Maintaining a work-life balance is easy when you’re smart, right? Wrong. Despite working harder and smarter than ever, most of us struggle to balance work and home life. This wasn’t always the case. In previous decades, there was a clear separation between life at the coalface and life back at home.
But these days, with the addition of a 24/7 internet enabled workplace, those clear lines between the office and home have become inevitably blurred. So here are a few helpful tips, based on the latest scientific research to help you put your work-life balance back into order.
Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time
“The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not”, so say Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr in The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Their message: To create true work-life balance, you have to manage your energy, not your time.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of time management. If you have ever created a to-do list, prioritised tasks or timeboxed dedicated hours to complete a set goal, you are already using time management techniques popularised by management gurus including Stephen R. Covey and Peter Drucker.
Time management helps us to take conscious control of our focus and goals. The only problem being that in the modern workplace it’s easy to get derailed in the course of an ordinary business day. A single email or conversation can break your focus or completely rearrange your priorities, resulting in disappointment and lack of motivation.
As an alternative, consider managing your energy not your time. By managing your energy, you can bring your best performance to whatever activity that comes up, whether it’s being 100% present in conversations, contributing creative ideas in a meeting, or fully focusing on a critical task.
You can achieve results that are far superior to the incremental gains you might get from time management techniques. What’s more, you’ll also have more energy at the end of the day to bring back to your personal life, creating that sought after work-life balance
Make The Workplace Work For You
Of course, no matter how effectively we manage our energy, most of us will still have to clock long hours at work to advance our careers and create the space for the lifestyle we have in mind. This means working hard and working smart, with long hours and not much downtime, so it’s imperative that you make your workplace work for you.
Whether you work independently or in a corporate role, small improvements to the workplace can make all the difference to your own wellbeing and personal productivity. Optimising your office space is a good place to start. Consider getting a comfortable chair, ergonomic keyboard, a support stand for your laptop and taking the time to declutter and keep your working environment clean.
Take Time To Make Time
Maintaining your work-life balance may also involve an investment in time-tracking tools. There are plenty of tools you can use to track everything from the frequency and duration of meetings to chasing and converting leads.
Time-tracking software allows you to quickly build an understanding of how long a particular task takes, giving you the information you require to harness the power of feedback loops. These feedback loops help to manage time the same way budgeting helps to manage money.
Instead of lamenting that there aren’t enough hours in the day, we can clearly identify where our time and our energy is being spent, giving us the information we need to push back when overloaded with workflow.
This data is also extremely helpful for maintaining a work-life balance, as we can use the same time-tracking software to commit a percentage of hours to personal life and family priorities, helping to quantify just how much time we are spending in the office, relative to the home.
Prioritise Your Health & Fitness
It’s easy to cancel on going to the gym, an evening run or a yoga class because a client wants something done yesterday.
Instead, ensure that exercise is given as much priority as your clients. A healthy body means a fresh mind, which means you will function better and complete tasks in less time.
Livestrong Magazine suggests that regular exercise helps us to stay alert, prevent workplace illness and improve our physical and mental health. There are social benefits to exercise too, so if you find yourself overwhelmed in the office, taking some time to workout can help you to de-stress and unwind in a productive way.
Ensuring that you eat a healthy diet is also highly important, with clinical research suggesting most workplace diets are lacking in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. With most of us working over 40 hours weekly, making alterations to your workplace diet is the perfect place to start when attempting work-life balance.
Define Urgent and Important
One of the simplest ways to optimise your work life balance is to make a clear distinction between tasks that are deemed urgent and tasks that are truly important.
As the saying goes, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important” – a phrase popularised by the US President Dwight Eisenhower.
Building on his experience as a World War II Army General, the Eisenhower Matrix remains a textbook time management technique, taught in business schools around the world to help C-suite professionals stay productive when faced with a seemingly overwhelming workload.
Urgent means that a task requires immediate attention. This type of work puts us in a reactive or ‘fire-fighting’ mode, marked by a defensive, negative, hurried, and narrowly-focused mindset.
Examples of common urgent tasks include client emails or requests from superiors. They capture our attention and often disrupt our workplace focus away from what we feel is truly important in the workplace.
Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals. Sometimes important tasks are also urgent, but typically they’re not, and we often drop them to the bottom of our ever-increasing to-do list.
Examples of important tasks include investing in new skills, developing existing staff or recruiting for that all important role. These are the tasks that don’t offer an immediate benefit but create problems over time if we underinvest.
Making a clear separation between what is urgent and what is important can help us focus on only the most important tasks – helping us to get more done in the workplace and create more time outside of it.
Wherever you work and however you live, taking time out to find proper work-life balance is rarely a poor decision. While it’s typically an ongoing process to balance both professional and personal commitments, incorporating just a few of these simple steps is a good starting point for better workplace wellness.