Do you regularly spend your evenings curled up on the sofa with a microwave dinner and a spreadsheet to work on? Perhaps you find yourself surreptitiously checking your work emails on your phone at family parties, on birthdays, or at Christmas?
If so, you’re not alone. For many of us, the concept of work-life balance simply doesn’t exist anymore. We’ve allowed work to creep into our own free time to the point where our homes have simply become an extension of the office.
With email, texting, and instant messaging enabling immediate communication, it’s easy to blame this lack of balance on technology. Our 24/7 access means employees are able to leave the office and still take their work home with them, making it difficult to separate work from personal life.
But when did it become acceptable for a 9 – 5 working day to become a 7 – 7 day?
While work and a career are an important part of our lives, the stats also show that many of us seem to forget it’s only a part of who we are. A 2016 study found that 60% of Brits report an unhealthy work-life balance. The report also points out that:
- Brits spend around 9 hours per weekday working, compared to 3.5 hours with their families.
- 42% of UK workers say their work-family balance is skewed towards work.
- 48% don’t have time to prepare or eat meals with the family.
Understanding Work/Life Balance
Work-life balance (WLB) is basically the amount of time and focus we choose to give our work in relation to other aspects of our lives. People’s priorities change as they grow older, develop their career, start families, and so on. This also means that WLB varies from person to person.
How’s your work-life balance? Are you satisfied with your ability to meet the demands of work and personal life? Do you regularly:
- Work more than 10 hours a day?
- Increase caffeine and/or nicotine intake just to get through each day?
- Have a reputation for letting down friends, often at the last minute?
If you do any of these, it may be time to reassess and reset.
Developing a favourable WLB starts with cultivating the right habits and becoming more productive. Since productivity is a really open-ended concept, here are some of the most important things you can focus on:
1) Work Smarter, Not Harder
Want to increase your productivity without putting in more hours at work (don’t we all!)? The first step is to improve your time management. If you’ve a tendency to procrastinate, this can end up wasting hours of valuable time – and at the end of the day, you may find you still haven’t completed your tasks.
One of the most effective techniques for dealing with this is ‘time chunking,’ which involves dividing your working day up into chunks and focusing on only one task during each section. Productivity strategists say this is far more effective than trying to multi-task, as you don’t waste valuable time having to re-start each task after every interruption.
Make a list of what you need to do each day and allocate a time slot to it. This means you know exactly what you need to do at any point in time, and not waste time thinking about it.
2) Prioritize Tasks
Does that report really need to be completed overnight? Or can it wait till tomorrow? These are basics of any project management certification concepts.
Create a list of priority tasks (with a start and end time) so that you don’t let work take over your personal time. By establishing priorities, you can also find any time-wasting activities. These can then be simplified, delegated or eliminated.
3) Ditch Multitasking
The human brain has a limited amount of resources that it can deploy at any one time. Attempting to do more than one task at once will lead to commission of errors. If you do this for long enough, the stress induced can also lead to health conditions like stomach ulcers or high blood pressure.
Instead of switching between tasks, as you attempt to do everything at once, work off your priority task list and focus on completing your most important ones first.
4) Minimize Distractions
During your working hours, anything that gets in the way of doing your job should be considered a distraction. Whether it’s an email, a text message or a social media notification, if it’s not helping to get your tasks done, it’s a hindrance.
In today’s hyper-connected world, this has become a major issue. A study by Nottingham Trent University found that the average user checks their device 85 times a day! To curb this distraction, try checking your phone or tablet only during breaks or lunchtime.
Focusing your attention on the task at hand will help you get it right the first time.
5) Emails Can Wait
Today’s technology means we are ‘always on’, and many businesses now expect emails to be responded to 24/7. One way to curb this is to do the opposite and make them wait. Make it clear to your colleagues that you will reply to emails within 24 hours.
Doing this frees you from checking emails in the evenings, on weekends, or on holiday! Firms like Daimler and Volkswagen have even banned emails sent outside regular working hours.
6) Take a Real Break
How many lunches have you had at your desk? Too many, I bet. Lunchtime may be the perfect time to get a break from work but too many people end up working during their lunch hour. Even if it’s only a short walk down the street, or taking that cup of tea away from your desk, it can help with relaxing your brain and giving you renewed focus.
Sitting at your desk for hours on end doesn’t make you more productive. Research from Stanford University found that work output is subject to the law of diminishing returns beyond a certain amount of hours. So get up and take that break.
7) Let Go of Perfectionism
At the end of the workday, do you fire up your laptop on the commute home, just to double-check your work? Do you find it hard to just let it go?
The pursuit of perfection is time-consuming and perfectionism is out of reach. As we strive for it in one area of our lives, it tends to have a damaging effect on other parts.
Do the best job possible and leave it at that.
8) Learn the Art of Saying No
Do you often find yourself regretting taking on extra responsibilities? If you are already feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do, you should learn to say no to everything else. It is not a sign of weakness to recognize and acknowledge your current limitations.
Whether it’s another meeting or another seemingly small task, if it doesn’t fit your current work or home schedule, don’t be afraid to say no.
9) Set Boundaries
To find your own work-life balance, you will need to set realistic limits. Let your co-workers and family know what you will and will not do. But be careful not to sabotage yourself – you cannot achieve WLB if you don’t respect the boundaries you have put in place. Plus, if you don’t respect them, others won’t, either.
10) Live Healthy
From Silicon Valley to Shoreditch, a lack of sleep is now seen as a bragging right. Proponents of less sleep claim Margaret Thatcher needed only four hours of sleep and could still run the country.
But you’re not her, and you don’t have a ton of staff to delegate to. Experts say adults need between seven and nine hours sleep to function at their best. Get a good night’s sleep; it will help you refresh your brain.
Following a good night’s sleep, exercise is the second best productivity tool at our disposal. A study has found that people who exercise during the day are 23% more productive at work. Another study from Stockholm University showed that people who took 30 minutes to exercise during the workday were more productive than if they worked straight through it. Additionally, you should encourage yourself and employees to eat healthy.
As the saying goes, we work to live, and not the other way around.
When it’s all said and done, remember to disconnect from technology. You don’t need to be attached to a glowing screen 24/7. Going for a walk? Leave the work phone at home. Going out to dinner? Turn off your phone!
Every device has an off button, so use it. Failure to do this will make it seem like your workdays never end.
I’m sure you’ve seen those people who spend their holidays looking for the best Wi-Fi spots, are in constant contact with the office, and often cut their holiday short to deal with an urgent issue. Your holiday is supposed to refresh and rejuvenate you.
Inherently, we know what to do, but we just allow that extra task to creep in… then another and another. These just pile up to the point where our health and relationships start to break down – but it doesn’t have to be this way.
WLB may not be the easiest thing to attain these days, but the key is finding the point where the equilibrium doesn’t tip in favour of work at the expense of your well-being. Start small, and aim to be just 1% more efficient in each of the areas above – you’ll soon see a huge difference in your productivity.
Image from http://www.omniagroup.com/work-life-balance/