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Work – Life Balance: What Does it Really Mean?

Nov 6, 2015

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By Jim Edmondson

Work-life balance has been defined as a comfortable state of equilibrium achieved between an individual’s priorities at their job and their private lifestyle. Most psychologists would agree that the demands of a person’s career should not overwhelm their ability to enjoy a satisfying personal life outside of the workplace. Simply put, work-life balance refers to a healthy balance between work and the other aspects of our lives. It is leaving the issues or worries of each at the door as we enter the other world, and not allowing one or the other to dominate.

Work-life balance does not mean an equal balance. Trying to schedule an equal number of hours for each of your various work and personal activities is almost always unrewarding and unrealistic. Life is and should be more fluid than that. Work-life balance means something different to every individual.

There have been times when I was the poster child for bad work–life balance behavior. In my home office and my last job I had a sign in my office that read “Never leave for tomorrow what you can get done today.” I was king of the 3:00 a.m. or weekend emails and I wore my 10 hour days, seven days a week, work ethic as a badge of honor. Then a funny thing happened. I realized that I could be a much better leader, employee, manager, husband and friend when I took the time to focus on achieving balance. I still struggle sometimes to achieve that balance but I have found that when I live a more balanced life, I’m happier, healthier, and more productive.

These days, achieving a work-life balance can seem like an impossible feat. Technology makes us accessible around the clock. Fears of job loss incentivize longer hours. In fact, a survey by HR professionals in 2012 revealed that in North America, a whopping 94% of working professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly half said they worked more than 65 hours per week. To help avoid a poor work-life balance, I have compiled some simple tips that can help you find the balance that is right for you.

Let go of perfectionism

A lot of overachievers, regrettably like me, develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on their time are limited to school, sports, and maybe an after-school job. It’s easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as a kid, but as we grow up, life gets more complicated. As we climb the ladder at work and as our families grow, our responsibilities mushroom. Perfectionism becomes out of reach, and as we strive for it in one area it can become destructive to the other. A healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence.

 

Understand what really matters

Over the years, I have seen too many people spend too much time working on things that don’t really matter. Time is the most valuable commodity in life: it is the one thing you cannot buy more of. So, don’t waste time. Focus on what really matters. What really moves the needle for the Institute? Are you working on priorities that drive the overall goals of the Institute or are you just making noise? Really scrutinize your day and max it out every hour, minute and second to focus on the most important outputs. For some, this may require a high degree of planning and structure. If you are better organized it will lend itself to productivity and allow you to leave work at work.

Embrace the off button

Pretty much every piece of technology has an off button, so use it. It is not easy and for many people this is the hardest thing to do; and often, workdays never seem to end. There are times when we should just shut our phone off and enjoy the moment. When you are on vacation, be on vacation. Don’t bring your tablet to the beach. Once you have done it a few times, it is easier to push the boundaries. When you unplug and step back, you will start to experience one of life’s greatest treasures — perspective when you step away and think as opposed to just diving in and responding in the moment. You will think about problems you are wrestling with greater clarity. You allow yourself the freedom to be more analytical and less emotional. Technological advancements has helped our lives in many ways. But it has also created expectations of constant accessibility. So don’t text at your kid’s soccer game and don’t send work emails while you’re hanging out with family. Make quality time true quality time. By not reacting to the updates from work, you will develop a stronger habit of resilience. Resilient people feel a greater sense of control over their lives, while reactive people have less control and are more prone to stress.

Respect boundaries

You cannot achieve your balance if you don’t respect the boundaries you have put in place. It will be hard in the beginning but you need to stick with it so you develop a routine and drive a culture and lifestyle of predictability. You will find that there is also something else you can do. There is always another email to reply to or a problem to work, but you need to PERSONALLY respect your boundaries. If you don’t then you can’t expect others to respect them.

Start small. Build from there

We’ve all been there: crash diets that fizzle out. New Year’s resolutions we forget by February. It’s the same with work-life balance when we take on too much too quickly. I have seen it too many times, someone looking for balance commits to drastic changes: cutting their hours from 60 hours a week to 40, bumping up their daily run from zero miles a day to five miles a day. It’s a recipe for failure. Our minds and habits just aren’t wired that way. Make small achievable goals and move forward from there.

Be open about your needs

I believe that the first thing that people need to do is identify what truly matters to them and communicate it. Don’t hide it and don’t expect others to guess what makes you feel balanced and fulfilled. Do you need to leave work at 4:30 p.m. so you can have dinner with your family? Do you need to step away at 12 p.m. to attend a yoga class? Whatever your sweet spot is you need to find it and be transparent about it. Employees need to have an open dialogue with their managers to come to an understanding of what the individual wants and what is possible. Different jobs require different approaches, but everyone can benefit from having an open and honest conversation about what balance means.

The best individual work-life balance will vary over time, often on a daily basis. The right balance for an individual today will likely be different tomorrow. The right balance for you when you are single will most assuredly be different than when you’re married, or when you have children; when you start a new career versus when you are nearing retirement.

There is no perfect one-size fits all balance you should be striving for. The best work-life balance is different for each of us because we all have different priorities and different lives. HR and health experts agree: the compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness.

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