Life does not stop happening just because you are at work. There are many unforeseen obligations that tug for our time. Work-life balance describes a balance between time spent managing one’s professional and personal obligations. Achieving work-life balance, for many parents, can seem like an elusive mirage.
Thanks to technological innovations employees are always accessible. According to a survey conducted by Harvard Business School, 50% of participants responded that they work more than 65 hours per week and 94% of participants reported working more than 50 hours per week.
When a worker is also a parent, they are pulled in different directions. Often, workers feel anxious and guilty when they choose their family over their jobs, knowing that such choices do not come without cost.
The stress of a workday that never ends creates divides in family relationships that can be difficult or impossible to fix. When a person works too much, their personal relationships, and their emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical wellbeing suffers. Working too little can jeopardize our position and the ability to provide the support our families need. To make things work, we must find that perfect balance between the two. And guess what, as soon as you find it, it changes!
A Forbes contributing author offered six pointers for achieving work-life balance.
1-Let go of the need to be perfect
This is geared towards perfectionists and overachievers. Life happens. Life is complex. It does not leave much room for perfection. Expecting or attempting to achieve perfection is illogical and impossible. Perfectionism is a destructive habit that causes burnout and hinders relationships. Instead of striving for perfection strive for excellence. Be compassionate with yourself and allow yourself to be human. “To err is human; to forgive, divine” (Alexander Pope).
2- Airplane Mode
Take some downtime and unplug. Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School says, “There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment” (Lee, 2004). Today’s technology helps our lives in many ways. However, constant accessibility comes with negative consequences. Constant phone notifications, answering emails during your child’s football game, keeps you from being present. Set a limit to when you will and will not answer phone calls and notifications, and them implement it. It’s a lot like bodybuilding, it takes time to strengthen weak muscles. Each time you stretch this limitation you develop a muscle of resilience. Brooks says that “resilient people feel a greater sense of control over their lives,” (Lee, 2004). Continually responding to demands for your attention creates a habit of reactivity, and reactive people feel as if their lives are out of control, and they experience more stress.
Take care of your physical and mental wellbeing through physical exercise and meditation. We may make time for sleep, eating, and hygiene, yet neglect our bodies and our spirits. Exercise is one of our most crucial needs, yet it is the first thing to go when we get too busy. According, to the Mayo Clinic, exercise pumps endorphins through our bodies that lift our moods and helps us reach a meditative state.
Self-care includes our bodies and each week we should schedule in time for exercise, meditation, or yoga. You can start by doing a deep breathing exercise. According to Psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, deep breathing exercises and meditation improves your autonomic nervous system (Lee, 2004). First, it impacts your body’s stress response (sympathetic nervous system), and then it helps your body’s reset and digest responses (parasympathetic nervous system). Meditative exercises help you stay grounded and be present.
Limit activities and people that waste time. Start by identifying your priorities. Make a List and then set firm boundaries around it. Devote quality time to the people and activities that you’ve identified as priorities.
Trim the activities from your schedule that are not supporting the achievement of your priorities. For example, if watching one episode of your favorite show sends you into a binge-watching frenzy, then you must, “establish rules to keep you on task” (Lee, 2004). Additionally, you can turn your electronic devices on airplane mode during specific times of day, to avoid distracting, stressful, and life interrupting notifications. If you are spending too much time on social media, try using a software designed to help you be more productive such as RescueTime or Freedom.
Also, give yourself permission to be a little selfish and take care of you. Have you heard the old airplane metaphor about needing to put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else? When you take care of yourself, it empowers you to do a better job taking care of others.
5-Change your habits
Change your habits to restructure your life. Are you stuck in a rut? Well, it happens to the best of us. When your life becomes too predictable, it is time to rewire your brain and change things up. For example, I am a content writer, and lately, I have been experiencing a creative writing block. I went and sat outside with a notebook one day, and then sat at a coffee shop another day, and the words just flowed out of me. That is when I figured out that small tweaks in our routine, help us to be more creative and innovative.
It’s not a good idea to stretch ourselves too thin. Do you volunteer for every project at work, or do you manage all the responsibilities at home? Living life this way will wear you out and make you cranky and resentful. Overloading yourself makes you feel overworked and underappreciated. Instead of trying to do it all, turn your attention to the activities that you find most valuable. Delegate tasks and outsource the mundane activates. Ask for help when you need it.
Take small bites out of your big goal. Have you ever heard the saying, you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time? Well, it is true. Trying to make major changes all in one go is a mistake. Start small by taking baby steps and work your way up. For example, maybe you want to eat out less. We may be tempted to make a big shopping trip and spend all weekend prepping meals for the week and change everything all at once. Then everyone gets the flu. All the food goes bad and you’re back to eating out again—and meal prepping didn’t work. Try prepping one meal ahead of time for a week or two. If that goes well, then add another. Small changes make for easier transitions into new things allowing us to prepare both mentally and physically.
I asked my Facebook friends how they balance work and life, and the number one response was that they put their children and their families first. While you may feel twinges of worry or guilt about disappointing your employer, life is short, and your children will only be children for a little while. Time is the one thing you can never get back.
Lee, D. J. (2004). 6 Tips for better work-life balance. Retrieved from Forbes: How does one achieve work-life balance?