Key learning outcomes:

  • Differentiate between the maxims, “live to work” and “work to live”.
  • Adopt a strategy that enables you to shift your mindset from work to home with ease.
  • Learn new tools that leverage your time to gain efficiencies in your daily life and improve your time management.
  • Identify activities unrelated to work that help you to unwind.

Article:

It will come as no surprise to most people that research shows that it is becoming harder and harder to create a balance between work and life. The research indicates that the average working week is now 50 hours. The rapid growth of globalisation and technology means that traditional working hours have become a thing of the past, and the vast majority of us check our work email before 7.30am. Additionally, the higher cost of living means many families need two incomes just to survive and pay the bills. There is no sign that things are going to change in the short term. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that you have strategies in place to create a work/life balance that is effective for you.

There is a traditional work/life balance strategy called “triple eight”. It means, ideally, you work for eight hours, sleep for eight hours and spend eight hours on recreational or social pursuits. While this might seem the perfect thing, for the majority of us, breaking our day up into three even chunks is just no longer going to work. Most of us work longer than eight hours a day, and eight hours of sleep is almost unheard of – and we don’t think you would describe commuting or doing household chores as “recreational pursuits”! The reality is that, for most of us, creating a work/life balance requires some juggling and planning. Here are our top 10 tips and strategies to help you on your way.

1. Leave work at work

This one sounds easier than it is. You need a trigger that shifts your mindset from work to home. We know of some busy people who rush through the door while still on the phone and think that because they are home by 7pm, they have achieved a work/life balance. It is far better to arrive home at 8pm and be ready to switch off. If you work from home, this is something that will demand an even greater effort.

Think about routines that you can put in place that will allow your mind to switch from work to home mode. Perhaps going to the gym on the way home creates a buffer, with the added benefit of exercise. Or it might just be a matter of a change of clothes or a shower. If you have children, try to set a routine with them such as doing some homework, reading a story or playing a game. Not only will this help with your mind shift, the children will love it as well. Whatever it is, try to make it a habit by sticking to the same routine for 30 consecutive days.

2. Use the big rock theory

The big rock theory is a simple yet highly effective time management tool. Our article on this theory in this section of the website goes through it in detail. Essentially, the theory states that to fit everything into your life, you need to put the important things first. Try blocking out time in your diary at the beginning of the year for holidays, and make sure you have important dates locked in so that you will never be left with that sinking feeling  when you, for example, forget a loved one’s birthday or your anniversary, or miss an important event for your children.

3. Always stop for meals

This is something that falls into the easy-to-do and easy-not-to-do category. When we get busy, often the first thing to drop out of the schedule is taking the time to eat properly. Research shows that everyone is more effective if they take breaks throughout the day. Skipping meals or eating junk food on the run is not only going to harm your long-term health, but will also leave you feeling low on energy by the end of the day. Once again you would be better to arrive home a little later with higher energy levels than feeling lethargic and irritable because your body has been denied the nourishment it needs.

4. Use leverage

Leverage allows you to get a better result with less effort. It is a wonderful tool to help create a better work/life balance. Look for ways that you can leverage your time. One example that we use is to make commuting time work more effectively for you. Set your car up with the best hands-free system that you can afford; we use one with voice activation. You can then use your travel time to make phone calls to friends, family or even work calls. Imagine if you spend 45 minutes travelling each way to work, five days a week. That equates to seven-and-a-half hours of time that you could use more effectively each week.

Another way that leverage can work for you is to use the resources that might be available to you more effectively. Think about some of the things that you do and see if there may be a way to outsource or delegate some of these tasks or activities. Sometimes we do things because we have always done them that way. When you put some thought into it, you might find that there is a better way. Also, look at how you can leverage technology to achieve efficiencies in such areas as reporting and communication. For example, perhaps you are still completing a daily report by hand, writing information into a workbook. You might now have software that can produce this for you quicker and easier at just the touch of a button.

5. Sleep better

You might not be able to get a full eight hours of sleep like the “triple eight” work/life balance theory suggests, but you can ensure that your quality of sleep is the best it can be. The Mayo Clinic in the United States suggests that making the room as sleep friendly as possible can help; this means, ideally, it should be cool, dark and quiet. It is also best to limit stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine before bed. Alcohol might help to put you to sleep, but in excess it will detract from your quality of sleep.

6. Exercise regularly

Exercise is proven to help reduce stress and make you more effective. It can be tempting when you are busy to drop this from your schedule as it does take some time and effort. The key is to start slowly and build up. So perhaps make a commitment to do some form of exercise three days per week to start with. Once you have done this for 30 days, you will find it becomes a habit and you will not want to miss your sessions. You can then add some additional days into the mix as time goes on.

7. Unplug

The digital age is certainly upon us and it is not unusual to have a group of people sitting at a table together and all on their smartphones. Advances in technology have provided some amazing benefits, but on the flip side, they have certainly  impacted the work/life balance. You can be available 24/7 these days if you want to be, and one of the keys to creating better work/life balance is not to be. At times we need to remind ourselves that the world will not end if we turn off our phone for selected periods during the day or week. At the very least, leave your phone on silent and use your voicemail as a tool for communication when it suits you. For example, if you set a deadline of 8pm for your work calls, simply change your voicemail stating that you will be unavailable until 8am the next day.

8. Learn to say no

It is important to learn to say “no”. If you don’t, work and home commitments can quickly fill up your days and weeks, leaving you with no down time. When someone asks you to do something, before you give an answer, think about whether it is something that you need to do, want to do or have to do. If you do not need to do it, or do not have to do it, and you do not want to do it, you should feel no guilt in saying no.

9. Become a time management guru

The more time you put into improving your time management skills, the better your work/life balance will be. We offer a range of learning articles and tools in this section of the website that will help. The important thing with time management is to find the tools that work best for you. Do not be afraid to try some new tools to see how they work for you, or to modify what you are doing. It might take some trial and error, but persevere and remember you need to stick to something for 30 days before it becomes a habit.

10. Be kind to yourself

If you are presently struggling with creating a work/life balance that you are happy with, one of the most important things is not to make things worse by being too hard on yourself. You have made the first step in improving things by getting this far in this article. Remember, even if you just spend an extra 5 or 10 per cent of your time over the next three months devoted to aspects of your life outside of work, it would make a huge difference to how you feel. Start today by picking just one thing and working on it, but don’t be too ambitious. For example, if you want to be home in time for the children’s dinner, start by getting home earlier one night a week. Once it becomes a habit, you can start adding an extra night or two.

You will find a lot of articles on the internet that suggest that a work/life balance is no longer attainable – that the world is now moving at such pace that we should just forget about it. We beg to differ. Of course there are greater time pressures on all of us; however, we think it comes down to this question: do you choose to “live to work” or to “work to live”? Most of our clients choose the latter, so creating a balance between work and life is no longer a choice but a necessity. “Balance” means something different for all of us, but the key is to find the right balance for you.

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