Stressed out at work and at home? Need to find a way to balance competing commitments? Our simple tips can help you achieve a work-life balance.
Turning the tables on work-life balance may seem deceptively simple, though simply changing our perspective isn’t quite so easy. People who devote the majority of their lives to their work and careers, rather than on their family responsibilities may find it difficult to turn their priorities upside down and find a healthy balance.
Walking the tightrope
Balancing work and family responsibilities is as complicated as walking a tightrope without a safety net. “Even the strongest, fastest, smartest people are helpless when they’re off balance,” says professor of organizational psychology and group dynamics, Stephen Balzac.
Balzac, who also operates a consulting practice to help individuals and companies improve their performance, adds, “They don’t have the foundation to apply their strength or speed.”
According to Balzac, if you’re not emotionally and physically balanced, you can’t use your intelligence or creativity to solve problems. Instead, you rely on brute force and awkwardness, wrestling for hours or days with problems you could easily solve if you were centred, calm, and energized (balanced!).
These tips for walking the tightrope may change how you see your work and other lives and help you achieve a healthy balance.
Are you off-kilter at work?
According to Health Canada, one-third of Canadians describe themselves as workaholics. Employees spend an average of 45 minutes less with their family during workdays in 2005 than they did two decades earlier.
We overwork ourselves for a variety of reasons: perfectionism, feelings of inadequacy, family conditioning, the need for approval, the desire to avoid personal problems, professional competition, or a compulsion we can’t even name.
There’s nothing wrong with working hard, unless it interferes with your health, relationships, or life outside work.
You’re off balance if work trumps all.
Overwork can lead to illness
“I once worked two jobs due to a takeover,” says Calgary-based small business owner Susanne Alexander-Heaton. “I was repeatedly promised extra help that never came, and I worked the hours it took to get both jobs done.
“After two back-to-back bouts of bronchitis followed by severe fatigue, my immune system was compromised. I burned out and had to ask for a leave of absence. If I didn’t, my doctor said I’d end up hospitalized. That was a huge piece of humble pie, as I had always been the energetic, enthusiastic one.”
We often wait until it’s too late—a scary diagnosis, a doctor’s dire threats, a hasty decision that has nasty consequences—before realizing the importance of prioritizing what matters most.
Decide what’s important
“Creating work-life balance is harder than just adding things to your to-do list,” says Gayle Wiebe Oudeh, an Ottawa-based conflict management specialist. “I often challenge clients to start each day by asking two questions: ‘What is really important for me today at work?’ and ‘What is really important for me today outside of work?’ Then, focus on those two things during the day.”
Different things take priority at different times. Sometimes family needs 100 percent of your energy, while other times work or health or a tropical beach vacation is your main focus.
“If you have an important work task, then focus on that,” says Oudeh. “If you need to be emotionally supportive to a loved one who is going through a difficult time, then acknowledge and commit to that. This mindset allows you to focus on each priority at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way, rather than feeling distracted and off balance all day.”
Keep a time log for a week
“Clients always ask me for the best or latest gadget to help them manage their time,” says life coach Michelle Cullum. “But it’s not about time management; it’s about self-management. I encourage clients to keep a week-long time log to track where and how they spend their time. It’s usually an eye-opening experience to see where time goes.”
Almost one-third of our time goes to sleep. Then we commute, get ready for work, do our jobs, and take care of immediate commitments (appointments, driving kids to soccer practice, volunteering). No wonder there’s not enough time for family, fun, or ourselves.
“I make my clients take themselves on dates [something just for themselves] every week,” says Cullum. “When they take care of themselves, they feel and act better toward others. This makes them happier. It’s an upward spiral. And as a bonus, they learn that who they are, not what they do, makes them successful.”
Tune in to your energy
“The most important thing to realize is that time has nothing to do with balance,” says The Balance Whisperer and stress management consultant Cathleen O’Connor.
“Throw the clock out the window. Instead, focus on energy. Balance is about choosing where to spend your energy—what to say yes to and what to refuse.”
What gives you energy? Make a date with yourself—a deliberate effort to do more of what you love and less of what drains you.
“It sounds simple, but it works!” says O’Connor. “If hugging your six-year old fills you with zest, then make room for more hugs in your day. If grocery shopping after work exhausts you, then delegate the task or find a store that delivers.”
If neither of these options works for you, planning your meal and shopping during the weekend for ingredients might help avoid the necessity of after-work shopping trips.
Figure out what balance means to you
“Balance doesn’t mean equal,” says Beverly Beuermann-King, a stress and wellness specialist in Little Britain, Ontario. “It means you’re satisfied with how you spend your time, what your priorities are, and how you make decisions about what to prioritize.”
Balance may mean simplifying your work tasks, decluttering your home space, or hiring someone to do chores. It may be a sacrifice to pay someone to do something you normally do yourself, but it’s worth it if it allows you to spend time the way you want.
Making the effort to create balance in your life can require time and discipline, but it’ll soon have you walking the tightrope with the greatest of ease.
Quick tips for finding balance
- ask for help
- be honest about your workload
- schedule time to exercise, socialize, and re-energize
The benefits of balance
- emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being
- improved sleep
- increased energy
- more positive, optimistic outlook
- better work and home relationships
Employers can encourage balance
“Employee burnout leads to lost hours, decreased commitment, reduced focus, and high employee turnover,” says Anastasia Valentine, a career strategist in Ottawa.
What employers can do
- recognize and support family time
- encourage time off without penalty
- eliminate “use it or lose it” vacation policies
- allow sabbaticals with job security
- encourage wellness practices such as massage, alternative therapy, retreats, yoga, and company adventures that are partially or fully covered
- install exercise rooms or give passes to a nearby gym
- encourage a balanced diet by including healthier choices in the office cafeteria (not burgers, fries, and pizza!)
- celebrate successes to increase morale
- have fun at work—it creates feelings of belonging and commitment
Benefits to employers
- fewer sick days
- increased productivity and focus
- boosted morale
- better communication
- lower turnover rates
Did you know?
A recent study investigated the effects of a “results only work environment” that allowed employees to work more flexible hours. They found that this system reduced turnover rates regardless of the workers’ age, gender, or family life stage. It also moderated negative home-to-work spillover and physical symptoms such as headches and muscle soreness that can lead to greater turnover rates.