One of the most common dilemmas of the working professional is: how do I find work-life balance? With each new promotion, responsibilities increase and, in turn, the demands on time. A typical day starts with an early morning commute (averaging 25 minutes each way) to arrive at the office where a clogged email inbox awaits. Then, one must manage to complete their daily tasks while attending various meeting throughout the day. Often, people find themselves staying later to get things done. They arrive home exhausted in the evening, still having to contend with dinner, significant others, children, or other personal commitments.
In a study completed by Adobe on email use, nine out of ten people reported checking email outside of work hours. That means most people are looking at work email while watching TV, winding down for bed, talking on the phone, and even when on vacation. How can one decompress from the day when they are always thinking about work?
What compounds the issues is the inability to get into a ‘flow’ during the workday when workers can spend a good chunk of time on one specific task. They are constantly interrupted with incoming urgent emails, the ping of instant messages, and questions from coworkers. This reduces productivity during the workday, making them feel like they need to continue working on their commute home and check their emails outside of work.
How then can we achieve work-life balance? As individuals, we may not be able to change the entire system, but we can make small changes to our habits. Here’s how.
Shift Your Perspective
Harry M. Jansen Kraemer, Jr., author of From Values to Action, suggests we stop looking at it as work-life balance. Instead, see it as merely ‘life balance.’ Instead of boxing work time into an 8-5/Monday-Friday schedule, be willing to work late, come in early, or work a weekend to take time for fun or family activities that fall within those hours.
The key to leaving work at work is productivity. Time blocking is a technique that creates the focus needed to complete tasks (that flow we mentioned), so you can get more done in a day. Essentially, you schedule time on your calendar (blocking off that time) to complete specific tasks. For instance, instead of checking your email as it comes in, block off 30 minutes every one to two hours to read and respond to new emails.
It requires some planning, which can be done weekly or daily, to block off the time for those deadlines. Be realistic in the time needed to complete tasks, so you don’t feel like a failure if you don’t finish it in the allotted time. Eventually, as you keep up the practice, you’ll determine the accurate timing of things.
Prioritizing goes along with time blocking, which can help you determine the most critical tasks to complete. Put the least important tasks off until later. Set aside time at the end of the day or week to work on menial administrative things that can wait.
Schedule Personal Time
Make time for family and friends. You can use the time blocking to ensure you’re making family commitments and events you don’t want to miss. You won’t regret making your children’s soccer games or that weekend trip with your old high school buddies.
Don’t Neglect Hobbies
A recent Harvard Business review article talked about the hobbies of CEOs from Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon is a DJ by night. Andy Wilson of Electronic Arts practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Brian Roberts of Comcast plays squash (and once lead his team to win a gold medal)!
How do some of the busiest professionals make time for hobbies? With all the pressures and demands of their jobs, the typical decompressing strategies, such as spending time with family or watching TV, will not cut it. Hobbies are essential to shut out those demands to focus their attention on something they enjoy. Hobbies help them reset and come back to work refreshed.
We can take a lesson from these CEOs by planning time to engage in activities we enjoy as well. Like to paint? Take an art class or participate in art shows. Love hiking? Plan trips to hike the highest peaks in the U.S.
Engage in activities that relax you so you can return to work with a renewed mindset.
There will always be tension between personal and professional demands. However, we can achieve equilibrium by changing our perspective, planning our calendars effectively, and making time for those personal things that matter most to us.