A New Take on Work-Life Balance

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The curse of the 21st century is that we spend our time trying to succeed in everything at once – work, our significant relationship, family, exercise, friendships, keeping the perfect house, the perfect garden…

No matter how hard I try I never succeed at everything. If I work hard I don’t have time to walk my dog. Go out with friends? I need to clean the house.  Create some art? It never happens. Is this exhausting perfectionism really what is meant by a work-life balance? Can we really do it all?

When I am busy at work I just don’t have the head space or emotional energy to cope with doing anything else. If I put more effort into my personal life I find being at work such a bore. I want to be out doing all those fun things that matter to me personally, not being stuck at work. Instead of neatly balanced, my work-life scales are swinging wildly.

One day I read over my journal entries for the past 6 months. I was horrified to read that the first thing I wrote every single day was, “I’m tired”. I realized the toll that trying to do it all was having on me: I was exhausted, boring and definitely not succeeding at anything. I decided there had to be a better way. After some trial and error my scales have settled into more of a gentle sway.

1. Balance Your Month, Not Your Day

There really aren’t enough hours in the day for everything, but perhaps you can balance your work and life if you widen your timeframe. Think about all the things that are important to you and how many hours you work each day. Can you really do it all? If I took the work-life balance literally then I’d have to call my sister and my Mum, go to lunch with my best friend, exercise, draw, sew, garden, walk my dog, spend quality time with my husband, work 7 hours, commute for 2, cook and meditate all in one day. No wonder I’m tired!

It’s simply not possible to do it all and I fail at everything if I try. So now I try to achieve balance over a month and I try to be flexible. Basically I cut myself some slack. At times when work is really frantic I bump some items off my to do list and allow myself to spend the evenings relaxing, maybe read a little or soak in a bath.  When work eases off then I have the energy to go out, to create and give to others.

2. Make Conscious Choices

If you are going to take a longer-term view of balance you need to be consciously aware of what’s happening in your life.  Accepting that work is frantic at the moment is great, as long as you notice when you can ease off.  Working long hours can be seductive and you can easily fall into a pattern of always being busy and never taking time for your life. I used to work through lunch every day and take work home every weekend because I felt I had to. Now I’ll occasionally put in extra hours but only when I choose to.  If I know putting in more time at work this week will reward me with a better personal life next week, then I’ll do it. It’s a conscious choice and my eye’s firmly on the prize: more quality time for me away from work.

Take a few minutes to make a list of what’s most important to you. This will help you decide what can wait and what can’t.  Dividing your goals into long and short term can really help too. I want to defrost my freezer, but work’s frantic and I’d rather wind down by going for a walk with my husband and dog. Most importantly though be kind to yourself and balance what’s best for you today and tomorrow. Then you really can have it all.

How do you balance your work and your life? Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below.