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Getting the balance right

26 Sep 2012 | Nina Grunfeld

Laptop in field

Yesterday I met someone who had signed up for a course of ten evening workshops, but for the past four months has been unable to leave work on time to get to any of them. It's an all-too-common example of work pressures dominating our lives.

Stories like this have led the charity Working Families to declare this week (24-28th September) as National Work-Life Week. They've also decided to make today (26th September) Go Home On Time Day. It's a great idea and seems so obvious, but it's clear that many of us need to be reminded to reset our priorities and restore some much needed balance in our lives.

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But why do some of us let our work dominate our lives? Why do we so often find it hard to get the balance right? There are lots of excuses of course - "I've still got work to do for tomorrow", "I can't be the first to leave work", "It's an unwritten rule that we all stay late" etc. But in many cases it's because we don't have a clear idea of our priorities in life. If work has been taking up all our time, we're less likely to have hobbies to turn to or even friends we can call. And sadly, many of us don't have a clear idea what we really want from our life outside work. 

But if we can find the right balance, we have a real chance of living a happier and more fulfilling life. To start with, we need to stop to think more purposefully about how we spend our time and whether we're satisfied with the balance between our work commitments, our families, our friendships our hobbies and our other interests.

Of course these aspects don't have to be in perfect balance with each other, because many of the most enjoyable phases of life are rather unbalanced. Think of falling in love, when the other person is all you can think about and everything else in your life becomes a little less important. That's unbalanced, but still wonderful. We also have phases where we get obsessed with a particular project or activity - like a friend of mine who's in the middle of a health and fitness craze, where all they can think about is their next workout. In my case, being an entrepreneur, I tend to get obsessed with my venture to the detriment of other things. None of my children like an empty fridge and I don't like missing the chance to be with them, but right now my work is where I've consciously chosen to put a great deal of my energy and passion. 

There's no such thing as an ideal work/life balance or a particular solution that suits all. The balance we want in our lives will vary from day to day and week to week. But what's important is that we stop to think about our priorities and find the balance that's right for us at this point in our lives.

So here are six pointers I've found helpful in getting the balance right:

  1. Work out what matters to you most. Your life balance is driven by your priorities and your goals. Unfortunately these are not always compatible - for example a working mother may want to spend as much time as possible with her children but also pursue a career she's passionate about. Achieving balance often requires difficult trade-offs, but being clear about your priorities will help you plan your time accordingly and keep things in perspective.
  2. Start focusing. There are so many competing demands on our time and it's easy to get distracted. We may have something important to get done, but then find ourselves distracted by an unexpected call or a barrage of new emails that we feel compelled to read and respond to. Unfortunately in this permanently-connected, digital age it can be very difficult to switch off. But achieving balance means setting boundaries - and making time to unplug and relax and perhaps letting that important letter or message wait until the next day.
  3. Allow your priorities to change. The particular balance of life that's best for you right now is unlikely to be driven by the same priorities and goals you would have chosen ten years ago. And it is probably not the balance you will choose in ten years time either. The most important thing is to keep taking stock of whether the balance you've got right now is helpful given your current priorities.
  4. Put your life in the diary. Once you know the balance you want, use your diary to make sure that you keep time free for certain important activities. If things aren't in our diaries, we often don't do them. So book in some quiet time for yourself. Book in a certain time each week to pay your bills and do your paperwork. Book in time to do household chores, so you don't spend the entire weekend doing them. Book in time for enjoyable events with family and friends, so you actually stick to them!
  5. Ask for support. Support at work may come with the job, but if it doesn't - find it. Support at home may come from your family. Children can help more than they probably do. Neighbours can be involved with school runs and babysitting. Find a system that works for you and your nearest and dearest. Be prepared to barter or ask for help. And don't feel you have to do everything perfectly. 


I won't be 'Going Home on Time' myself this evening, because I love my work and I'm running one of our Life Clubs tonight. But I'm grateful to Working Families for reminding us all of the need to get our balance right. It's not always easy, but making conscious trade-offs is surely better than spending more time that we need to on things that don't really matter to us.

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Nina Grunfeld is the founder of Life Clubs, which runs practical and fun workshops to help people get more out of life.

Nina Grunfeld Life Clubs

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