We've all heard about the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, so it's incredible how few of us actually achieve the Holy Grail. Juggling priorities isn't easy, especially when they're changing all the time.
You probably want the perfect job and the perfect lifestyle but it's best to accept that the two may prove mutually exclusive. There are, however, several steps you can take in the right direction.
- Just say no – We all like to be diligent and well-respected but we also need to be realistic. Some tasks are essential and some are not. In the latter case, a polite refusal can lower stress and lower expectations. Looking over a colleague's work before it's submitted is probably a favor – not a requirement. Likewise, dropping your neighbors' kids off at school is a lovely thing to do – but less so if it's making you late for meetings. Don't feel guilty. Just try to be fair.
- Where does the time go? – Managing your time is just as important as managing others' expectations. Is the time you are dedicating to personal or professional tasks proportionate to their importance? If not, cut back. If two hours at the gym have little or no effect more than one, then don't force it. You're probably tiring yourself out - and this could adversely affect your work performance. Slice your life up sensibly!
- Take a flexible approach – Some of us are bound by our working hours but, for many, options are increasingly open. Ask your employer what's achievable for you. "Flexi" working time is a common way of ensuring that workers complete the tasks expected of them in the time expected of them – but not necessarily within hoursdictated to them. You may also have the opportunity to work from home if it's feasible. Don't be afraid to ask!
- Work is for the workplace – You should of course only work from home when you have to. There will inevitably be times when you need to respond to an issue outside of working hours. But just because you have a BlackBerry or work email access on your laptop, that doesn't mean you're duty-bound to stay surgically attached to either. Remember the rule about managing expectations. If you constantly behave as though you're on call, your employer is liable to treat you as though you are.
- You're not alone – Self-sufficiency is a great asset, but it isn't always healthy. You're allowed to ask favors of your friends and close colleagues; that's what they're there for. And if you're a manager – delegate. They may not say so, but your subordinates expect it. Think of all the time you'll free up if you just occasionally ask for help. Don't lean too heavily on others – but don't avoid asking in times of need. You can always pay them back in kind.
- Family matters – You may believe that the money you earn from your employer keeps your family afloat – but there's more to stability than salary. Make time for your family and stick to it. Allocating hours to your nearest and dearest can certainly seem clinical – but there's much more likelihood that you'll stick to your other commitments and avoid letting your partner and/or children down. If you know that a family occasion is etched in your diary, you have a far better chance of working around it.
- Use your holidays – Annual leave exists for a reason. You may think you're indispensible in your workplace, but the onus is on your employer to cope in your absence. Far too many people forgo the holidays available to them out of a sense of duty to those who pay their wage. But remember that your productivity is greatly increased by regular periods of rest – and your employer ought to encourage those!
- Look after yourself – Yes, holidays are invaluable times for rest and relaxation. But your work-life balance will benefit from strong mental and physical health throughout the rest of the year. So, stay active and stay engaged with activities you enjoy outside of the workplace. Also - never use the excuse that you've no time to cook or no time to eat. Make time! Your personal and your professional lives need nourishment. You'll feel better for it – and so will those you live and work with!
Eight rules may sound like a lot to adapt to. But even if you try to adopt one or two – you'll be paving the way to a life of greater happiness.