This International Women’s Day, we wanted to talk about work life balance. Of course, finding and maintaining balance between our personal and professional lives isn’t just a women’s issue. It can be a personal dilemma for most working people, a family struggle, and a business issue.
For many of us, the 9-5 workday is an antiquated notion. We bring our work home with us, answer emails in the evenings and on weekends, and work long hours during crunch periods to deliver results on time. This has become the new normal in the modern world of work. For the most part, we’re happy to do it, because we care about our careers and the success of our teams. However, putting in that level of dedication to our jobs is a particular struggle for parents, as it takes its toll on the time and attention we can give to our kids.
The good news is that, in many cases, while workplaces have not become any less demanding, they have become much more flexible in recent years. More and more companies have come to realize that their greatest assets are their talented employees. Canada is actually facing labour shortage conditions right now as unemployment is at historic lows. Competition for high-performing workers is fierce. Employers are aware that offering a positive work life balance and flexible scheduling can be key to attracting and retaining the staff they need. There is a solid business case for this. Companies know that providing an empathetic, supportive workplace culture makes for more productive employees and lower turnover.
Plus, modern technology, mobile connectivity, and the internet have all made it much easier for workers to be productive and contribute from wherever they are, at any time. So, while some experts say that to achieve balance, you should shut your phone off at 5:00pm and not communicate with work until 9:00am the next day, I believe the opposite is true. Flexibility bends both ways.
With that in mind, here are seven strategies for finding and maintaining a healthy and successful work life balance.
1. Don’t feel guilty. Your work is important to you, and so is your personal life. It is not a knock against your professionalism that you have a life outside of work and want to be there for your kids. So, remember when you’re answering those evening work emails or working late on a project, that there’s a trade off. Being there for your employer after hours also means that you can take that day off for the school trip or be there for your child’s dental appointment. Maintain open communication with your employer so that they know the efforts that your putting in as well as the personal commitments that you have to meet.
2. Negotiate your schedule. If you need to pick your child up from school at a certain time, make that clear. You can make up the time by coming in early or coming back online later in the evening. Schedule your meetings before the time you need to leave work and make it clear that you are unavailable after that point. Just be sure that the job gets done. (Which brings me to the next point.)
3. Focus on your results. For most jobs outside of the service industry, it’s not your being in a specific place for a specific amount of time that makes your employer successful. It’s the results you deliver. So, deliver. As long as you are meeting and exceeding the targets that are expected of your position, your employer isn’t likely to be overly fussed over when or from where you do your work.
For many people, working remotely is their most productive time. Let’s face it, a lot of time gets wasted at work. There are the meetings, the small talk, the coffee runs, and much more. Having a private space to work without the ringing phones and chattering coworkers can be an opportunity to get things done.
4. Manage your time. When balancing your work and personal life outside of the traditional 9-5 boundaries, there is a risk that you are never really focused on either. You’re thinking about housework while trying to create a presentation, thinking about your presentation while your child is telling you about their day. You need to set up your own time-management techniques so that you can devote yourself to work issues when you’re working – and set them aside when you’re not. It is important to draw the line between the two – or neither will get your best efforts.
Time is your most valuable commodity. Achieving work life balance is the art of making the most of it.
5. Write a ‘to do’ list. I find that this is the best way to stay focused when working in multiple locations between the office, home, and on the road. Having a written list of tasks and deliverables keeps me on track. It also helps to set priorities. I can drop my son off at school, take a meeting, work for a few hours, pick him up and get him started on homework, then write for a few more hours. The schedule is flexible just as long as everything on the list gets done and done well. Then I’ve completed my job – and looked after my family. Plus, it’s satisfying to cross things off the list as they get accomplished.
6. Take care of yourself. All of this balancing work and family priorities can lead to burnout or neglecting your health. Eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly are essential for a healthy life. Unfortunately, these are often the first things to get pushed aside when we get busy. There is no way to maintain work life balance if you neglect your body. Set time into your daily schedule for exercise. Plan healthy meals and snacks in advance, so that you have them on hand when things get hectic.
Filling up on junk foods or fast foods and not getting enough exercise will leave you feeling run down and sluggish. Your work – and more importantly, your health – will suffer. Look after yourself.
7. Take vacations (for real). The downside to the flexibility I’ve described above is that blending work and family life throughout the day can leave you feeling like you’re seldom ever really off work. This makes it more important than ever to take your vacation time and actually unplug from work while you do. Commit to turning off your phone and email for that time and being on vacation with your family. Set up a voicemail that says you won’t be returning phone calls until you’re back and an out-of-office automated email response and enjoy your time off. (And let me refer you back to my first point: don’t feel guilty about it. You’ve earned your vacation time.)
Even when work was more traditionally considered to be on a 9-5 schedule, many people struggled to maintain a healthy work life balance. Today, the double-edged sword of mobile technology and constant connectivity makes it more difficult than ever to get away from work, at the same time as it creates flexible new options for how and when that work gets done.
Making the most of this starts with setting clear priorities in your work and personal life and then creating the schedule that allows you to be there for both. This may require some negotiation with your employer, but in most cases, results speak for themselves. Make the commitment to constantly deliver top quality work and demonstrate that a flexible schedule and healthy balance don’t harm your productivity or performance. In most cases, it’s quite the opposite.