There are times in our life when we review our current situation and wonder how we got to this point in our life, I know I do! Sometimes, I feel like all of the days roll into one and I feel like I’m lurching from one weekend to another and the middle bit is a bit of a blurgh. I thoroughly enjoy the work I do as it’s so varied and I get to work with a great team of people but, there have been times previously where I’ve struggled with the whole work/life balance.
I only usually feel like this when things have got on top of me or when we’re dealing with life changing events like; getting married or moving house. In the last year we’ve moved house and that in itself made our lives busier, we were very organised and methodical with the move and had a plan of what needed to be done by when but, even with this in mind things were bound to get busier. Once the move was over and done with and we’d moved into our dream home the renovation project began – it’s great designing and planning what you want your home to look like but, it does take time, not to mention a boat load of money too!
One of the hardest things I think many of us struggle with is our ‘Work/Life balance’ and when work is as demanding as ever it’s hard to juggle it all.
I’ve got two boys aged 5 and 6 years old and they keep me busy from morning till night and in between that I fit in a full time job, housework duties, cooking (although Richard, my husband seems to do the lion’s share of this) and hobbies, if I get chance. Life in the 21st century is so busy and demanding and I often feel like a juggler in the local circus.
As a result of feeling like this constant juggler or plate spinner, two analogies I’m sure you’re familiar with I wanted to look into this topic a little more. So what does the perfect work/life balance actually look like and does it exist?!
Having worked with many clients and colleagues over the years I know the ‘Work/Life Balance’ topic is something that crops up time and time again. The myth behind the work life balance is that you get to have your cake and eat it! You get to have the successful career yet still have enough energy to run a tidy and clean household whilst baking and making crafts with your children and having time to fit in your favourite TV programmes or hobbies. Previously, that was my view of it anyway! But, my view has changed slightly over the years and I’ve adapted my perception of this balance.
I used to think that having this perfect balance meant being able to spin all of these plates at once and with a smile on my face and over the years I’ve actually realised that it’s not the case at all. Having the perfect balance is different for everyone, some work full time and have a cleaner, child minder and gardener to help with the chores to help share this burden and this works for them. Some parents work part time and are able to carry out the chores themselves and provide child care around school hours and others have something in between and some manage it all.
I have learnt however, that not many have the perfect balance and many still struggle with the challenge. As a result of this many employers worldwide are looking at ways that they can lend a hand too and they want to help make the workplace and it’s conditions as pleasant as possible. Many employers have implemented, Childcare facilities, vouchers to help with costs, Wellness programmes, Cycle to Work schemes and many other benefits to help their employees. The cycle to work programme helps by ensuring the individual gets plenty of exercise during the working week resulting in less time off sick.
The benefits of a fit and healthy workforce are obvious, with increased productivity and a decrease in sick days among the most important. Increasingly companies are providing a regular supply of fresh fruit for their staff and this helps to ensure that employees have a balanced, vitamin rich diet which in turn helps to fight off illness before it takes hold.
Many other employers offer a discount to gym membership and some offer their workforce flexible working in the form of condensed hours or reduced hours as employees want to achieve a better balance between work and home life.
Employers do have a ‘duty of care’ to protect employees and help them get a better work life balance and many employers will accommodate working requests where possible and if it fits with the business needs. Working flexibly and without stress can improve the employee’s well being, health and mindset leading to a more productive workforce, which in turn leads to better results.
That said, even though employers do have a duty of care to you, you must make steps towards getting your own work life balance right for you. Don’t let your employer dictate this for you, as some may take advantage of your good nature and you’ll end up working all the hours for very little reward.
Here are my top tips to bring a little more balance to your daily routine:
1.Decide what your balance looks like for you and your family and make steps towards making it happen.
In today’s world there are so many options open to parents returning to work after having children and you’ve got to choose to work the hours that are right for you and your family both from a personal and financial perspective. Some of my friends work full time, part time and some opted not to return to work at all. I’ve learnt even though some people can be judgemental, you’ve just got to work the hours that suit you and some employers can be so supportive to helping you to achieve this balance.
Finding the right balance for you doesn’t just mean working the right amount of hours or days it also means working out where your willing to draw the line with the work emails and calls once you’ve finished. Are you prepared to let your work life bleed into your personal life or have you made an agreement with yourself that you’re not going to be ‘on call’ to every demand your boss has? It’s entirely up to you, but, remember you’ve got to allow yourself to switch off and understand that having a balance is ‘healthy’ especially when you have small people that require your attention too!
2. Build downtime into your schedule.
We often don’t get the opportunity to plan our week out, especially our working week so we don’t often build in ‘down time’ but, I’m here to tell you it’s vital that you do. In between planning all the week’s meetings, projects, children’s activities and parties you need to plan in some ‘Me’ time.
I used to put so much energy into planning everything else for everyone else that I found it hard to plan in any time for me. But, it all changed once I’d hit burn out and I realised that I had earned that time for me and it was so important to do so. Now I have one session of yoga I attend a week with my sister which is great as it doubles up as a bit of socialising too but, most of all I find it therapeutic and relaxing!
I’ve always had a great social life and have many friends but, I always found it hard to unwind and relax and I’ve learnt that by finding that half an hour a day makes all the difference. Give yourself permission not to fill in the blanks with endless activities or social gatherings – Have down time and family time if thats how you unwind and you’ll go back to your life feeling much fresher!
3. Rethink your ‘To Do’ list.
To do lists are great if they help to keep you organised but, can you delegate any of the tasks on your list to someone else? Why do you feel the need to do all the jobs yourself? Ask your partner, husband/wife or get a cleaner to help you with the domestic duties if you can afford one. Hire a gardener or enlist the help of your parents or in laws to help you with the maintenance of your house and garden.
Look at ways to make your life simpler – Could you order your groceries online and have them delivered? Could you write yourself a menu for the week (like me) so every night when you arrive home from work tired you’re not having to think, ‘What will we have for tea tonight?’
Life is busy enough with all of the things we have to remember, give yourself and your mind a break and just jot it down and keep it with you, that way you can cross the tasks off as you go to get instant satisfaction too!
4. Get physical.
It’s hard to make time for exercise when you have a jam-packed schedule, but it may ultimately help you get more done by boosting your energy level and ability to concentrate.
It’s so important to try and fit in whatever exercise you can, some of my colleague visit the gym before work and my colleague Charlotte says, ‘I feel so much more alert and energetic and it gives me a boost and I feel better for doing my exercise at the beginning of my day as it makes me feel ready for my day.’
For those parents amongst us it can also provide us with the space we need to switch off from all of our other activities and roles we have and give us that time we realy need for ourselves.
5. Remember to build in a little Rest & Recuperation.
R&R is vital in today’s world as we often don’t stop or give ourselves any time to recover from our non stop day. We live in this world where people often assume that the best way to get anything done is to multi task but, I’ve found that multitasking causes it own problems. Whenever I multitask I find that I’m not focussing on the job in hand and that i end up rushing things or completely tasks incorrectly because I’m not fully engaged or focussed on the job in hand and that doesn’t help anyone.
As we often do lurch from one activity or role to another (from career woman to carer, cook etc) we don’t build in any time for us but, research shows it’s vital we do. All we need to do is build in 10-15 minutes into our busy schedule so we can have regular intervals where we fully switch off.
Perhaps, read a book whilst eating your lunchtime sandwich or have a stroll in the park. You could set yourself realistic goals to help with this so perhaps spend an hour or two per week on something you enjoy, maybe your hobby or running or whatever it is you enjoy.
Remember your mind and body need a little R&R time so don’t feel guilty for ring fencing this time in your busy schedule but, make sure you stick to it!
6. Step away from technology
This links to the work/life balance point and it looks at two areas of your life in relation to technology. The first point is about finding your balance and knowing when to call it a day. We now have access to our work emails and outlook appointments 24-7 and in some roles we’re effectively ‘on call’ at anytime during the day but, you have got to find that balance away from work and know when to ‘switch off.’
The second area that I want to look at is the social media, personal email and internet phenomenon. Again, technology is slowly but, surely taking over our lives and we feel the need to check fb several times a day but, has anything actually changed when we check in for the 5th time that day? Don’t let technology take over your life. Research shows that children have much more access to this too and it’s changing the way their social skills develop and in some cases it prevents them developing their social skills further.
7. Be happy in what you do!
Being happy in what we do is the most important thing you can do. We often strive for successful careers as that is what society says we have to do and we often don’t really think about doing what it is we love because there’s not enough money in it or you’ve been told you can’t have a career doing that.
I’m lucky because I fell into the career I have and it’s led me into coaching and I now know that this is the thing I was truly meant to do – I absolutely love helping others and seeing them achieve their goals and dreams to.
Coaching has also helped me immensely in my own life and with the relationships I have, the beliefs I have/had and my own fears and confidence. Through reading and research I continue to grow and develop and truly feel it will be a life long journey for me.
I learnt through others close to me that living and breathing a career that you don’t love only results in you being unhappy and not fulfilled in the role you have so explore the things you love and if you can make a career out of it then do so.
Whilst carrying out research into this topic I came across this popular TEDtalk https://www.ted.com/talks/nigel_marsh_how_to_make_work_life_balance_work – it’s brilliant, he sums it up in an 18 minute video and his perfect day makes me smile every time!