While the con­cept of “work-life bal­ance” has be­come a cliché, achiev­ing it is grow­ing ever more dif­fi­cult. The fin­week team in­ves­ti­gates how to keep your job from spilling into the per­sonal sphere.

Finweek English Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By fin­week team

no- one has ever said on their deathbed, “I wish I’d spent more time at work.”

Equally, how­ever, few peo­ple would de­clare, “I’m so grate­ful I didn’t work hard enough to live up to my full po­ten­tial, which is why I ended up earn­ing a pit­tance and got bossed around by less ca­pa­ble peo­ple my whole ca­reer.”

Some­where in the mid­dle lies the bal­ance be­tween spend­ing enough hours on work, enough on your fam­ily and enough on your­self.

Eas­ier said than done, of course. The de­mands on our time have never been as tax­ing. Be­ing con­stantly con­nected has turned even the un­will­ing into al­ways-on worka­holics, while we are also try­ing to be per­fect par­ents, part­ners, friends and chil­dren, all of which re­quire huge in­vest­ments of time and en­ergy.

Key to achiev­ing your work and per­sonal goals is to ac­cept you never will achieve it all. Start with the as­sump­tion that you won’t be able to be the best at every­thing you do, then fig­ure out which trade-offs you are pre­pared to make.

List your 10 most im­por­tant roles in life and rank them, is the ad­vice of Guardian jour­nal­ist and self-help writer Oliver Burke­man. “Then re­sign from at least the bot­tom two.” Also, pri­ori­tise your day-to­day ac­tiv­i­ties: what are the re­ally im­por­tant things you want to achieve ev­ery day, what makes a real dif­fer­ence in your ca­reer and your per­sonal life, what sat­is­fies you most, and what is not worth do­ing well.

This all boils down to be­ing able to say no, or at the very least un­der­stand­ing the op­por­tu­nity cost of say­ing yes. Be re­al­is­tic about what you will have to give up if you agree to a new project or tak­ing on more re­spon­si­bil­ity at your kid’s school.

Other ways to re­claim con­trol over your pri­or­i­ties in life in­clude: Work smarter

Stop your job from in­vad­ing your per­sonal hours by mak­ing ev­ery minute of your work­ing day count. Start by be­ing ab­so­lutely ruth­less about cut­ting out dis­trac­tions. If you are a so­cial me­dia ad­dict, al­low your­self one or two pit stops dur­ing the day at fixed times. Judy Good­win, a change con­sul­tant and coach in Cape Town, rec­om­mends the time-block­ing tech­nique. This in­volves draw­ing up a sched­ule for ev­ery day and al­lo­cat­ing blocks of time to only one task. Com­mit to only work­ing on that one task in that time, with­out any dis­trac­tions. “Multi-task­ing saps the mind,” says Good­win. Time block­ing also works well for set­ting bound­aries on ac­tiv­i­ties like email cor­re­spon­dence, which of­ten eats into the rest of your work­ing day. Im­por­tantly, make sure your per­sonal time is blocked out in your weekly di­ary: Work will ex­pand into ev­ery crevice of your wak­ing hours, in a way that your per­sonal life is not al­lowed to. Be strict.

Set stronger bound­aries

In ye olden days of nary 10 years ago, you went to work, you went home, and that was pretty much it. But in the cur­rent 24/ 7 hy­per-con­nected world, it can be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to main­tain a work-life bal­ance. Don’t check your mails af­ter hours, and if you do work over a week­end, set an ex­am­ple for your staff by sched­ul­ing your emails to only go out on Mon­day morn­ing.

Make the most of your com­mute

First, try to cut down on travel. “It will eat up your day,” says Good­win. Then, use the time in your car con­struc­tively. Turn down the inane chatter on the ra­dio and think prob­lems through, or use the time to re­view your day.

Key to achiev­ing your work and per­sonal goals is to ac­cept you never will achieve it all.

Set bet­ter to-do lists

At the start of ev­ery week, de­cide what your main goals are – don’t re­strict your­self to work, add per­sonal things you want to achieve. But cap the to-do list: only have a set num­ber of things to help you fo­cus your mind on the big­gest pri­or­i­ties.


Self-care is ex­tremely im­por­tant, says Good­win. You can’t be a ma­chine at work while run­ning on empty. Be aware about what gives you joy and what de-stresses you fastest and best, and work that into your weekly rou­tine.


In your work and per­sonal life, build a net­work of peo­ple who you can count on. Sur­round your­self with peo­ple you trust and who can help take on some of your re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Change the com­pany cul­ture from the in­side

Sadly, most man­agers still value “chair time” or “face time” above all else. It is the guy who works long hours in the of­fice who looks like the hard worker (even though he spent much of it talk­ing cricket at the copier), not the per­son who went home early be­cause she did her work more ef­fi­ciently in half the time. The best way to cre­ate a pro­duc­tive work­place that al­lows flex­i­bil­ity and healthy bound­aries is to send a clear mes­sage that only re­sults and per­for­mance are re­warded, not hours at your desk.

Have a pur­pose

You have to know why you are do­ing what you are do­ing, says Good­win. “There has to be an align­ment with what you want to achieve – your pur­pose – and what you are busy with ev­ery day.” Take the ex­am­ple of some­one in a tough job who is also study­ing part-time. To an out­sider, this may look like a slog. But for the part-time stu­dent, the de­mands are made tol­er­a­ble be­cause he is clear about the end goal and the even­tual pay-off. While you may not al­ways be happy about the state of your work or your life, what you are busy with should be aligned with where you want to be head­ing.

Be aware about what gives you joy and what de-stresses you fastest and best, and work that into your weekly rou­tine.

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