Setting a Work-Life Balance

Setting a Work-Life Balance

It can be hard to balance the requirements of your job and the other aspects of your life (family, children, spouse, sleep, household management, health, hobbies, friends, and so on).

Sometimes Work Is the Tipping Point

Sometimes the challenge comes from the difficulty of leaving work at work and keeping firm boundaries around family and personal time. Some jobs have a culture of workaholism. There might be a culture of overwork, of pressure against taking sick time or vacation, of unhealthy definitions of what it means to be part of the “team”. It’s expected that everyone stays late, takes work home, comes in on days off, or pulls double shifts.  Many kinds of jobs have required on-call shifts; some workplaces just assume that you are always on call.

In other cases, aspects of your work may have access to you at home. Your boss or coworkers may call you on your days off. You may find yourself answering emails on the weekends, telling yourself, “I’ll just answer this text really quick”, or you find yourself taking work on vacations.  Many jobs now include work-from-home days, or are completely performed from home, and this just blurs the lines even more.

Sometimes It’s Home

It’s not always the work side of the balance that pushes the boundaries. Maybe the balance of responsibility for household work is uneven, and you do an entire other shift of housework when you get home. Maybe you have difficulty saying “no” to someone asking “for a good cause”, and then you find you have far too much on your plate.

More and more often, jobs can involve telecommuting. You might work from home, freelance, be self-employed, own your own business, or have a flexible schedule. Family and friends will often assume that means you are always available. You are home anyway – so bake these cupcakes for the bake sale. You work at home; can’t you do the laundry, dishes, and vacuum while you’re writing that report and making client calls? Or use your flexible schedule to be on-call for your needy grandfather so that he doesn’t have to get a home health aide? You might find yourself working all night to get that project done because of this lack of respect for work time.

There are two things to keep in mind when you are setting up a work-life balance. When you make these two things clear, and make sure that you keep them clear, finding your ideal balance is a lot easier.

Clear Priorities, Assessed Regularly

Decide what is important in your life, and put that into place first. If your priority is that you want to make partner, then career might be most important. If it is being at all your kid’s ballgames and school functions, keep that priority in mind when planning your schedule. Maybe you absolutely do not want to send your child to daycare; then you and your partner may need to discuss getting jobs with opposing schedule, or one of you working from home. Decide what is important, and keep that in mind when you are planning. It is so easy for the tyranny of the urgent to overwhelm what is really important.

Evaluate regularly. Children grow; once yours start school, your schedule will change. If someone has a serious illness, life changes around it. Maybe you don’t like what working so hard for that promotion is doing with you, and you need to think about whether the effects on your health and relationships are worth it. Make a point to schedule time regularly to evaluate whether the way you spend your daily life and what you believe is most important match. If they don’t, then you may need to make changes.

Figure out what is necessary, and what comes from a false sense of obligation. Be okay with not getting everything perfect, or with no longer doing something because there isn’t room for it anymore.

Set Clear Boundaries

Set clear boundaries. Have a clear separation between work and non-work.  If you need to check work email when you’re not at work, keep a limit on it, such as only after the kids are in bed, or only between 6:30 and 7. If your job seems to have emergencies several times a week that keep you hours late, explain you can’t do double shifts four days a week. Consider changing jobs if necessary. Don’t take work on vacations.

If you work from home, make it clear that when you are working at home, you are, in fact, at work, and will not be interrupting your work to do chores, talk, volunteer, or play. Block out hours to focus on work, and keep them for work only.

If you share a home or life with other people, communicate. Discuss what each of you need; often, the other people in your life will be willing to make changes, but since nothing was said, they just assume it’s fine. There may be some backsliding, but you cane work out more fair, healthier divisions of responsibilities.

You may want to set additional boundaries in your life to keep yourself healthy and avoid overwork. Maybe you need to limit how much time you spend doing your parents’ landscaping, and talk to them about hiring a gardener instead of trying to keep up two yards yourself. Perhaps you need to explain to your church that you can’t play the piano every single week. Remind yourself that No is a perfectly acceptable answer.

It’s Not that Kind of Balance

Work-life balance is dynamic, flexible. Achieving balance in your life is not like balancing a coin carefully on its edge and leaving it to sit there. If something jostles the table, the coin falls. Life is full of jostles and bumps; you don’t want to live the kind of life where a bump completely knocks you over.

Work-life balance is more like riding a bicycle. There is a bit of a learning curve while you figure out what works and practice it. When you are pedaling uphill or on rough ground, it takes a lot more effort. But once you learn to adjust for road conditions, you get where you are going faster, you are healthier and in better shape, and for every slog uphill, there is an exhilarating coast downhill.

 



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