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If you asked me what was one of the things I was most proud about in my corporate career, apart from moving up the ladder fairly quickly, it would also probably be my work-life balance.
For context, I went from work experience to heading up my own team in four years. Whilst I know some people may have done this quicker, I have gone at a pace that allows me to be proud of my quick achievements and career. I’ve also been incredibly fortunate throughout my time in corporate that I always had time to pursue things outside of work, whether that is a business with the online health and well-being brand Arbonne, learning Japanese, travelling, writing blogs, charity work etc. In one year I managed to take 13 holidays and city breaks abroad.
If you’re thinking, “Man, she’s lucky…”, you’re wrong.
Having a work-life balance isn’t luck, it takes skill. You need to work at it ironically. Before we start, let’s begin with some important truths about work-life balance.
1. Work-life balance is a choice. If you are staying late to look good in front of your boss, that is a choice. If I choose to stay up until 2am to work on my business, that is my choice.
2. Before you moan about your lack of work-life balance, ask yourself what it really means to you. A friend of mine once laughed at me talking positively about my work-life balance because she claimed I didn’t have a very good one. When I pointed out to her that for me it isn’t about coming home from work at 6pm and watching 4 hours of mind-numbing TV over dinner every day, but actually about doing a good job and progressing my career at the pace I wanted, YET still having time to do the things I want like learn Japanese, take up martial arts, doing Toastmasters etc, she quietly agreed that she would be bored and that isn’t her idea of work-life balance either.
3. Work-life balance isn’t about one extreme to the other. So the “life” part is not about resting on your bottom all day – that is laziness guys. Likewise, work shouldn’t equate to stress and dread – you know some people like what they do!
Having said that, I do appreciate so many of us are pushed to our limits at work and given more work that we can humanly handle in our standard working day, meaning we feel forced to work late. So this my essential guide for you to become more effective, set some boundaries and push back on your boss, so you can get the work-life balance you deserve!
Tip 1: Manage your time
One of the contributors to not getting the work-life balance you need is not managing your time properly in the first place, whilst at work. I used to watch colleagues all the time tell me how much they had on, but then watch them walk around with no sense of urgency, attend useless meetings and spend ages on one task!
In order to fit everything in to your working day you need to be strict – actually, be ruthless – with your time. Don’t say yes to every meeting, learn to delegate your work to team members, and focus on one task at a time so you are being as efficient as possible.
I also used to predict how much time something should take me before I set off doing it, especially if my boss had delegated something down. I would outright but politely say “of course I can action that… how long do you want me to spend on it?”. Not only did this make them think about MY time, but it also allowed me to see what I would need to shift in my schedule to accommodate this new piece of work!
You got to work smart, not hard.
It is essential to learn how to prioritize tasks. A lot of time management gurus advocate putting the most urgent things you need to do at the top of your to-do lists for effective time management. I have always disagreed with this one. I have always liked American personal development author and businessman Stephen Covey’s school of thought that you should be doing the most important things first in your day. You shouldn’t be doing the most urgent, because if it is urgent, you have left it too late.
My blog article 5 Time management mistakes busy people make is an essential guide to the biggest mistakes busy people make when it comes to their time management and productivity!
Tip 2: Set work and personal boundaries and personas
A previous colleague of mine used her personal twitter to share our organisation’s work and messages. Whilst she is clearly happy with this, this is not for me and breaches my “keep work and personal life separate” policy.
Setting boundaries between your work and private online presence is a way of ensuring you maintain professionalism and effectively manage my work-life balance.
It is also beneficial for your company to know these are your boundaries to ensure there is no misunderstandings. For example, before any holiday, I told my team that I would in no way be checking work emails, but if they needed an immediate answer on something urgent or crisis struck, then could text me on my private number for help.
Tip 3: The world will not fall down without you at the reins
Let me be frank with you… the world doesn’t revolve around you. Sorry. Your lack of presence or action does not mean the place is going to fall into a black hole.
I have learnt this the hard way many times in the past, including trying to push through when I am sick, only to find that the report I nearly killed myself over got shelved. I wasn’t that critical to the company’s success… the report could have waited a couple of days.
Learn to accept that the company and perhaps even your SME can operate without you! Yes, you’re amazing but you’re not the only cog in the wheel. Especially when you have a good team around you, you don’t have to be in work mode 24/7 or work additional hours to your contract. Don’t be afraid to loosen the grip on the reins, because if you don’t, then you’re increasing your risk of burning out.
Tip 4: Say no
If you’re currently feeling bullied into working long hours or like you don’t have any options, I am going to be blunt with you. You do! You are choosing and creating your work-life balance, so if it isn’t working out for you, change it. Honestly, you do have the power to create the work-life balance you long for.
The best way is to learn the magic word, “no”.
Your boss will keep giving you more and more, because as the saying goes, if you want something done, give it to a busy person. They are not seeing you crack under the pressure so more and more will come your way.
Politely decline. The best way to do this is not an outright “no” but a softer version such as “not now”.
You’re not strictly declining, but just delaying it until you have the capacity (by the way, “capacity” is a great way to word it, much better than you would say “I don’t have time”). If whatever is being fielded your way is a must or urgent, then take it on…but ask what you can push to the side to accommodate and make it your bosses decision.
Tip 5: Don’t skip lunch break
Maybe I should have put this higher up in the list actually, cos missing lunch breaks is cardinal sin #1. Studies such as 5 Science-Backed Ways Taking a Break Boosts Our Productivity reported on the Huffington Post website show that breaks boost productivity, so it amazes me that companies don’t advocate taking them more. As Business News Daily2 reported, “If you want to boost your business’s productivity, try encouraging your employees to step away from their desks every now and then”.
Learn to be more efficient with your time at work, by working on focused blocks and taking brain breaks.
Tip 6: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good
If there is one thing that will always stay with me about my previous boss Amanda, is her saying “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”.
Like any perfectionist out there, I was a sucker for spending too much time on a task to get it 100%. Sometimes there is a need, but most times there isn’t. Remember this to help you work towards a better work-life balance. Yes, there are times you might need to stay late and give it your all, but the majority of the time you don’t. Do a good job of course but don’t over labour it.
The Law of Diminishing Returns tells us that there comes a point where putting more effort in does not mean getting equal ROI (return on investment) out so get out of the office on time and be happy with the good work you have done.
If you are finding your workload is too much, ask yourself is it because you are spending too much time on each thing trying to “perfect” it?
Tip 7: Speak to your boss
Okay, so I have deliberately left the scary one to last. If your workload is becoming impossible, repeat after me, YOU HAVE TO TALK TO YOUR BOSS! They’re not mind-readers and if you’re good at your job (which I am hoping you are) then your boss will give you more and more and more because all they see is you getting it done. Fact. You know the saying, “if you want something done, give it to a busy person”.
To stop this vicious cycle, you got to speak to them openly.
This doesn’t mean getting upset, crying or shouting and bursting into their office. Schedule in a meeting and go through what’s weighing you down but also offer your boss solutions – what work can be dropped, are their archaic processes hindering efficiency, could you do with some additional resource, what is bringing in the worst return on investment?
Whilst you can blame your boss, situation or circumstance, remember that work-life balance is a choice. Like anything worth having, it does take work, so you do have to make an effort to get the balance you want. Don’t beat yourself up either if you’re working on it but haven’t quite got there. Keep practising.
My blog article 5 Time management mistakes busy people make is an essential guide to the biggest mistakes busy people make when it comes to their time management and productivity! The article First Thing You Should Prioritise for Successful Time Management explores how your work-life balance can be improved by learning how to apply forward planning to prioritize your daily task list and be more organised.
Please share any tips or advice that you may have, as I would love to hear them!
Do You Want to Create the Work-Life Balance You Deserve?
Having a work-life balance isn’t luck, it takes skill. You need to work at it ironically. Like anything worth having, it does take work, so you do have to make an effort to get the balance you want.
As a life coach, I am here to support you with tips and techniques to create the balance in life you deserve.
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This article is written by Alice Dartnell, life and success coach of Alice Dartnell Limited. Alice empowers busy professionals to be successful, transform their lives and achieve more by improving their confidence, mindset and time management.
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