I recently read an article in Forbes by Kathryn Dill entitled “How to leave work at 5:00 PM and still get everything done.” It was the typical article about time management, prioritizing lists and all that fun stuff. Nothing really thought provoking until the last section of the article when I read:
“The best thing you can do for your life at the office is to build a dynamic life outside of it.
Whatever your work/life preferences, it’s a point on which almost everyone is in agreement: The people who are the most creative and efficient in their careers prioritize time away from the office.”
“If you’re not spending your time off in a way that actively refreshes and renews you and fuels you, there’s no way you’re going to make good choices and be efficient at work.”
Work life balance is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about recently. I love my job. I work with amazing people, have an above average boss who is my friend, mentor and life coach all rolled into one. I’m constantly challenged and never bored.
However, I still need a break from my office occasionally. I tend to get sucked into work and will suddenly look up and realize the day is gone. Having a day or two likes this every week is great for my productivity. My issue is when I start to do it for multiple days in a row. That is when my productivity actually starts to decrease.
For me, it is because I’m letting myself get too burned out. I’ll wake up at 5:00 AM and start thinking about the length of my to-do list. I’ll mentally go over all the little details of my upcoming day and quickly overwhelm myself with everything that needs to be done.
Once I fall into that cycle it is hard to stop stressing, and it can quickly become a vicious cycle.
I’ve got a magical pill for stopping the stress cycle in its track – it is called work/life balance.
I know it sounds funny, but when I’m climbing regularly, exercising, making time for socializing and involving myself in my church obligation I’ve noticed that I automatically manage my time better.
If I know I have to be out of the office and at the climbing gym by 6:00 I manage my workday more efficiently. I know I can’t just stay late and get the extras done if I want to climb that night.
I’m probably a dork, but when I’m busy my time management skills increase drastically.
The trick is to find that fine line between work and your personal life.
Where do you draw the line between being a successful employee and not letting your work life overrun your personal life?
For me, it has always been about setting clear expectations for myself and my employer.
1. Work when you are at work.
When I’m at work, I work.
It sounds simple, but we all know it isn’t quite that easy. I make it a priority to avoid the water cooler gossip. I’m friends with my co-workers and take the time to know about the events in their lives, but it isn’t the focus of my workday.
I’ll pop on social media for a few minutes and may answer a personal email occasionally, but the vast majority of my day is spent on work related matters. My work days are usually 9-10 hours, which leaves me a little bit of wiggle room for personal stuff, but I keep any personal drama out of the workplace.
At the beginning of every week set your work goals and prioritize your tasks to accomplish those goals. Learn to manage your time to increase efficiency.
My efficiency increased drastically when I realized that just because the work didn’t get done didn’t mean it wasn’t still my responsibility. I’d much rather manage my time wisely during the week then be stuck working on the weekends to catch up.
2. Set clear boundaries.
When I first started my job I very quickly realized it had the potential to take over my life. I had to set some very clear boundaries.
I’m a religious person and for me Sunday is my day of worship. I may choose to respond to a few emails or do some prep for Monday, but it is on my terms. I’m lucky enough to have a boss who respects this standard and has only contacted me in emergency situations.
I’m also a very outdoor oriented person, so when I go on vacation most of my vacations or completely off the grid.
I recently spent six days rafting down the Grand Canyon. Being able to completely disconnect from my phone and email was amazing. I came back excited to work again. Most of my Saturday’s are spent outside as well. My work gradually stopped contacting me on the weekends because I literally wasn’t around to help.
Obviously, not everyone can disconnect or even wants to disconnect from computer land, but the important thing is to set your personal boundaries.
Even if your hobby is watching Netflix all day Saturday, make it your time. Yes, I work a few weekends here and there. However, when I’m managing my time well during the week I’ve found that my need to work on the weekends has decreased drastically.
3. Prioritize your family, hobbies, personal time.
Unless you have a reason to manage your work time wisely you most likely won’t.
For me, I work to live, not live to work. Yes, I love my job, but I love my family much more. I love spending time with my husband and kids, I love spending time on my hobbies, and I really love having a bit of me time here and there.
I got a lot more of this type of time when I manage my work life. My goal is to manage my time rather than have my responsibilities manage me.
It is very easy to allow work to become your main priority when trying to have a successful career. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be an amazing employee.
However, when you focus only on one aspect of your life you can quickly become a one-dimensional person. This may work for a few years as you climb the corporate ladder, but it can get awful lonely at the top. Don’t focus so much on work success that you forget about the truly important things in life.
There is no simple solution to perfecting the work/life balance. Just like any skill it you have to constantly work on balancing your obligations.
There are weeks when work wins hands down. Those are the weeks when I don’t cook a single meal and feel like my husband and I communicate via cell phone. Those are also the weeks when I’m depressed, stressed and grumpy. You are going to have a week like this occasionally.
Does it suck – yes, but the important thing is to pick yourself up the next week and do a little bit better at managing your balancing act.
Photo Credit: Barney Moss
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