How to Create a Work-life Balance that Makes Sense
We don’t get taught how to navigate a work-life balance. It’s something that each of us has to determine for ourselves. Some articles on the subject—and some people—don’t agree that such a thing exists.
And if the workweek isn’t hard enough without having to justify your need for balance, you may be in a position where being on a salary means that you have to bring work home with you. If it’s an infrequent occurrence, then putting in that extra bit of work once in a while is acceptable and possibly even expected. After all, those deadlines don’t meet themselves.
Being effective with your time is very important. At times, employees need to be more efficient in delivering on their objectives, or they risk failing at them. Granted, the workload should be realistic, but different workers have different output capacities and there is a levelled threshold to respect in any position.
But are you answering emails from home every night? If your contract is for 9-5, you shouldn’t be on call 24/7. Does your manager expect you to go above and beyond just to make you feel like you’re earning your keep?
If the established output level for project delivery is not honoured, then does the employer level down their expectations, or does the employee level up?
Boundaries & Talking About Them
Boundaries need to be put in place to be able to maintain a comfortable work-life balance, and these boundaries need to be respected. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice family time, meal time, gym time, etc, to be able to say that you are doing your job properly, but you do have certain obligations to fulfill your mandate and complete what is being asked of you.
Your colleagues and managers may not necessarily know exactly what’s going on in your personal, day-to-day life and might, therefore, be unable to make the distinction between how much personal time you have versus how much you need.
You might be taking night classes or have children. You might have a side gig or personal project that demands your attention. You might have a sick loved one that needs care, or you could just be the type of person who needs more personal time than other people.
All these reasons are perfectly acceptable and understandable, but these needs have to be voiced to be properly understood and managed.
The problems you have at home are obviously not the same as the problems you have at work. If, for example, you’re having a hard time clearing out your inbox, your manager should be able to help find solutions on how to remedy the situation. This article, The Legend of Inbox Zero might also help.
The thing is—your manager is probably not psychic. If they don’t get alerted to an issue, they might not realize that there is one. If you have specific needs, don’t hesitate to bring them up. That’s what managers are there for; to manage.
We often create problems for ourselves by thinking that they are, in fact, problems, when simple solutions or tools might be readily available to provide quick solutions. The trick is not to get caught up and overwhelmed in your projects. Break them down into smaller and more manageable tasks that are less intimidating. A little bit of planning goes a long way.
If you feel that your projects are constantly overwhelming you, there are steps that both you and your manager can take to try and rectify the issue. If part of your mandate is to answer emails from home in the evenings, then set yourself a realistic period of time in which to do them, and then stop. This is important. You also need to respect your own schedule and know when to shut your devices off or put them away.
If the problem has to do with staffing, then that is something that should be discussed with your manager. There is only so much a person can do and should be expected to do. But there are things that can be done for immediate relief, and one of them is working on your overall efficiency.
People rarely want to bring their work home with them. Life would be much easier if we could leave our desks and have our mind be clear until our next shift. For many, this is impossible, either because of the position we hold, or how much we love what we do.
More often than not, we can’t help our brains from being “on”. Once the cogs get turning, sometimes they simply can’t be stopped. If you are an architect, you might come home from the office and really want to look at the plans for that new garage or new bathroom that you’ve been planning. This might be something that comes naturally to you as a person.
Whatever it is that you do, the idea to work smarter should play a role in your thought process. Choose the projects that are the most important to you and your overall goal, and let go of the tasks that seem necessary. You might simply choose to flush your entire inbox with the hope that the important things will resurface. There may be a colleague that could assume some of your tasks so that you can focus on what matters most.
What should be taken away from this is not the idea to abandon your passion as soon as you clock out at five. The idea is to allow yourself to take breaks from specific projects to increase overall performance. This Psychology Today article, How Do Work Breaks Help Your Brain? describes in detail why taking breaks and having downtime is important and beneficial for the brain. It shows that taking breaks actually gives you a greater ability to assimilate the new information and to use it.
It all begins with being realistic and truthful about your specific needs and how to meet them in both areas of your life. As much as you need to keep your work life at work, you also want to keep your personal life at home. One thing to keep in mind is that finding the proper balance between life and work will improve your happiness, overall mental health, and productivity in both arenas. ■