When I was working full-time as a primary school teacher, I worked 7.30am to 6pm most days, with extra working time several evenings a week and at least one weekend day. Not a good lifestyle if you have young children. Steve worked in hotels and commercial restaurants, clocking up around 60+ hours a week. As far as we were concerned, neither of those jobs was going to be sustainable when we had children. We made the decision to both work part-time, although since becoming so busy this year I am now working full-time hours, albeit during unconventional times!
We don't always get it right, but we do have some tips on how to improve that elusive work-life balance. Most of us put the rest of life over our work, or at least want to. Who would ever say that they wanted to live to work rather than work to live?! In today's busy world, prioritising between your personal life and your work can be a huge challenge, but you owe it to yourself and your family to make it better.
1. Figure Out Your Priorities
What do you want to spend your time doing? Make a list of 5 top priorities, the things you would most like to spend your time doing, whether it be studying a new language, playing with your kids, writing a novel, or walking your Great Dane for five hours a day. Think about money too: could you cut back, or change your lifestyle and expectations? So often people say they wish they could do what we do but they 'have to' pay for their car/afford their holidays/pay their huge mortgage. Really? If that's your choice, fine, but don't say you 'have to' have them! Rethink your priorities and expectations, and maybe you could work part-time and manage on less money but more fun. Look at all the possibilities.
2. Do a Time Management Study
As we talked about in our popular Spring Clean Your Life post, keeping an account of exactly how you spend your time over a two week period is a revelation. It is truly shocking how much time you spend doing things that don't actually matter to you, and you will be shocked how little time you devote to the 5 priorities you listed above.
3. Do What You Want to Do
Got your priorities, got your time plan, now fill it with what you love. All of us have 168 hours a week to spend as we please. Dedicate 8 hours a day to sleep, and you still have 16 hours left to spend as you choose to. Cut out the stuff you don't need to do, cut out the stuff you don't want to do. If you can, employ someone else to do some of it, or delegate it, but seriously, question whether a lot of it actually needs to be done. And cut down your TV time!! How many better things could you do with the 20 hours a week you spend watching TV?!
4. Keep Work to Work Hours
I'm sorry to break this to you, but no-one is indispensable. Even the world's top CEOs (the happy ones) spend time with their family and turn their laptops and phones off sometimes. Get into the habit of switching it all off and concentrating on real life and real people for a few hours a day. Concentrate on one thing at a time: when you are working, work. When you are spending time with your family, focus solely on them. Laptop, phone, tablet, off; and likewise, ask people not to interrupt your working day unless it is an absolute emergency.
5. Minimise Your Work Time
First of all, cut your commute. A recent study showed that a commute of longer than 20 minutes can lead to burn out, and suggested that more flexible start and end times for work would increase employee efficiency, not least because employees would be happier having found that elusive work-life balance. If you live in the commuter belt but work in central Lonon, a move inwards to leafier, but easily accessible locations like Twickenham would be ideal.
Then, request flexibility. Bite the bullet and ask your employer if they would consider offering flexible working conditions. If you are a parent to under 5s then they have to consider it, and it's certainly worth anyone else asking too! Maybe starting earlier in the day would help balance your life, or working from home a day or two a week. It doesn't hurt to ask, what's the worst they can say? Put it to them that they will benefit from your increased focus and commitment if you're personal life is better.
When you are working, manage your time well. Focus on one thing at a time, have set times for checking your e-mail, cut the colleague chat time right back, and don't do any non-work tasks in work time. Keep your eye on the work ball at all times, get your work done in less time, and leave bang on time so you can spend your time doing what you want to do.
Set some work priorities too, just like you did with your personal ones. Whether they be to further your goals, move on to a new role or company, or to acquire new skills, list your priorities and work out how they can be achieved through work choices today.
6. Learn to Say No
Both in your personal life and your work life, learn to say a firm but polite no with a smile. Keep your priorities in mind and only agree to those projects, appointments and activities which fit. Ask yourself how much you want to do whatever you are being asked. Will it improve your work or personal life? Does it fit with your 5 life or work priorities? If not, say no firmly but politely and remember that it shows a clear understanding of your priorities.
7. Plan Good Stuff
Schedule in gym sessions, time with your children or friends, evening and weekend activities, just like you would work appointments. And stick to them. Schedule at least one thing that you can look forward to each day, even if it's just a long bubble bath with a good book! You probably wouldn't dream of rescheduling a work commitment without a very, very good reason. Give your personal commitments the same priority.
8. Look After Yourself
Eat well. Plan healthy, nutritious meals and snacks. Drink plenty of water. Exercise. Not only will you feel better, but you will be more efficient and have more energy too. Ban electronics from the bedroom, no more sleeping with your phone. You'll be amazed how much better you sleep!
Scheduling in a daily walk is one of the best things we have done as a family. It gives us a great start to the day, quality time to chat, and it gives us more vigour for the rest of the day too.
9. Have a REAL Holiday
Now this one I am not great at, being self-employed I feel obliged to check e-mails and keep up with what's going on all the time, but I know it's not good for me! We're away for the next couple of weeks and I do have to take some work with me, but I am determined to take at least one week of that off. No laptop, nothing. And guess what, you should do the same! Turn your phone off, leave your laptop and tablet at home, and enjoy your free time with friends and family.
10. Keep Checking In
Evaluate your work-life balance regularly, take time every month to reflect on where you are and where you would like to be. Make sure your personal and career priorities stay as they were, and that you are only taking on work and personal commitments that fit with them. Check you are using your 168 hours as you want to and not letting the junk stuff creep back in.
By following, and repeating, these tips you should be able to move some way towards achieving harmony between your work and your personal life, and enjoying both of them as much as possible. Remember, it's more judgment than luck. Do it today!
And don't forget to enter our competitions!