Work Life Balance

People sometimes talk about needing to get a better work-life balance and what this means is that they are dissatisfied with how they spend their time and their energy.

Time and Energy

Those who worry about their work-life balance are usually feeling that they are spending too much time and energy in an unbalanced way: which means the appropriate amount of time and energy is not being put into the parts of their life that they think they should be going into. For example, someone may be spending a lot of hours in work and feel tired when they leave work which means their family life then gets fewer hours and only the dregs of their energy.

For other people it can mean that they have to put so many hours into childcare or caring for others that they don’t have time or energy to put into activities which they want for themselves (e.g. going to the gym or meeting friends or developing their career).

In general when people speak about work-life balance, “work” refers to the responsibilities we have and “life” refers to the activities which nourish and refresh us. There are people who love their jobs and they are nourished by it and they feel fine about putting loads of hours into work; on the other hand there are people who don’t like their job and resent having to put in any additional time.

Sometimes the imbalance is temporary and is due to unexpected or seasonal events which require more from us that normal and so the “balance” will sort itself out in due course. However, it becomes a problem when it goes on and on; at that point the person needs to try to take back some control.

Give and Take

To willingly give my time and energy, even a lot of it, is one thing but it is very different if I feel that my time and energy is being taken from me. This is another element in the work-life balance equation: “am I giving or is it being taken?”

Somewhere in this area lies the issue of control; am I in control or am I feeling that someone or something else is controlling me? When we go to work we allow the disciplines of the job to define how we spend our time and how we act this is our option. If you begin to feel that the demands of work are too much and that your control is being eroded then resentment can set in. The pressure of this can also be added to when other people in your life begin to comment that they see less of you than they want or that you don’t seem to have your usual amounts of energy or that you seem to be quite grumpy a lot of the time.

Managing your time and energy better

If you are planning to re-balance your life then the task is about taking more control of your time and your energy. This is usually easier to think about than it is to put into action.

For one thing when you begin to re-take more control of things in your life it means taking control back from someone or something so expect resistance. It’s like going to ask for something precious to be returned to you while the person still is using it – they are not inclined to give it back to you. There will be different pressures put on you to not take back your control and you may even be accused of being “selfish” with your time – in fact you may even accuse yourself of being “selfish”. So be prepared for the inner struggle as well as an outer struggle when you attempt to regain control in your life.

In terms of your regaining control of your time and energy it will help if you create a plan, even if it’s just in your head, about what you are going to do. Here are some examples:

  • Make a deal with yourself to take an hour out of each day just for you to relax

  • Decide to get out into the fresh air every day no matter how busy you are

  • Try to get others around you to take on some of the chores that you end up doing

  • Here is a hard one……say “no” to things you do not actually want to do…. Just say “no”

  • Review your day at the end of each day…take 5 minutes to write down how happy you are with how the day has been for you

  • Plan a “treat” activity for yourself each month

  • Try writing a to-do list each evening and then try your best to stick to it the following day.

  • Leave work on time

  • Re-discover a hobby which you used to enjoy but gave up because you were too busy

Making changes to your life takes time (approximately 3 months) and takes discipline (stick to your plan).

In your mind plan your week and schedule time with your family and friends, and activities that help you recharge. Make one afternoon or evening a theme time: e.g. a take-away night, a film-night, a dance-class evening. Everyone agrees and sticks to the plan and it helps us stick to what we decide to do.

This is also a good time to review all the things you end up doing and decide to ditch the rubbish. Watching too much TV? Cut it down. Shopping too much? Cut it down. Hanging out with people who are not supportive of you? Guess what you need to do?

Don’t assume that you need to make big changes to bring more balance to your life and realistically begin with one or two very small changes like start by spending an hour a week just doing something for you which gives you time to relax. Even during a hectic day, you can take 10 or 15 minutes to do something that will recharge your batteries, like a walk at lunchtime or read a book you like or take a relaxing bath.

Put yourself back in control of how you spend your life. Focus on your time and your energy, these are precious resources which you have but they are limited and you can chose how to use them.