The Work-Life Balance Challenge

Over the last few months, I’ve had plenty of friends and family get on my case about my work-life balance. As always, they’ll ask me what’s new in life and I’ll go off on a tangent, telling them all the different things I’ve been involved in or what I’m currently learning. Once I catch my breath and the glazed-over look leaves their eyes, they feel the need to express their concern for my work-life balance. “You need to give yourself a mental break,” my family will say. “You need to get out and have a life,” my friends will add. Of course, this annoys me to no end. It might seem like I’ve dedicated my whole existence to work or networking or blogging or whatever else to help my career, but such is not the case. What they don’t realize is that I can accomplish all of these things easily in a 40-45 hour work week. Therefore, the balance is fine- I’ve just learned how to make the most out of my time.

No, I’m not a superhuman by any means. I’m just a woman with a type A personality and a slight obsession with whiteboard calendars. My whiteboards and my intense scheduling skills are another thing that my friends and family feel the need to critique but these things are what help me accomplish as much as I do within a reasonable time. Maybe not everyone is great at working their lives around a schedule, but here are the things that help me:

  • Determine necessary time for each task: Take a couple weeks to determine the appropriate time each task takes you to do. This can help you regulate how much time you would need to block off.
  • Schedule accordingly: every person has their favorite way to schedule things, such as phone task apps, email calendars, and so on. Although I use those forms of technology, I still like to keep it old school. Writing it down and seeing it in front of my face each day can help reduce any anxiety about potentially forgetting something. It also keeps me on track. I literally have three whiteboards: monthly, weekly, and daily.
  • Set realistic goals: the reason why I put things on a schedule is because it automatically makes it feel like a goal that I need to achieve. Nothing motivates me more than seeing all my “to dos” crossed off on my list. It also makes me feel like I’m making steady progress.
  • Give yourself wiggle room: I usually set my to-dos to be completed at least a couple days in advance. I also try to give myself a few minutes in between each task. Life is crazy and you never know what can happen that could potentially knock you back a bit. Giving yourself some wiggle room can help you still accomplish your things on time without stressing, even if an unexpected situation occurs.

Maybe some of my friends and family don’t get it at this point in time but doing these things have honestly allowed me to progress in my career, professional development, and professional education. I spend less time running around clueless and more time getting things done. And like I said earlier, it might seem like I have a lot going on but setting up my days like this have truly allowed me to be the most efficient that I can possibly be. I work hard but I get things done within the 40-45 hours a week which allows me to have plenty of time to “relax” and “live a little” like I’ve been advised to do. Take these tips and test it out. See if it makes a difference in your life, whether it is for work or your own personal goals.

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Say Yes to Continuing Education

In grammar school and high school, we’re taught to get good grades and participate in extra-curricular activities so we can get into our dream colleges. In college, we are once again told to get good grades, encouraged to take on internships, and asked to join clubs- all to help our chances of landing a great job upon graduation. And once we land those jobs, gain experience, and slowly but surely move along in our career paths- then what? Does education and learning just end there because we achieved the “ultimate goal” of getting a job that offers financial security and benefits? Does it just end there?

It shouldn’t. People should be driven and encouraged to do whatever they can to continue to learn. So many people believe that once they receive that diploma or certificate that they’re done. They paid their dues and finally got their careers in check… and that’s that. When I’ve asked people why they aren’t continuing their education and learning, I often got answers such as this:

  • I’m too old to go back to school
  • I’m too busy with work and home-life to take on anything more
  • I don’t have the money
  • I don’t need it
  • I wouldn’t even know where to start
  • I’m too scared to start something new

All are valid reasons and concerns but the reality of it is, skills are becoming outdated, people are being automated out of jobs, and technology is upgrading/advancing so quickly that most of us can’t keep up. The world of work is evolving in some major ways. So, the “ultimate goal” isn’t about landing a job anymore, but more about keeping up.

Like I said earlier, all those reasons are valid but there are ways to work around it. For example:

  • Online school
  • Certificate classes
  • Work training
  • Informal social groups
  • Reading new industry books/blogs in your free time
  • Networking
  • Stretch projects
  • Work shadowing

Education shouldn’t just be a stepping stone or a distant memory- it should be ongoing. The world has so much to offer and we live in an amazing time where we can easily access this. So take advantage of the things that generations before us could not. Become the ultimate asset and more importantly, do it for yourself.

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Maintaining the Work-Life Balance

Have you ever worked late or on the weekends? Have you incessantly checked your phone and emails while relaxing or involved in social events? Have work-related thoughts clouded your mind and disrupted your attention outside of work? Have you stopped a conversation with a friend or family member to take a call? I know I’m definitely guilty of all of these (sometimes even simultaneously). As technology becomes more widely and regularly used, this has become a common issue in the daily lives of the employed.

Overworking yourself can actually make you LESS productive at work than taking a break to breathe and rest your mind. Additionally, it can seep into your personal life, causing issues. So how can you keep your balance? Check it out:

Set Boundaries: technology and mobile devices make it easy for you to be available non-stop. You need to set boundaries. Turn your phone on silent outside of work. Only check your emails/voicemails for an hour a night after you finish your shift. Only respond to things that NEED to be responded to.

Schedule: I literally have a white board for daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and to-dos. I work extremely hard to stick with that schedule. Having this schedule will make sure I don’t over-do it and actually reduce time worrying about whether or not I’m forgetting to do something. It saves a lot of brain power.

Prioritize: living in the instant gratification age could make it seem like if you don’t respond or aren’t present every second of the day that the world may end. It won’t- trust me. Deal with any fires that need to be put out. Then, prioritize whether or not something needs to be done ASAP or if it can be put on the backburner. Do this regularly to ensure you’re managing your time well.

Be realistic: we have become multitasking masters, which can sometimes make us believe we’re capable of doing the workload of 3 people all at once. It’s a nice thought but unrealistic. Sometimes you need to say no to people (do it nicely, though!) and if you do say yes to someone, make sure you set realistic timelines and expectations. Give yourself some extra time in case something more pressing comes up and cuts into your time. This can help you avoid the need to cram things in to meet a timeline you set.

Sometimes our lives make work and personal life blend too easily but you need to regularly take a step back and remind yourself that your brain needs a break. Do yourself a favor and follow the steps above and see if it makes a positive difference in your life.

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More Links:

The Quaint Notion of the Work Life Balance

Work, Life and Peace

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