Overcoming Obstacles to Balancing Work and Life
Everyone’s talking about work-life balance, wellbeing, and staying healthy, but how to achieve this when you have no time or energy?
Let’s start with something simple. This ideal ‘work-life balance’ that everyone’s talking about? It doesn’t exist. It’s nice to think that once we perfect our schedules, activities, and mindset, we get to live a happy, balanced, zen life. But it’s not going to happen, and worse, holding that ideal will set you up for a sense of failure.
The reason it’s called work-life balance is because it is a constant juggling act to balance the different (and sometimes unexpected) demands that are placed on us each day. Sometimes we’ll feel in balance and sometimes we won’t, but do we have the skills to keep shifting back closer to center? We aren’t aiming to perfect our schedules and arrive at the ‘ideal balance,’ instead we’re aiming to improve our skills at being flexible and adjusting to the ever-changing landscape of modern life.
Step 1: Prioritise
First make a list of the things that make you feel happy and healthy. Try to find at least once activity to go under each heading: Connection with others; Relaxation; Health; and Enjoyment. Make sure the list is truly meaningful for you and not what others say you ‘should’ do. Making time for these activities will improve fulfillment, meaning, and your ability to cope with challenges. Perhaps you like yoga, or watching movies with the kids, or socializing with the girls. Don’t worry yet about whether you can fit these in, just brainstorm a list. It’s hard to start balancing if you’re not sure what to balance.
Step 2: Cut back
Ask yourself what things you’re currently doing that you don’t want to do and don’t need to do. To-do lists are important, but not-to-do lists are just as important. Perhaps you always volunteer to make cakes for birthday parties, you often pick up the slack at work, or cat-sit for your neighbour. If you don’t really want to do these (and they are not helping you achieve your long-term goals), they are sucking up valuable energy, and it’s time to politely decline.
Step 2: Start small
The biggest mistake I see clients make is that they try to make immediate and drastic change. They decide to start exercising 5 times a week, quit sugar, and take up a night course all in one week. They either don’t maintain this over the long-term or are too overwhelmed to even start. Remember when we spoke about setting ourselves up to fail with unrealistic expectations? The strongest evidence for maintaining behavior change is with tiny habits (and I mean tiny). Choose one item from your priority list (yes, just start with one) and then break it down into the smallest possible step and schedule that into your week. For example, I worked with a client who wanted to start exercising but worked crazy hours, so she decided to start with 10 squats before lunch. That may not sound like much, but it got her started in the habit of associating exercise with lunchtime. Once she had been doing this consistently for a few weeks, she added a few more exercises at a time until she was routinely exercising for 30 minutes in her lunch break.
Step 3: Be flexible and creative
This is where we get to the business end of life’s balancing act. Perhaps we generally go to the gym twice a week and see our friends on Friday nights, but then a huge deadline hits your desk. Instead of cutting out your healthy habits, cut back. For instance, when you can’t make the gym at lunch, go back to just 10 squats before lunch. When you’re leaving too late to make dinner with friends, call a friend to debrief on your way home from work. When you’re home late from work and can’t watch a movie with the kids, take in a book and read with them for 10 minutes before bed. What this does is create a placeholder for your healthy habit (for you to return to more easily in the future), rather than cutting out the healthy habit all together.
Whilst we may need to be flexible or creative in maintaining our balance, making time for health and enjoyment is crucial (particularly during those difficult weeks) because it allows us to connect with what’s meaningful, recharge, improve mental fatigue, and improve coping abilities.
Dr. Erika Penney is a Clinical Psychologist, Wellness Coach, and founder of Foresight Psychology (www.foresightpsychology.com), and is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations build healthy habits, maintain wellness, and transform their lives with both workplace interventions and 1:1 coaching or support.
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