I have always approached achieving a work-life balance like investing for the long-term. Just as market volatility means every day can't generate gains for your investment portfolio, you can't expect to perform professionally at peak levels all the time. Don't be too hard on yourself and expect professional perfection and growth all the time. Like successful, long-term investing, a life well-lived requires balance and consistency between home and office.
It's a new year and that holiday (if you allowed yourself to take one) is now a distant memory. Topped up with New Year's resolutions ranging from making the most of your new gym membership to meeting your sales targets, you've also promised your partner you'll spend more time with your kids, parents, and parents-in-law.
All of sudden, the end of January is in sight and what once seemed doable three weeks ago is starting to cause you stress.
That stress may be based on the time famine you are facing or you have simply over-promised at home or at the office and don't have the mental and physical energy to come through on either front. Regardless of the cause, you may feel torn and incomplete as you try to tackle everything but do nothing well. In a 2013 Statistics Canada survey, 6.6 million Canadians said they feel "quite a bit" or "extremely" stressed throughout most days.
The juggling act that attempts to balance work and life activities is as old as the workplace itself. Henry Ford, arguably one of the most successful entrepreneurs ever, determined that production would drop if workers lacked work life balance. He cut the workweek from 48 to 40 hours as his car manufacturing business was gaining real traction. Transition to modern business and self-aware progressive groups such as the French government requires workers to take at least 31 days off each year.
North American government employers got it for a while in the fifties and sixties when they cut a six-day week down to five. By contrast, seven-day workweeks are now common in the retail and food service and hospitality sectors, as the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.
Regardless of your role or occupation at home or at work, here are six road-tested tips to help you find a work-life balance that is realistic and will help you over the long term.
- Clear up unresolved issues: Get the difficult conversations that keep you awake at night out of the way - at home and at the office. If you have unresolved issues at work that you bring home every weekend, they will eat away at your personal and family time. Clear the slate at the office to the best of your ability by being forthright in resolving issues before they get bigger. Similarly, if you bring personal issues to the office on Monday, your focus and performance will suffer. It's difficult to be thinking in two spaces at once. Sort issues out at home before the workweek begins. Weekends are good times for family meetings versus during the evening after a busy work or school day.
- Create a professional and social divide: Develop interests outside of work that don't involve socializing with co-workers. Consider exploring a new hobby that introduces you to new people and environments, such as volunteer work at a cultural institution or help centre for homeless people.
- Get offline: Declare one day a week to be work/social media and information gathering free by staying off line, which may be easier said than done. On that day, try to walk while doing errands and free yourself from traffic and the stress it can bring.
- Non-negotiable personal time: Set aside a specific period of time each week (even if it is a couple of hours) to spend with your partner or family. Plans can change but make this time as non-negotiable as possible. When you all have something you can all look forward to, trying times are easier to navigate as you remain close.
- Plan ahead: Book holidays, whether individually or with your partner and family, well in advance. Regardless of how demanding your work or home life, you will benefit from a change in routine and scenery. Whenever possible, try to move through your "bucket list" a little faster than you anticipated.
- Give yourself a break: Even if you are a sole proprietor of a small business with just a few or no employees, you owe it to your business to find a work-life balance. Trust that your clients won't desert you and your employees won't take advantage of your absence when you choose not to be at work. Just let them know of your plans in advance. And be sure to follow through on those plans. By following through on your commitment to taking a planned day off, you are demonstrating your confidence in their ability to do their jobs without watching over them.
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