Regardless of your age, I can almost guarantee that your parents balanced their work with their lives outside work better than you do. That’s not to say they had it easy (far from it), but please don’t tell me their work culture operated 24/7 like ours does today.
For many of us, there seems to be no boundary between when our workday begins and when it ends. With technology two steps ahead of us, we find ourselves constantly catching up with the latest updates on projects, meetings and emails.
I saw a video recently with Jason Fried, co-author of the book Rework. Fried posed a question to the audience that really hit home with me. He asked, “When do you get most of your work done?” Before you read further, ask yourself the same question. Now, keep reading.
“Early in the morning before your co-workers get to work or early evening when many of them have left” usually tops the list. “Later in the evening at home” comes in a close second; in third place, it seems the commute by car, train or bus provides the perfect setting for getting things done. Sound familiar?
Since we seem to get so much work done outside of work hours, you have to wonder what we’re actually accomplishing during the day.
Work-life balance is anything but balanced. The scales have tipped so far to one side that we accept our crazy work hours as normal. But they’re not normal and they’re also not healthy.
With that in mind, here are five ways you can put more life in your work and less work in your life:
Work: Focus on the projects and tasks with the highest priority. It’s important to list what’s important and what can take a back seat. Put 90% of your energy into the things that count.
Life: Make a list of what’s most important in your life and schedule it in. For example, booking a fun weekend activity with your family can help ensure you take a break from weekend chores and errands to spend some quality time with them.
2. Ask for help
Work: Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance when you have too much on your plate. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of someone who knows how to get things done for the good of the team. Find out whether your workplace health benefits include an employee assistance program (EAP).
Life: If the going gets tough, go to the people who can help. There is strength in numbers and if stress is building up don’t hesitate to talk to others. If you’re fortunate enough to work for an employer that offers a wellness or employee assistance program, make sure to take advantage of it.
3. Leave work at work
Work: Most of your co-workers understand there is life outside of work. If they don’t, remind them. Try to avoid checking emails after hours and working on presentations. More often than not, they can wait until tomorrow. Just give your co-workers a heads-up on what you’re doing (or not doing) and see it how it works.
Life: By taking the recommendation above to heart, you can spend this new free time with the people at the top of your priority list.
4. Just say no
Work: Sometimes it pays to say no and although it might be tough at first, the more you say it, the easier it becomes. Whether it’s someone asking you to work on a new project or to work weekends, there can be power in saying no to the things that knock your life off balance.
Life: Requests and demands from others are a fact of life, but there comes a time when no means no. You can’t please everyone, so say yes to the musts and no to the “I-think-I’ve-got-better-things-to-do-with-my-time” requests.
Work: Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of putting out work fires that we forget to take a step back and breathe. Make time for yourself during the day to get some fresh air, eat and take a break somewhere you can wind down free from distractions. Fifteen minutes of downtime will pay huge dividends in productivity later in the day.
Life: Depending on your situation, your life could be as busy at home as at the office. Paying bills, running errands or driving the kids around all weekend can run down the energy meter really fast. It’s imperative to make time for yourself. An unhealthy you is bad for everyone, so schedule me-time -- it’s a must.
The foundation of a healthy work-life balance rests in getting our work done in a timely manner during a regular workday. If we can do that, our free time actually becomes free time.
Of all the suggestions I’ve heard about getting things done during regular working hours, Jason Fried has the best. He suggests if we can have casual Fridays, why not have no-talk Thursdays? No one is allowed to talk to, disrupt or socialize with each other. Everybody does his or her work in peace and quiet, just like you would do if you got in early or stayed late. What a concept!
See Jason Fried on why work doesn’t get done.