If you’re having trouble juggling all of your different responsibilities, you’re not alone. My husband and I like to think we handle our hectic lifestyle and numerous commitments pretty well. However, this summer has really stretched our limits. Our work-life balance is nonexistent and I have been feeling extremely burnt out. It seems like all of our goals for this summer have fallen to the side while we try to survive day to day.
Between trying to keep up with an increased workload at the office, trying to grow our online presence and dealing with some recent family matters, my husband and I have had no time for ourselves. We have been working really hard, with no end in sight. We know from past experiences that making a few small changes can shift our entire perspective on the situation. It’s easy to feel fed up and stuck in a bad situation, but it is also easy to get un-stuck by employing some clever strategies.
For the purposes of this article, I am not limiting ‘work’ to time spent at the office. Not everyone works in the once typical office setting, and there is a significant amount of work needed to manage a household or attend college that I do not intend to discount. By considering all office, academic and household duties as work, perhaps a better name for this equilibrium we are seeking would be work-play balance.
My husband and I are taking our focus from keeping our heads above water each day to organizing our lifestyle and responsibilities in a way that allows us to breathe easier and enjoy ourselves more often. Work-life balance is sometimes tricky to maintain and requires careful planning both at home and at the workplace. While we aspire to be successful in our careers, we’re cautious of the negative effects of the stress we have been experiencing. Here’s how we are shifting our perspective:
Prioritize and Organize your Schedule
Take a fresh look at your schedule – Pull out your planner (or simply a blank piece of paper) and start scheduling your typical week. Start with the most important and least flexible items in your schedule, such as work. From there, add in your other responsibilities starting with the most important. Keep it simple and be careful not to add in more responsibilities than you have time for.
Identify your Game Plan, Daily
Use your weekly schedule to make a daily game plan. Know when you’ll leave the office from the beginning of the day. Keep in mind what needs to get done for the day and get that done first, so you aren’t scrambling to finish up. It’s a good idea to block out the last 20 minutes before you leave to wrap up loose ends.
Keep Running Lists
Instead of trying to remember everything you have going on, write lists. Put your events on the calendar, and keep daily to-do lists at home and at work. Having a plan and knowing what is upcoming will help you maintain focus. When you don’t have a plan in mind, it’s easy to be sucked into the plans and priorities of others.
Communicate with your Team
Be open about your needs with yourself and others. Don’t hide them and don’t expect anyone to guess what you need from them. Most people are happy to assist, and if they are not, you will learn that they obviously aren’t a great team member. At first, this may seem a little selfish. But the better you are doing, the better wife, friend and/or coworker you can to be.
Learn to Say “No”
Remember that you can respectfully say no to the activities you don’t wish to participate in. Don’t feel guilty when you choose to decline. When you stop doing things out of guilt, you’ll have more time to focus on the activities that truly bring you joy.
It’s important to remember that free time is not necessarily available time. Just because Wednesday night is empty on your calendar, doesn’t mean you have to say “yes”. You can turn invitations down so that your free time can be just that—free.
Minimize Activities that Sap your Time or Energy
Easier said than done, I know. Very many people waste their time on activities or people that add no value to their lives. Take stock of which activities you participate in don’t enhance your career or personal life. Then draw firm boundaries so you can devote quality time to your priorities.
Some of our common time hogging activities are spending time on social media, going out after work out of obligation, and planning last minute trips. Though all of these seem like a good idea, they disrupt our week in a way that we have determined isn’t typically worth it.
Minimize Time-Wasting Habits
You will be able to get more done and maybe even be able to leave work earlier if you make a conscious effort to limit the time you spend on the web and social media, making personal calls, or checking your phone. If email or internet surfing sends you into a time-wasting spiral, establish rules to keep you on task. That may mean turning off notifications and replying to emails during limited times each day, using productivity software. Similarly, you may want to ban technology at certain times so that you can focus on your family or friends more fully.
Let Go of Perfectionism
Many overachievers develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when responsibilities are few – school, hobbies and maybe part time work. It’s easy to maintain that perfectionist habit as a kid, but as life gets more complicated, perfectionism can take a huge toll. In order to avoid burn-out, let go of your perfectionist tendencies. It’s a much healthier option to strive not for perfection, but for excellence. Hold yourself to the same standard you would a colleague or friend.
The Trick to Leaving on Time
If you start telling people that you need to leave on time, you’ll be much more likely to do so. By sharing your plan with others, you will keep yourself accountable. While discussing work throughout the day, you can mention to your colleagues, “I need to leave on time tonight, so let me know if you need anything else by 3:00.” Eventually, you’ll retrain your colleagues to expect you to leave on time rather than late each day.
It may help to arrange reasons to leave. Since it would be counter-intuitive to add more tasks to your already bloated schedule, just schedule existing tasks right after your work day. You could schedule your appointments, sign up for exercises classes, make plans with friends that are right after work so you have to head out at a reasonable hour. These plans will ensure you can’t easily back out and stick around the office.
You cannot achieve your balance if you don’t respect the boundaries you have put in place. It will be hard in the beginning but you need to stick with it so you develop a routine and drive a culture and lifestyle of predictability. You will find that there is always more you can do. There is always another email to reply to or a problem to work on, but you need to personally respect your boundaries. If you don’t then you can’t expect others to respect them either.
Build Downtime into your Schedule
Put date night with your spouse or a softball game with friends on your calendar, so you’ll have something to look forward to while you’re hard at work. Take the time to plan recreational activities to rejuvenate yourself. All work and no play is no good for anyone!
When my husband and I have nothing scheduled, our time at home tends to slip by so quickly and our weekend ends without us spending quality time together. Our goal is to schedule at least one leisure activity each week.
Utilize Time before Work
We tend to wake up, shower, and go straight to work. And then we complain about having no time to do anything. By waking up early and taking time to exercise, spend time with family, or straighten up the house, you can set the stage for a more fruitful and fulfilling day.
Rethink your Errands & Chores
Consider whether you can outsource any of your time-consuming household chores or errands. Could you order your groceries online and have them delivered? Pay a kid down the street to mow your lawn? Have your dry cleaning picked up and dropped off at your home or office? Hire a personal shopper or meal service? Even if you’re on a tight budget, you may discover that the time you’ll save will make it well worth it.
Another trick to make chores and errands feel more manageable – take care of your least favorite tasks at the beginning of each week. The feeling of work burnout tends to increase as the week moves forward, so by frontloading your work week with your least favorite tasks, you can free yourself of burdens and increase your free time throughout the rest of the week.
Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking – When trying to minimize time spent on chores, instead of attempting many things at once, try to minimize your time spent on each single task. Try setting a goal to have dinner ready in 30 minutes or less, or straighten up your living room in 15 minutes. Race the clock!
Make More Time for Things you Enjoy
Look for ways to overlap things. If you’re itching to try something new, invite along a friend, spouse, or kid. Even if it turns out less than perfect, it’s a fun time with a friend. If you both enjoy it, now you guys have a new activity to enjoy together.
Have a mini version of your favorite activities for busy weeks. I’d rather have a nice long dinner date with my husband, but during a busy week, getting coffee together is better than no date. I love going to the gym, but since it requires more time than I have most weeks, I exercise in my room on my yoga mat and enjoy going for walks whenever possible.
Think outside the box for your lunch hour – Rather than eating hunched over at your desk, it can be nice to get a break from the cubicle. Going on a short walk, doing some shopping, even squeezing in a quick manicure are enjoyable ways to get away.
Remember that Small Changes have a Big Impact over Time
Don’t assume that you need to make huge changes to bring more balance to your life. We all know what happens when we take on too much too quickly: crash diets fizzle out, extreme New Year resolutions are forgotten by February. It’s the same with work-life balance. Start small and build from there. Start leaving the office earlier just one night each week. Plan a date or weekend getaway. Spend one hour a week on a hobby. Even during a hectic day, remember you can take 10 or 15 minutes to recharge. Your job may be the focus for the rest of your day, but just move it to the back burner for a few minutes and focus on something else.
Ultimately, your time is yours. How you spend it is up to you, so don’t let others make your decisions for you. Pay attention to your day-to-day life and know what it is that makes you successful and what it is that makes you run off the tracks. Keep in mind that making a few changes can shift your entire perspective on the situation. If you feel stuck in a bad situation, know you have the power to get yourself un-stuck. The balancing act starts with reflection on yourself and getting a better idea of what it is you want out of your life and then believing it as true. Find it and live it. Let us know what changes you are making to achieve better work-life balance.