Are you looking for a little more work life balance? You’re not alone.
According to a report released by Ernst & Young, nearly 25% of Americans say work life balance is getting tougher to manage. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average work day isn’t much longer than it was in 2003, many Americans are now leashed to smartphones that keep them on the clock at home, at the gym, or even in line at the grocery store. Factor in family obligations, seeing your friends, trying to get in a workout, and getting enough sleep, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
How exactly can you balance your life to fit in everything that’s important?
First, you need to decide what’s important. Make a list of everything in your life: kids, friends, job, gym, hobbies, and anything else. Next, pick the one thing that you’d keep if you had to choose and mark it #1. Keep doing that to your list, ranking in descending order, until you can clearly see how all of the aspects of your life stack up. Once you know your priorities, you can create strategies to focus on the ones that rank the highest.
Next, take an honest look at your life by stealing a page from the dieters’ playbook. When dieters first start a healthy eating program, they’re often encouraged to write down everything they eat for a week, including the time, situation, and how they were feeling. This helps them to realize when, what, and why they’re eating, so they can make adjustments and come up with strategies to help overcome temptations and triggers. To help you achieve better work life balance, write down how you spend your time for a week. You don’t have to be overly specific, “7 a.m. to 8 a.m. getting ready for work” is fine, but try to account for as much time during your day as possible.
Evaluate the fit of your priorities and your feelings.
After you’ve tracked your time for a week — analyze your log. Use colored markers to highlight work, family, cleaning/household chores, social activities, driving, gym, and other obligations, so you can get a visual sense of how much time you’re allocating to each category. Spending way more time shuttling the kids to practice than you realized? It’s time to join a carpool. Skipping the gym for drinks with friends? Meet for a run or tennis instead. Compare how you’re spending your time to how you’ve ranked your priorities, and look for activities that can be combined, swapped, or eliminated altogether.
Of course, it’s not always that easy. Work and family are probably two of the biggest demands on your time and you can’t exactly tell your boss or kids that you’re skipping out to catch a movie (or clean the bathroom). There are, however, a few things that you can do to simplify your schedule and maximize the hours that you have. Incorporate these ideas into work and home whenever possible to help you balance your life and free up a little more time…
Be flexible. Find out if your office will allow you to telecommute or work a flexible schedule. Some workplaces allow employees to put in nine hour days and take off every other Friday. Others allow workers to stay from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., so you can spend the morning with the kids while your spouse covers the afternoons. Ask about your company’s policies or negotiate onsite flexibility with your next raise.
Clarify your off-hours availability. Just because your colleague sends an email at 8:30 p.m. doesn’t mean that you have to check it and reply. Sit down with your team and set specific “check-in times,” or designate specific hours like dinner time when you’ll be unreachable. You can also set up an “emergency only” system where colleagues are only allowed to reach you by phone and only in truly urgent cases. In many cases, issues that come up after normal work hours can wait until morning so let them.
Take time off. To be effective at your job you need to take a break from it once in a while. Sometimes solutions don’t reveal themselves until you’ve stopped trying to think of one. Unless it’s absolutely necessary to meet a specific and concrete deadline, avoid working on weekends or holidays. If your company gives you comp time or vacation days, take them — even if it’s just to check out local attractions or read a good book. The same goes for sick days; if you’re sick, stay home! Your body and your coworkers will thank you.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. You need to keep a certain level of cleanliness in your home for the sake of hygiene, but beyond that, it’s all up to personal preference. If you tend to spend hours after the kids are sleeping to wash the dishes by hand or have fits over spots on the mirror, rethink what’s really important. Would you really rather spend your time cleaning than doing anything else on your list?
Delegate. Even little kids are capable of making a contribution so set up a chore chart and make sure that everyone in the house is doing his or her part. No, your oldest child won’t fold the laundry exactly the way you would and maybe your spouse will buy a different brand of milk, but pitching in will strengthen your family’s connection and you’ll have more time to spend together.
Say no. You don’t have to host every play date, attend every dinner party, watch every soccer game, or participate in every church potluck. Choose the invitations and activities that really interest you or are absolutely required and say no to everything else. Most of the time others won’t even notice. If they do, politely explain that you couldn’t make the time on this occasion, but you’re excited to participate when your schedule allows.
Remember, work life balance isn’t just about balancing your job with your family and friends, it’s about balancing everything so you can better enjoy what you have. That includes taking care of yourself: eating well, working out, getting enough sleep, and finding moments of solitary bliss. Download an enjoyable mystery or romance with the Kindle app and read a page or two every time you’re waiting for colleagues or standing in a line. Create a “drive home” playlist filled with songs that you love and belt them out all the way home. Find ways to incorporate the things that you love into every day.
If you need more ideas or are looking for a more structured approach to work life balance, consider consulting with a life coach. You’ll learn how to set boundaries, organize your time, communicate more clearly, and assert yourself to balance your life and claim the happiness that you deserve!
Also published on Medium.