According to Gary Keller, from 1986 to 1996 the media mentioned “work-life balance” 32 times. The number of mentions shot up to 1674 times not in the next decade, but in the single year of 2007 alone. The connectivity of technology and speed of business is taking a toll on us as humans. More and more we are being asked to work during our personal time. According to CFO Publishing research, 89% of respondents feel they need to respond to messages and emails after office hours. A majority of respondents (73%) saw connectivity to enterprise systems and mobile technology increasing their weekly work hours. In addition, as the old adage says, if you want something done, give it to a busy person, often more responsibility goes to those who work hardest leading to more work and more hours.
We feel obligated and sometimes enslaved to our work. The result is life – family, fun, hobbies, relaxing, self care – is put on the backburner. Children’s games and performances are missed due to work meetings. We miss out on being there for our children as they grow. We also feel left out due to missing so many family functions. The struggle to serve our job often affects our relationships as friends and spouses play a far second to our jobs. The end result is more of us are working versus really living.
The result is not just lack a personal satisfaction with life but major health issues including burnout, fatigue, lack of sleep, digestive issues, immune deficiency, and other work-related stress issues. A recent study at UC San Francisco shows that chronic stress is now also linked to decreases a woman’s lifespan.
The answer to work-life balance is not creating more hours in the day, learning productivity tools, or adhering to a specific ratio of work versus life hours. The power to create work-life balance is not in execution but in defining what a successful life means to you then having the courage to live by your own rules.
Define Work-Life Balance for You
No one can tell you what work-life balance looks like. Sheryl Sandberg focuses on work more than I do, but she is happy. Yet on the other extreme being a carefree trust fund baby does not attract me as I do have a need to create and contribute to society. Work-life balance is not one universal formula but a unique model for each one of us
Take some time to really look at what you value in your career, family, free time, home, friends, and community. Don’t just look at the physical facts in your life, but instead look at how you want to experience your life. Don’t just look at the hours you work, but how do you want to feel during those hours? Really define how you would like be during each part of your day. How do you want to appear? Who do you want surrounding you? What do you want your life to feel life?
Live by Your Own Rules
Once you have defined your ideal life, the challenge is to actively choose what you really want. We often feel the victim of our jobs or responsibilities. The truth is we always have choice. We have the power to create our lives. Although it may feel that way sometimes, we are not tied to our current job. We can change our commitments. Really look at what you feel you “should” do or “have to” do. These are not obligations but choices we have made. As you go through your day, judge your obligations by your ideal life definition and have the courage to say “no” to what does not work for you.
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Stop Flying through Your Day
Our lives become imbalanced because we often are not consciously living our lives. We are on autopilot flying from one task to another, not thinking about their necessity or the joy (or lack thereof) they bring to us. Stop. Breathe. Slow down. Consciously evaluate and they choose your next action. Be sure what you are doing is servicing you, is necessary, and is required to execute in a specific manner. Simply by slowing down and approaching our day more consciously, we can reduce our stress and find more balance.
Take Care of Yourself
When we are being pulled in multiple directions and being overstimulated by technology, we become stressed. This stress can really take a tool on us physically and mentally. To combat this, add in some daily self-care tools:
- Consume a Healthy Diet – Reduce caffeine, sugars and processed foods. Look to whole foods. Also add in avocados, fish, blueberries, quinoa, and other foods which help reduce stress levels.
- Get Some Sleep – When we are stressed we sleep less, with less sleep we function poorly, to stay conscious during the day we consume caffeine which reduces our sleep the next night. Break the cycle by limiting caffeine intake especially in the afternoon. Turn off electronic devises at least an hour before bed.
- Have Fun – Physical activity, smiling and laughing can all release stress hormones in your body. Connect with friends. Resurrect an old hobby. Take a class. Go for a walk. Remember to do something daily or at least weekly, to remind you of the joys of being human.
- Give Back – As long as it does not feel like an obligation or one more task, volunteering can be a source of reinvigoration. Not only is it the joy of helping out someone in needs, but it disconnections our self-absorbed thinking of our own worries.
Manage Your Day
When our lives are of balance we feel ruled by our day versus controlling our day.
- Manage Your Communications – Stop being Pavlov’s dog responding immediately to emails and texts. Scheduling times throughout the day for communications makes your time more efficient and less reactionary.
- Touch Once – Reading an email, leaving it in your inbox then coming back to it later wastes time and attention. Instead only open an email if you are ready to act on it then Do, Delegate, Delete or Delay.
- Be Realistic – Are you trying to complete a week’s worth of work in one day? Create reasonable daily and weekly goals based on company needs and your abilities in the circumstances.
- Manage Expectations – Let your colleagues and clients know when they can receive a response from you. Often we allow others to create unrealistic deadlines or expect more from ourselves than we are capable. Be realistic and let others know.
Article originally published in Forbes.
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