All of life has to be a balance, and the work-life balance frequently leaves much to be desired. Whether you’re just getting your career off the ground, work as a supervisor in an office or are a solo entrepreneur, the temptations to let work take over are constant and varied. If you find yourself without time to do what you love, see dollar signs when your boss asks if you can stay just a little later, or often change plans with your kids or significant other, that’s life warning you that it’s out of balance.
The work-life balance refers to the ratio of work to family, friends, hobbies, community service and all other elements of your desired life. With these five simple steps, you can get back on track to the life you want.
Establish a priority list
What’s most important to you? Get it straight, and write it down. It’s easy to say, “My family is the most important,” or maybe, “Nothing gets in the way of building my career.” It’s a completely different thing to do it. Would you sacrifice work time to read your child a book? Would you push that deadline so you can have coffee with a friend? Take your time and provide honest answers. Don’t just say what you intuitively think should be your priorities. Evaluate how you live your life, what priorities are now, and how you want to do things differently.
Start at the very top of your true priority list when you schedule. Don’t just schedule work first and then try to fit everything else around it. Set work hours may limit your flexibility in this regard, but you still have the ability to determine the time you spend thinking about work, agreeing to overtime, and preparing for work in some way.
Everything you want to accomplish must be on your schedule. Yes, everything. If you wish you had more time to play with your kids and they’re your top priority, then schedule play time every day. This ensures that the most important things fit into your life first.
If work is too low on the priority list to get enough time, then you may need to take a critical look at what you do for a living. Work should be something you can get excited about, and it won’t take too much time if you’re being adequately compensated for your efforts. Adjustments to your work schedule, wages, or standard of living may be necessary before you can strike a good balance.
Be specific. If you want to spend social time with a friend, specify which friend. Want to get in touch with your family members? Write the exact method of contact and the person or people with whom you wish to reconnect.
Work time is an especially important time to schedule with specifics – what do you need to accomplish right now? If you know what’s required at a glance, you will spend more time getting it done and less time trying to organize during your scheduled work block.
Set a productivity baseline
It’s often tempting to push toward your goals until you hit burnout. The result is that you feel tired, hurried, and completely demoralized all the time. You don’t have time for anything else, and you can’t enjoy it if you do. Sound familiar? You need to set a baseline. Your productivity baseline is the absolute minimum you must accomplish. It may be minimum job requirements, the least you need to do to achieve your goals, or some other identifiable minimum level of effort. Write it down.
Knowing your minimum can greatly reduce work-related stress, as well as help you get back into balance. When you know that you have already done “minimum + X” for the day, it’s a lot easier to take a deep breath and let it go until tomorrow. Shoot for your baseline every day, and then only continue beyond it if you still have time in your work block. If you regularly fail to meet you minimum, then you may need to reevaluate your workload or organization systems.
Evaluate goals on a regular basis
Goals can only be achieved if you set them. Intuitively, everyone knows this. Don’t leave it at that. Goals that are actually written down are far more likely to be met. To take it one step further, goals that are regularly reevaluated and have a logical step-by-step plan are exponentially more likely to be met. Write goals for every facet of your life, broken down into as many simple, measurable steps as you can. Schedule ten minutes every morning to read them over, revising as necessary.
Keep your goals constantly in front of you as a reminder of where you’re going. It lets you know how far you’ve already gone, and which areas of your life aren’t moving forward like they should. Have your priority list handy while you read your goals so you know which ones must go into the schedule first.
Don’t let the lines blur
Once you have your schedule, stick to it. Coach yourself out of self-talk that tries to convince you to get just ten more minutes of work in while the kids are occupied. If you have waiting time when it’s not a work block, take along a novel or do something fun that’s not work-related. On the flip side, block out as much as you can of the rest of the world during your work time so that you can focus and get it done. Distraction causes inefficient work to bleed into the time that’s reserved for the rest of your life.
The realities of normal life constantly conspire to pull you out of balance. You can’t just work through the steps and forget about them. Consistently reevaluate your life to make sure that you stay in balance. Every time you have to break a date or miss an event because of work, double-check your boundaries.