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Finding Your Inner Zen; How To Realize A Work / Life Balance – Part One

As I sit down to write this on my holiday I have just come off of a work call from the girl who is covering me whilst I am away. In all fairness it was my boss who caused her need to call me as he accidentally reprogrammed the door timer which ensures the door automatically locks at the end of the day.


I loathe being disturbed in this way on my holiday; immediately I thought of my how I would now have to reprogram it all over again when I returned to work and as a result I was thrust into work mode when I was supposed to be relaxing.


Although I work very hard whilst I am at work, I make a point of keeping my work and private life quite separate. Calls like this are quite rare and I have made a point of not syncing my phone with my work emails so I can’t access them when I leave the office.


I also have many hobbies and interests which keep my focus elsewhere when I am not working and I always take time to relax if I’ve had a stressful day at work. Despite this though, I recognized that there was room for improvement if I was to ensure I had a better work / life balance.


What followed was a great deal of research into how I might better address my work / life balance. Reassuringly I was already doing most of the recommended habits but, rather concerningly, I couldn’t help but feel I was going against the trend towards workaholism that exists in both the UK and US.


Indeed, Hamermesh and Stanccanelli cite in ‘Long workweeks and Strange Hours’ (September 2014) that 29.2% of Americans and 25.5% of Britons often work weekends, compared with just 9.6% of the Spanish following suit. The same study revealed that 26.6% of Americans and 18.6% of Britons work evenings, compared to just 6.9% of their Dutch European counterparts. Indeed, Norway was voted by the UN as the happiest place to live in the world with residents typically earning $69,000 ($9,000 more than the average American) and only working thirty five hours a week.


In addition, Americans face just ten days paid holiday on average per year, with a further ten public holidays, whilst Britons have a third more time off at twenty days plus eight public holidays, compared with the Spanish having twenty-two days paid leave and a whopping fourteen public holiday days. In light of these statistics is it any wonder that Americans and Britons are finding it increasingly hard to achieve a healthy work / life balance?


But beyond the inconvenience there lies a much more sinister side to working longer hours. Stress, anxiety and ultimately burn out can be caused by too much work and no play. Our physical health can be impacted too, with working more causing a higher risk of stroke, type two diabetes and even heart disease in more extreme cases.


Thankfully, there are steps that can be taken to limit the impact work has on our lives, allowing you to claim back your life outside of work and have more of a healthy equilibrium between work and play. I can testify from personal experience that the steps I share with you throughout this series work and will help you redress the imbalance when your life is burdened by too much emphasis on work.


The Eight Steps To Find Balance At Work


Step One: Manage expectations and reduce perfectionism


One of the most important things to do whilst at work is to manage expectations. We need to realize that we are not super human and cannot do everything perfectly all the time. Try to get out of the superwoman and superman traps and don’t take on more than you can feasibly manage. If necessary explain how heavy your workload is to your boss. If you find it hard to say no please read ‘Sick of over-extending yourself? Learn how to say no’.


Rather than evaluate your performance with perfection being the measure stick, evaluate yourself in context, making a point of appreciating how heavy your workload is, what your working hours are and all of the things you’ve done well. We often don’t give ourselves enough credit when we’ve done a job good so give yourself a pat on the back when you have just completed a task successfully, rather than being underwhelmed by your wins.


Step Two: Break up big tasks and set manageable daily goals


Whenever I have a big task at work I break it up into small manageable steps. I have an A4 page a day work diary which I would be absolutely lost without and I then enter in all of the smaller steps into the diary on the days that I need to complete the tasks. I allow time for my morning and evening work routines like checking email and catching up on some database entry and ensure that I always have time to take a full hour’s lunch.


It is no exaggeration that having a work diary will totally transform your efficiency and productivity at work. First thing in the morning and last thing before I leave work for the day I do some diary management to see what the day has in store and rearrange my next day’s activities if some tasks from the day next to be carried forward.


Step Three: Do important and urgent tasks first and prioritize


Make no mistake; most people are so caught up in doing urgent tasks they fail to allocate time for important tasks, when in reality they should be dividing the time they spend on both urgent and important tasks equally.


Urgent tasks may include: Calls, email, impromptu tasks from your boss

Important tasks may include: training, implementing efficient systems at work


The trick is to prioritize and focus on numbers one and two below and delegate number three where possible.


  1. Urgent and important – E.g. Crises
  2. Non-urgent but important – E.g. Goals and implementing efficient systems at work
  3. Urgent but not important – E.g. Calls and email


If you would like to enhance your time management and productivity please read ‘Personal Productivity – How to achieve in record-breaking time’.


In addition, ensure that you further prioritize your broken down tasks in order of importance and taking into account how long it will take. For example:


1 Respond to answer phone messages

2 Update client contact document and print

3 Label boxes in stationery room


Whilst the first task is urgent it is very quick to perform so it’s importance is first. Try to schedule quick tasks first so it will give you a boost when you cross it off the list. If however this was a long ordeal and involved additional admin I might do it after updating the client contact document and before labeling the boxes.


Stay tuned – next week we will look at steps four through to eight of finding balance at work, including focusing on one thing at a time and tips to avoid procrastinating.


Do you already do some of the steps to find balance at work? Are there any steps you would consider adopting? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, support and insight from our community, we’d love to hear from you.


Further Resources:


‘The Super Woman’s Guide to Super Fulfillment: Step-by-Step Strategies to Create Work-Life Balance’ by Dr. Jaime Kulaga 

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