What does work-life balance mean to you? Does it mean spending an equal amount of time at work and at home? Does it mean spending as much time as you can at work or at home without either aspect of your life suffering too badly?
For most of us, a work-life balance means a variety of things, but the majority of people find it difficult to find or at least, they manage to find a "kind of" work-life balance which satisfies them temporarily until the next work crisis comes along or family issue arises which pulls them in one direction or another. What most people do agree on is that today's world is busier, faster and more hectic than ever before, leaving us struggling at times to divide our time equally between work, family, friends, external commitments and yet still managing to find a few moments to ourselves just to breathe, take time to relax and most importantly, to just enjoy life.
So, we know that work-life balance can mean different things to different people... but what we all want to know is, how do we find it? It seems to exist for some people and not for others, or so we are led to believe. We all know the high achiever who seems to be able to have it all... great career, wonderful family, lots of outside interests, always finds time to go to the gym, bakes cakes, take the kids to soccer practice and still manages to have a successful career while looking terrific... but is it all just a myth? Can we really "have it all" or is this person just a figment of our own imagination and someone we put pressure on ourselves to emulate and become?
Yes, there are people who are perceived by others as "having it all" and who are believed to have found that elusive work-life balance, but the reality of their own situation is often far from what we perceive it to be. Over the years I have met many high achievers who seemed to have boundless energy when others were exhausted... who appeared to be in total control of their lives and able to do it all singlehandedly without help from anyone, but the reality was often very different and behind the scenes, these people often suffered from illness, depression, stress, anxiety and low self-esteem.
I recently read an article about women in the UK who are desperately trying to "have it all" and who are now resorting to taking drugs such as Adderall literally to keep them going when they are tired and feeling as if they are going to burn out. If ever there was a genuine need out there for people, particularly women, to find that elusive work-life balance, now is the time.
Here are some tips to help you find your own work-life balance...
Learn to say no sometimes
It sounds easy in principle, but most of us struggle when we try to say "No", whether it is to an invitation from a friend you have not seen for a while to meet up for coffee, or to a demanding boss who wants you to spend another 2 or 3 hours at the office when you desperately want to get home to spend precious time with your family, or whether it is to your children who have been asking and asking for something that, up to now you have been firm about saying no to, but it would be much easier to say "yes" to in the short-term. If we can learn to say no now and then, we gain a renewed sense of ownership of our own lives and this in itself can be extremely empowering.
Remember that not everything on your "To Do" list is urgent
A gentleman I worked with many years ago when I was just at the beginning of my career, gave me some very valuable advice one day when he saw how stressed I was with all of the things that had to be done. He said, "Don't try to do everything on your "To Do" list at once - learn to prioritise instead" and it really stuck with me. Ever since then I write down all of the things I have to do and then number them afterwards in order of importance. Sometimes we set ourselves impossible goals and then wonder why we are so disappointed when we do not achieve everything we have set out to do! Learn to prioritise and you will quickly realise the things that are less important than others and can be done another day.
Don't try to be all things to all people
Many high achievers in particular feel that they must always be at their best, do their best and give their all to every situation. This usually results in one of two outcomes... either the person trying to do it all eventually gets ill and cannot be anything to anyone, or the person starts making mistakes and doing nothing particularly well at all. I attended a session last year which focused on our energy levels. The consultant who presented the session spoke about our body literally being a battery and making ourselves aware at varying times of the day of how much "battery" we have left, in terms of our energy levels. If we are constantly operating at a "5" on the battery scale (5 being the highest energy level) then very quickly we will run out of energy and drop down to a "1" which equates to our battery being completely depleted and results in exhaustion. This really resonated with me and we should all practise becoming aware of our own energy levels throughout the day, so that we don't completely burn out.
Take a break
Most of us are now so busy that we forget to eat and often skip lunch in a bid to get through our increasingly long "To Do" list. It has been proven that if we can take even a ten minute break at regular intervals throughout the day, our body and mind benefits hugely from this. The result is more energy, better concentration and an improvement in our general state of wellbeing. If you are office based, a walk to the watercooler for a drink of water is sufficient. If you are working from home, step away from the place you usually work - whether that is your kitchen, home office or living room and get some fresh air for five minutes. Even stretching and moving around for a few minutes carries oxygen to your brain and your muscles allowing you to think more clearly and be more productive.
Be kind to yourself
Life is so hectic sometimes that it is often difficult to find time for ourselves. Work, families and other interests demand our time and often by the time bedtime comes we feel as if we haven't achieved what we wanted to or, very often, we go to bed wondering where the day went and how we didn't even get time to relax properly. For at least one hour a week, try to spend time doing something for yourself. This might mean asking your partner or a friend to look after the kids (if you have some) while you go for a swim, to the gym or treat yourself to a massage. If you are relaxed and calm, you are in a much better state of mind to face any challenges that may come your way so it is important to try and do something that's just for you now and again.
Put down the smartphone, shut down the tablet and switch off the laptop!
This sounds simple, but many of us are so reliant on technology that we struggle to be away from our phones, tablets or laptops for even short periods of time in case we miss a text message, tweet or email. I remember a story I heard once about a guy who had gone to his son's football match, only to miss his son scoring a goal because he was busy looking at his emails on his phone. Try to have a few hours each day where you put the phone in another room and close the door on the home office and spend that time doing something that you really love with family or friends (or by yourself!)
Ask for help
Many of us would rather just struggle on doing everything on our own, rather than ask for help when we need it most. Both women and men find themselves under enormous pressure these days - financially, personally and professionally and there is a perception out there, particularly among men that asking for help is a sign of weakness or that people might think you cannot keep on top of things. More and more people are realising that to ask for help is a sign of strength and is something to be admired. If you find yourself not coping - whether in your career or in your personal or family life - asking for help is the best thing you can do, for yourself and for those you love. There are many organisations out there that can help you, so don't be afraid to reach out if you need someone to give you a hand. We are all just human after all.