The Surprising ‘Sway’ to Achieve Balance
Look, it happens to the best of us: the late-night birthday party that ends a little too close to the early-morning meeting with the boss, the last-minute project that keeps you at work well into dinner plans with your squad…
Sometimes (all the time?), it seems impossible to achieve that muchhyped but elusive goal: work-life balance. That’s because it is. Giving 100% on and off the job every day just isn’t realistic. Yet women in particular are sold the idea that they need to find this professional-personal nirvana, says Shawn Burn, a psychology professor at California Polytechnic State University. ‘These too-high standards mean you’ll be doing a lot of “shoulding”,’ he says. As in, ‘I should perform perfectly at work. I should be the perfect best friend. I should exercise every day.’
Sound familiar? The truth is that very few people can ‘have it all’ in this way. For everyone else, it’s time to stop stressing and start swaying.
The term means shifting your priorities in a new, not-always-equal way – swinging back and forth between your work and non-work life over longer periods rather than trying to bring them into harmony every day, says Jeanne Thompson, head of workplace solutions thought leadership at Fidelity Investments. For example, you might spend two weeks hyper-focused on a work deadline, ignoring everything else. The next week, you’re on a beach holiday with no e-mail access, or putting in less effort on the job so that you can plan your parents’ surprise anniversary party.
Swaying lets you devote attention and energy to one thing at one time, making you more capable of pouring yourself into what you’re doing in the moment. ‘You’re adjusting your focus to help you cope emotionally with the stressful demands of your life,’ says Burn. So how do you sway between work, friends, family and a world’s worth of potential dating-app matches? Here are some tips:
1 Study the big picture.
you know that dream of getting to work at 9am and clocking out at 5pm? yeah, not always going to happen. so stop wishing for it every day. instead, take a longer view: how much time have you spent at work and at play in the past week, month or even year? identify patterns, and try to anticipate them for next year. For example, understand that when you’re swamped at work in the run-up to the end of the year, your love life (and gym routine and bFF hangs) may take a major hit. and that’s okay, says thompson – as long as, come December, you prioritise holidaying. Hard. at the end of each month, see where you might need to sway. ask yourself if you worked enough hours, and whether you should see your siblings. perhaps you made bank – but you missed your family.
2 Plan ahead.
a few years ago, Hailey, 33, a senior project manager, decided she was ready for a serious relationship. but she knew one wasn’t possible if she didn’t carve out time from her very demanding job. so she started to sway. at the beginning of every week, she’d devote a couple of days to staying late at work and finishing big assignments. then she’d take one night nearer the week’s end to date. ‘i couldn’t spend a lot of time dating, because of my job – but i planned ahead so i could make it work,’ she says. she also blocked off additional time elsewhere to catch up on whatever she missed at the office when she left early to meet a romantic prospect. ‘it made it far easier,’ she says. she excelled at her job and found love: she’s now been boo-ed up for more than two years.
3 Sway together.
‘many people who have problems managing their priorities don’t like asking for help,’ says burn. ‘they feel they should be able to do it all.’ but swaying works best when you call for an assist. ali, 28, who works in public relations, attended eight weddings last year and needed colleagues to cover for her when she was out of town. months before each shindig, she asked them politely and offered to do the same for them. it worked, allowing her to be present for her loved ones. if your peers aren’t as accommodating, discuss your commitments (and your intention to sway) with your boss, says management consultant Christie lindor: ‘this differentiates you as someone who can make decisions from a place of strength.’ ■
Yes, you can leave work early – guilt-free!