Q AND A: Achieving work-life balance: It's easier said than done
Question: In theory, I agree with seeking work-life balance. In practice, work often encroaches. Too much e-mail checking, longer hours than needed, that type of thing. Can you give me some practical ideas to help?...
Question: In theory, I agree with seeking work-life balance. In practice, work often encroaches. Too much e-mail checking, longer hours than needed, that type of thing. Can you give me some practical ideas to help?
Answer: Your moment-by-moment choices determine whether you feel in balance or not, so focus on the impact of the small steps you take.
What do you get from overdoing it at work? You may want to prove yourself or be seen as indispensible. This may be fear-driven, especially during times of economic uncertainty. Or, it may just be a bad habit. Understanding this can help you address the underlying issues to achieve lasting change.
Focus on what you'd rather be doing. Try filling in this sentence: "If I wasn't working this evening, I could be ..." Is that easy to do? Do you have a variety of things you'd be doing instead? If not, you may be using work to fill a void. You may feel overwhelmed by too many things, particularly if there aren't enough that are fun and engaging.
Moving from the "doing" to the "being" side, take time to quietly imagine how you'd like your non-work time to feel. Experience yourself in the ideal balance between work and home, focusing on the transitions between work and home.
Notice what has worked in the past for you when changing habits. Some people like to wean themselves, while "cold turkey" works for others.
Plan your days so you're connected at work when you are there, and move away from it once you've left. What, exactly, will your work times be? As people have become more wired, there tend to be fewer boundaries. Your preferred times may not be a rigid in- office 9 to 5. It may even include planned check-ins, especially as you move toward more separation. The key is to know what you plan and to stay with that (while recognizing that emergencies will come up).
Others will also need a chance to adjust. Try letting people know daily when you'll be signing off. Then stick with it. For example, let your clients know that you'll be offline at 5:30 but will check e-mail at 9. If they've become dependent on immediate responses, this'll help, and may be particularly necessary if you're in a global business.
Now, today, this week, next month, what would you like to be doing? If your focus is connections with people, make a plan with a friend for something simple like dinner or a phone call. If your focus is being outside more, don't overthink it: just throw yourself out the door.
It's the moment of truth. You've left work and walked into your house. What are you going to do? Stop at your computer for a quick e-mail check? Stop yourself. Tempted to pull out your BlackBerry? Choose not to. Breaking habits depends on small decisions, and giving yourself mental space to have more to life than work depends on you.
Grant yourself the right to a full and varied life--and it'll spill over into more satisfaction and less burnout at work, too.