems leading to more chances of getting sick.
Benefits of a good balance
There are some important benefits of having a good work-life balance.
You’ll feel happier and more in control of your work and life in general. You’ll stop missing out on other important parts of your life e.g. time with family or taking a break. There will be less risk of sickness and poor mental health associated with the stress of working long hours.
Finding a better work-life balance
I’d love to share a silver bullet, but alas, I’m not completely immune to the lures of my laptop. However, there are a number of things that we can do to have a better work-life balance.
Understand what’s important – one of the first things to do is understand what’s important to you in life. Maybe if you only want to get promoted and earn more money, then having a poor work-life balance may be OK. But that’s probably not for you, you’re reading this article after all. So, what is important to you? Family, opportunities to travel, and personal development. It’s great to articulate these and maybe create a vision board as a visual reminder.
Boundaries – being able to set, articulate and stick to your boundaries goes a long way to reclaiming your life. You may want to do this in steps e.g. I’ll stop work at 8 pm, then 7 pm, then 6 pm to make progress in the right direction. Or you may be ready for a big-bang approach!
Time Management – there are so many tools and techniques out there, but take a look at what’s working for you right now and what isn’t. If you tend to procrastinate or get distracted, focus on these specific areas and look for ways to help you. Often the simpler solutions are better e.g. turning notifications off.
Time blocking – blocking time out in your diary to do certain things. Your day is divided up, it includes stop-and-start markers and helps you batch things together. Over time, you also get better at estimating how much certain tasks take, allocating the right time block.
Building up other interests – go back to point 1. Understand what’s important. Set objectives around these, and even better set some compelling goals. Not just more time with family, but quantify or describe what this looks like and why it’s important.
The One Thing – I love this question from the book The One Thing, “What is the one thing I could do right now to make everything else easier or unnecessary?” Go on, give it a go. It can really help you to identify and focus on things that will help you to shift the needle.
With our busy modern lives, poor work-life balance has become a challenge for many. Further, the lines between work and other elements of non-work life have become more blurred than ever.
Alas, I don’t have a silver bullet. However, there are a number of things that we can do to have a better work-life balance.
Thanks for reading. Check out other Blue Diamond articles to help you take control of your work and life.