HOW TO HAVE A CAREER – AND A LIFE
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.
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.