We have now reached the holiday season. The needs of family, friends, community groups, and our work continue to grow. Just look around you. Ads abound. Santa fitted volunteers are beginning to ring bells at the entrances to major stores. Faith groups and schools ask for our help adopting children so that they can enjoy the holidays – with or without any religious component. Year end is approaching and we’re wondering if we will meet our goals and objectives, finish the year with the profits we had planned, or pay year-end employee bonuses. And for parents, two weeks with children at home, rather than school, can add childcare burdens.
It can be easy to want a better work-life balance. I’ll offer you five strategies – though they may not be quite what you were expecting.
1. Get real about the work-life balance that you want, need, and have.
I frequently talk with parents of young children who want a better work-life balance and when I push the question, I usually think they are doing much better than they think they are. Most employers have gotten more flexible in recent years. I’m not sure it’s a work-life balance issue as much as it is a sense of overwhelm that frequently descends on all of us at times.
2. Clarify your employer’s expectations about hours, performance, and communications.
Try to understand what your employer needs from you and the best way for you to deliver the results that it needs. You probably weren’t hired to read novels, meditate, or snack indefinitely on the job. And yet, I frequently recommend meditation or stretch breaks during the day as I think they improve performance.
There are still jobs where one needs to be present, sometimes for long hours – for example, nurses or teachers. There are other jobs where you are expected to deliver results and it’s more about your results and less about your hours.
Identify what your employer wants and needs and how that fits into your life needs. And consider your family needs in your analysis. People are different and most of us go through phases where we want to take on more or less work. Be honest with yourself about how you feel about your employer’s expectations.
3. Decide on whether you want or need to have clear boundaries between work and home.
Everyone works differently and at different endeavors. People often have very different boundary expectations and needs. To understand your work-life balance needs and goals, you must understand what kind of boundary you want/need between work and home.
If you are the kind of person who wants a very distinct boundary between work and home, and your employer does not allow for that, you may have to rethink whether you are in the right job. On the other hand, if you are happy with shifting boundary lines and getting calls and emails at home, you need to figure out how to ensure that you aren’t being taken advantage of.
I’ve seen that happen too many times – particularly with highly organized women who are working from home.
4. Identify the major areas of your life and largest objective for each one.
Finding the ideal work-life balance begins with understanding what you want out of your life. Not all of us want to sacrifice our families on the altar of the company – especially someone else’s company. Some of us are highly driven to spend time working in our communities, while others want to be home with our little ones. We are all different and that’s great.
What are the major areas of your life? Name a handful of areas that you want to focus on. They might include spiritual growth, financial literacy, household management, building a software company, or a particular community group. For each area, identify your largest objective. Write it down. I could suggest that you figure out how you will measure your success in those areas, though I never get around to that. To me, there is enough measuring of performance at work. I do; however, measure how much time and energy I dedicate to each area.
5. Select a management or tracking approach that works for you and commit to using it.
I’ve used many tools over the years, but there are many, many more out there that you can choose from. I’ve opted for the simplest one I’ve found that helped me understand where my time was going. And that was Sunsama.
What I like about Sunsama is that using it for several months told me more about where my time was being spent than any other singular effort in my long career. I wrote a blog about how it can help you improve your productivity. And since it integrates with a host of other tools, it might work for you!