In order to analyze our own work life balance we have to first define what it means. There are some great definitions out there that can get us started but what it really comes down to is evaluating what our personal values and experiences are. The process involves understanding ourselves and the forces that are at play in our daily schedules. Based on a few basic questions and work life balance assessment tools you can discover what it means in your life.
Why do so many people want to achieve work life balance, or at least come close to it? One of the biggest reasons and benefits is that by controlling our time is for stress relief. I think we can all appreciate that. Consider where your mind is by asking yourself a few simple questions such as:
- When you’re at work are you thinking about what you need to do at home?
- And when you’re at home are you thinking about what you need to accomplish at work?
- You may be present physically, but are you there mentally?
- The guilt associated with not being fully in the moment can be stressful. How do you fix that?
About.com’s Human Resources website defines work life balance as “a concept that supports the efforts of employees to split their time and energy between work and the other important aspects of their lives. Work-life balance is a daily effort to make time for family, friends, community participation, spirituality, personal growth, self-care, and other personal activities, in addition to the demands of the workplace.” This is a perfect starting point to begin our evaluation.
Where To Start?
“But I don’t have enough time to get everything done,” you say. I would respond by asking, “What is everything?” A big part of balancing work and life is managing your activities which ultimately relies on your ability to successfully management of time. Can you really manage time? After all, you only have so many hours in a day. You can’t add more. (Although I hear people routinely say, “If I just had a few more hours I could get this all done.” Yeah? I don’t think so.) Unfortunately, we have to work with the limited amount we are given and that’s where the balancing act comes in.
The first step is take an inventory of your typical day. Mind Tools provides an excellent work life balance assessment that involves constructing a Wheel of Life to give you a vivid visual representation of the way your life is currently, compared to the way you'd ideally like it to be. Start off by brainstorming your life areas and identify six to eight dimensions that are important. You can take a few different approaches including evaluating the roles you play, the areas that you value most, or your own combination of different factors. Using the shape of a wheel you will then write down each dimension to begin constructing your visual.
The next part of the process assumes that you will be happy and fulfilled if you can find that right balance for each area. Consider each dimension in turn, and on a scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high), write down the amount of attention you're devoting to that area in your life and mark each score on the appropriate spoke on the wheel. Now connect the dots you made around the circle. Does your life wheel look and feel balanced?
What's Your Priority?
Once you determine where you spend your time, you can begin to prioritize. Following the Wheel of Life model, consider your ideal level for each of the defined dimensions. Remember that a balance life does not mean getting a 5 in each area since some dimensions require more attention and focus than others at any time. Ask yourself, "What would the ideal level of attention be for you in each area?" Then plot those points on your wheel as well.
Think about what needs to be done now and what can wait, or maybe even be done by someone else? It’s difficult to get everything checked off your to-do list when it all appears to be important. Urgency is all around us. Urgent activities seem important and feel like they have to be done right now, but that is not necessarily the case. An example of this might be checking your work email from home. Ask yourself, “Is it necessary to check my messages at this particular time?” “Is this activity interfering with a task I had planned with my family or friends, or even for myself?” If you truly need to check your inbox, figure out how to make up for what you missed. Beyond that, determine what specifically is causing you the most stress. Do you wake up in the middle of the night with something weighing heavily on your mind? That something should most likely be a priority. The longer it lingers on your mind, the greater the chance of losing focus on everything else.
Having a stressful work environment or one in which you spend the majority of your time handling others’ needs can have a significant impact on your home life as well. In fact, some people spend so much time tending to others that they can’t find the time to get to their own tasks. They resign themselves to arriving to work early and staying late, after everyone else goes home, just to perform their own duties. That definitely impacts both work and home life. You become so stressed and burned out at work that when you get home all you want to do is gel out. And if this happens often, you miss out on the things that are important to you at home until they become urgent. After all, without urgency, things are easy to push it off. “Work was very stressful today so I will just exercise tomorrow.” Pushing it off will only make the situation worse though. Eventually these missed opportunities will catch up to you and you’ll feel the same stress and pressure at home that you felt at work. It becomes a vicious cycle. When you are faced with these types of decisions, just focus on the positive results of the action you are questioning – short term and long term.
Putting It All Together
So once you’ve figured out what is truly important, what comes next? The final step of the Wheel of Life work life balance assessment is to take action and one of the best things to do is to create a task list. This should incorporate activities from all dimensions of your life. You don’t want to miss out on an important family event because you forgot to include it on your list. It’s also important to keep the list with you wherever you go so if you have some downtime, you can knock out one of your tasks.
Think back to your defined priorities. Delegating is key here. Work life balance becomes a bigger issue when you try to do everything yourself. Remember it's not about the time you spend at work versus the time you spend at home. It is about being “you” in all areas of your life. What are your values? What can you incorporate into your daily activities that elicits your passions? Values like possessing a strong work ethic, inspiring trustworthiness and showing consideration to others can be brought out in all areas of your life to better achieve the balance.
Managing your time is a great hurdle in achieving work/life balance. Here are some additional tips to follow:
- Schedule one activity to look forward to each day. When you schedule your week, be sure to select activities that help you recharge. Having something to look forward to will help you manage your time so you won’t experience the disappointment of canceling.
- Eliminate activities that don’t add value to your life. This will reduce some of the guilt that you may be feeling.
- Make exercise and relaxation a priority. You will not only feel good, but it will give you the energy you need to focus on activities that are truly important.
- Avoid negative people and situations that zap your energy. Rather than gossiping and worrying about other people’s lives, focus on what brings you happiness.
So the next time you’re trying to juggle your work life with your home life, step back and take a moment to determine what your values are, take an inventory of where you spend your time, and start prioritizing what’s truly important. This insight will keep you from juggling the unnecessary and put you on the path to a balanced, fulfilled life.