Turning the tables on work-life balance may seem deceptively simple, though simply changing our perspective isn’t quite so easy. People who devote the majority of their lives to their work and careers, rather than to their family responsibilities, may find it difficult to turn their priorities upside down.
Walking the tightrope
Balancing work and family responsibilities is as complicated as walking a tightrope without a safety net.
“Even the strongest, fastest, smartest people are helpless when they’re off balance,” says professor of organisational psychology and group dynamics Stephen Balzac.
Balzac, who also operates a consulting practice to help individuals and companies improve their performance, adds, “They don’t have the foundation to apply their strength or speed.”
According to Balzac, if you’re not emotionally and physically balanced, you can’t use your intelligence or creativity to solve problems. Instead, you rely on brute force and awkwardness, wrestling for hours or days with problems you could easily solve if you were centred, calm and energised (balanced!).
These tips for walking the tightrope may change how you see your work and others’ lives and help you achieve a healthy balance.
Are you off-kilter at work?
According to a recent report by the Australia Institute, Australian workers are donating almost $110 billion in free labour every year, with the average full-time worker clocking up six hours of unpaid overtime each week.
In addition, of workers surveyed, just three in 10 reported an improvement in their work-life balance over the past five years.
We overwork ourselves for a variety of reasons: perfectionism, feelings of inadequacy, family conditioning, the need for approval, the desire to avoid personal problems, job insecurity, professional competition or a compulsion we can’t even name.
There’s nothing wrong with working hard, unless it interferes with your health, relationships or life outside work.
You’re off balance if work trumps all.
Overwork can lead to illness
“I once worked two jobs due to a takeover,” says small business owner Susanne Alexander-Heaton. “I was repeatedly promised extra help that never came, and I worked the hours it took to get both jobs done.
“After two back-to-back bouts of bronchitis followed by severe fatigue, my immune system was compromised. I burned out and had to ask for a leave of absence. If I didn’t, my doctor said I’d end up hospitalised. That was a huge piece of humble pie, as I had always been the energetic, enthusiastic one.”
We often wait until it’s too late—a scary diagnosis, a doctor’s dire threats, a hasty decision that has nasty consequences—before realising the importance of prioritising what matters most.
Decide what’s important
“Creating work-life balance is harder than just adding things to your to-do list,” says Gayle Wiebe Oudeh, a conflict management specialist. “I often challenge clients to start each day by asking two questions: ‘What is really important for me today at work?’ and ‘What is really important for me today outside of work?’ Then, focus on those two things during the day.”
Different things take priority at different times. Sometimes family needs 100 per cent of your energy, while other times work or health or a tropical beach vacation is your main focus.
“If you have an important work task, then focus on that,” says Oudeh. “If you need to be emotionally supportive to a loved one who is going through a difficult time, then acknowledge and commit to that. This mindset allows you to focus on each priority at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way, rather than feeling distracted and off balance all day.”
Keep a time log for a week
“Clients always ask me for the best or latest gadget to help them manage their time,” says life coach Michelle Cullum. “But it’s not about time management; it’s about self-management. I encourage clients to keep a week-long time log to track where and how they spend their time. It’s usually an eye-opening experience to see where time goes.”
Almost one-third of our time goes to sleep. Then we commute, get ready for work, do our jobs and take care of immediate commitments (appointments, driving kids to soccer practice, volunteering). No wonder there’s not enough time for family, fun or ourselves.
“I make my clients take themselves on dates [something] every week,” says Cullum. “When they take care of themselves, they feel and act better towards others. This makes them happier. It’s an upwards spiral. And as a bonus, they learn that who they are, not what they do, makes them successful.”
Tune in to your energy
“The most important thing to realise is that time has nothing to do with balance,” says “The Balance Whisperer” and stress management consultant Cathleen O’Connor.
“Throw the clock out the window. Instead, focus on energy. Balance is about choosing where to spend your energy—what to say yes to and what to refuse.”
What gives you energy? Make a date with yourself—a deliberate effort to do more of what you love and less of what drains you.
“It sounds simple, but it works!” says O’Connor. “If hugging your six-year old fills you with zest, then make room for more hugs in your day. If grocery shopping after work exhausts you, then delegate the task or find a store that delivers.”
If neither of these options works for you, planning your meals and shopping during the weekend for ingredients might help avoid the necessity of after-work shopping trips.
Figure out what balance means to you
“Balance doesn’t mean equal,” says Beverly Beuermann-King, a stress and wellness specialist. “It means you’re satisfied with how you spend your time, what your priorities are and how you make decisions about what to prioritise.”
Balance may mean simplifying your work tasks, de-cluttering your home space or hiring someone to do chores. It may be a sacrifice to pay someone to do something you normally do yourself, but it’s worth it if it allows you to spend time the way you want.
Making the effort to create balance in your life can require time and discipline, but it’ll soon have you walking the tightrope with the greatest of ease.
The benefits of balance
- emotional, physical and spiritual well-being
- improved sleep
- increased energy
- more positive, optimistic outlook
- better work and home relationships
Quick tips for finding balance
- ask for help
- be honest about your workload
- schedule time to exercise, socialise and re-energise
Employers can encourage balance
“Employee burnout leads to lost hours, decreased commitment, reduced focus and high employee turnover,” says Anastasia Valentine, a career strategist.
What employers can do
- recognise and support family time
- encourage time off without penalty
- eliminate “use it or lose it” holiday policies
- encourage wellness practices such as massage, alternative therapy, retreats and yoga
- install exercise rooms or give passes to a nearby gym
- encourage a balanced diet by including healthier choices in the office cafeteria
- celebrate successes to increase morale
- have fun at work—it creates feelings of belonging
Benefits to employers
- fewer sick days
- increased productivity and focus
- boosted morale
- better communication
- lower turnover rates