Over the last decade in some pockets of life there has undoubtedly been a shift towards encouraging people to work towards work-life balance. A “slow movement” where hobbies are encouraged, time-out to do “nothing” is praised and relaxation is a legitimate way to pass the hours. On the other hand though we are implicitly told that if we’re not busy, overwhelmed and at the end of our tether balancing work and the rest of our life (family, parenting, socialising, managing finances, exercising, learning new things and so on), we’re perhaps not working as hard as we should be. Confusing really.
In many ways “busy” has become a status symbol. An automatic response when someone asks us “how are you?” But when the balance tips too far, “busy” can be a painful, stressful and sometimes dangerous place to be.
Chronic busyness can lead to burn-out, exhaustion, relationship issues, physical health issues and mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety. As psychologists we often see people when they have reached their tipping point. When the see-saw has hurtled back down to the ground and they have no choice but to pay attention to the alarm bells going off in their body and mind.
Here are some ways you can get started with restoring your work-life balance today:
Take action based on what is important to you
When our work-life balance is out of whack we tend to feel off-kilter as a person too. This is usually because our choices about how to spend our time are based on anxiety, fear, pressure or expectations (from ourselves or others), rather than what really matters to us. To change the equation we can’t wait until the anxiety or expectations disappear. For most of us fear, anxiety and pressure will always be there to some extent. Instead we need to take action based on what matters most to us.
Be clear about what matters to you
To be able to make conscious choices about your work-life balance you need to be clear about what your values are, what matters to you most. Our values are principles that guide our life in a broad sense. Your values are about who you want to be and how you want to relate to the world around you. To spend some time discovering more about your own values take a look at our blog here.
Small choices, big consequences
Your work-life balance is the sum of the many small choices you make along the way. Seemingly insignificant decisions about when to leave work or when to take a break lead us further and further away from the life we really want to be living. For example, when you get home from work and you notice yourself reaching to check your work phone in that moment (or millisecond) you have the option of choosing a different path. Doing something that matters. Something that tips the see-saw away from work towards a life you want to live. Keep your eye out for these “forks-in-the road”.
This sentiment was eloquently captured by Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl who said “In between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and freedom.”
Decide on your “home-time” ahead of time
Before you begin your work-day decide what time you will go home. Some people find it helpful to set a timeframe (between 5-5:30pm) and other people work better with a cut-off (I’ll be out the door by 5pm at the latest). Try to anticipate any barriers that might prevent you from leaving work on time and brainstorm a way around them. For example, if you know your boss tends to dish out work in the afternoon go to them in the morning to get an idea of what they are expecting you to do. It can also be helpful to set an alarm or pop your home-time on a post-it-note in a prominent place.
Plan and prioritise
To get yourself out the door from work on time you’ll need to decide in advance what needs to be done today and what can wait. This can be trickier than it sounds. Some days everything seems to be important or everyone seems to want something from you. Setting boundaries around your time can be challenging and can bring up fears about letting people down, feeling like a failure or being perceived as slack. Be mindful of any negative self-talk that comes up and remind yourself of why you are making an effort to reduce the space that work takes up in your life.
When was the last time you took a proper lunch break? Despite the bad wrap that pausing seems to get in our fast-paced world, breaks have been scientifically proven to increase productivity. When we don’t take breaks we become irritable, have trouble focusing and retain less of what we learn. The good news is that studies show that even a little down time can reenergise our brain and body. If you are able to, the optimum formula is a six-minute break every 80 minutes, but even a two-minute mini-break has been found to increase productivity.
Like any significant change, altering the balance between work and the rest of your life can take time. You’re far more likely to see results if you chip away by consistently making a few small changes than jumping in the deep end and trying to tackle everything at once. So what’s one small change you can make tomorrow to shift the see-saw in the direction of life instead of work?
If you would like some professional assistance in managing work-life balance we can help. Each of our psychologists have significant experience helping people to make positive changes in their work-life-balance.
To book an appointment call us on (03) 9376 1958.