I often get asked how I manage to do so much and the truth is I don’t. I generally feel like a fraud when someone says this to me. There have been times when I haven’t been looking after myself and when I felt guilty for taking time out to read a book. It has taken a mindset shift and a lot of years to have a more balanced approach to work and life in a way which works for me.
Get rid of the word balance
Balance suggests equal which can come with its own pressures. The truth is, you cannot be balanced in the literal sense all the time. It doesn’t work like that. Some people like a rigid 9-5 while others like the freedom to see a friend during a weekday afternoon and are happy to work in the evening. As long as you take the time to realign yourself, find your own interpretation of the word balance to make it work for you.
If you work on multiple projects or have certain days to do certain activities it makes things a lot more efficient, allowing you to be present in that moment. For example, taking the day off work? Do not check your emails. If it is urgent, the person who needs you will do the old fashioned thing of giving you a call. If it makes you feel better, put on an out of the office and say sorry I am not here today but I will check back with you later on in the week and use your day off as a day off being present doing whatever you need to do. If you’re prone to checking your emails on your phone, delete them off your phone, just for the day. Last July I took a whole week off. It was a week full of wedding activities for people close to me. Yes, I probably did check my inbox but ultimately, I made sure I was present to enjoy the festivities and the madness that comes along with Asian weddings.
In the same way, if you are working on multiple projects, choose certain times and days to focus solely on that project and let people know you will get back to them regarding xyz on the day/time you are working on that particular project.
Know your limits
In order to know when you are the brink of burning out, you need to know your limits. For example, I need at least 7 hours of sleep every night to be at my optimum best. This means I do my damn best to make this happen. I know when this doesn’t happen I need to give myself time to regroup. This usually happens when I am home. I make the most off spending time with my family and this usually means staying up way past my bedtime. (I also occasionally make the most of having the TV to myself when they go to sleep) so I often have to have the next day to recover but because I know that I factor that in. Do the tasks on that day I know I can manage so at least I am productive and also include a tonne of self-care things I do to make sure I get over what I call a travel hangover.
Schedule with flexibility
I schedule with the best of them but one thing I learned is that part of the balance is that you need to be flexible. It is also important to schedule a time to relax and have you time as well as the meetings and events you have planned during the week. For instance, making the most of the small-time slots you have or understanding an impromptu phone call with your mother or best friend, may set you back a little bit but that is ok and you can adjust accordingly. It is about paying attention to the details but having your focus on the bigger picture.
People who appear to balance things well will tell you there is power in saying no. There is power in knowing you can’t do all the things so to be selective and present in the things which you are doing. I don’t mean ignoring your loved ones or going to that networking events. It means realising you don’t have to go to that family friends wedding or understanding you don’t need to go to every after-work event with your colleagues if you need that night to yourself.
In short, work-life balance means something different to everyone you ask. Ultimately, it is hard work, takes time and a lot of trial and error to figure out a pace that works for you. It is also something which evolves over time but once you find it, it is worth it.
How do you balance work and life? Any tips you found to work for you?