Getting the balance right
26 Sep 2012 | Nina Grunfeld
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.
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
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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
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.
Nina Grunfeld is the founder of Life Clubs,
which runs practical and fun workshops to help people get more
out of life.
Take care of your body, At work, Family & friends