The search for the perfect work life balance seems ideal and yet in many way the words do not make sense.
When you think about work life balance create in your mind a picture of doing that – do you feel content and happy? Probably not.
That’s because trying to balance life and work becomes a constant juggling act, a little bit of work here, a little bit of life there. Work is part of your life not a balance against it, even thinking about it in terms of balance is stressful. The real question is, how much of your life do you want to dedicate to your work – and the answer to that is a personal one.
Achieving balance is like walking a tightrope; you are always swaying a little this way, then that. Anyone who tried, cooking dinner, playing with their kids and working on tomorrow’s meeting agenda will know how this feels. Instead of trying to ‘balance off’ different activities in your life, think instead about creating a daily or weekly rhythm that works for you. This means taking a step back and considering how you ‘do’ your life.
Achieving rhythm in your life is something that’s unique to you, the surprising thing is that small changes to your routines and planning can make a huge difference. People spend time, money and energy on the things they believe are important to them. This doesn’t mean you like all the things you do.
If you believe it’s important to help other people, you will spend more time focusing on that than other people, if you believe, at some level, that hard work pays off, you will prioritise work over the things, even if you don’t want to do it.
The key to creating rhythm in life is to get consciously aware of how you spend your time and update your beliefs by asking yourself ‘Is this really important to me and why?’. If it is keep on going, but many people find that a lot of time wasting activities they do are just old and out of date.
Know your energy thresholds
Key to finding your rhythm is to understand what gives you energy and what drains your energy. We are all different so monitor your energy levels for a week and pay attention. Some people find the buzz of a party gives them energy for some it’s a real drain. Some people get energy from activity like going for a run, for some they get energy from being still. Once you know yours you can plan your week so that you do more of what gives you energy and less of what drains you.
Review the list below and begin to get a sense of you own thresholds. Is your energy enhanced or drained when you:
- Have lots to do or nothing to do?
- Are with or without unfamiliar people?
- Are with or without trusted close people?
- Have structure or a lack of structure?
- Have clarity of a lack of clarity?
- Are sitting still or moving around?
- Have peace and quiet or noise and bustle around?
Look at the list notice what is it about them that impacts your energy?
Develop healthy routines
Start to plan healthy routines that help you to maintain rhythm and give you energy. This is hard for people who like constant variety but the advantage of a routine is that it gives you a thinking short cut, giving your mind space and energy to focus on more important things. For example creating a work wardrobe that coordinates will save you time planning outfits or packing for business trips. Having weekly meal plans save time very day thinking about what to cook. Where having variety and choice gives your pleasure keep it, otherwise find a healthy routine that works.
When changing your routines, take it step by step and avoid drastic changes. Your mind and the other people in your life need time to adjust. So instead of finishing work at 5pm every night instead of your usual 7pm, decide to leave at 6pm three nights a week, then gradually keep tweaking your leave time until it works for you. It’s always better to start with something you know you can achieve, and moving from there than taking a major step you can’t sustain.
Communicate your time boundaries
Find ways of communicating to other people when you are available and when you are not. If you are someone who says yes to everything, find a way of buying yourself thinking time or saying maybe rather than ending up with too many commitments.
If you say no to a lot of things you could be missing out on opportunities, so listen carefully to requests from other people rather than shutting off as soon as you sense a request coming your way.
The best way to find your rhythm is to make one change at a time and then keep tweaking. Self awareness is key, as you need both awareness and motivation to make any changes to your routine. Pick a few things that feel relatively easy and try them out, then you can let go of the need for balance and let life flow.
About Karen Meager and John McLachlan
John and Karen are the authors of the highly acclaimed book Real Leaders for the Real World (£12.99, Panoma Press), ‘Time Mastery’ (£12.99, Panoma Press) and founders of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy, a leading UK training company in NLP.
Karen has an MBA specialising in strategy, financial strategy and human development. She is a UKCP registered Psychotherapist (DipNLPt), one of less than a handful of internationally accredited NLP Master Trainers, coach and leadership development specialist.
John is one of less than a handful of internationally accredited NLP Master Trainers, a qualified therapist, clinical hypnotherapist, coach and leadership development specialist.