Most of us, if we have any sense, dream of creating that perfect work life balance.
But what does balance mean to the average person? And with so few hours in the day just how many should we sacrifice on the altar of ‘work’ and how many should we invest in ‘life’?
I’ve noticed that the screaming urgency of my mid-20s work ambition has lately receded to a dull murmur. Back then I flogged my guts out at various advertising agencies for a fairly pathetic pay packet. Looking back at those long hours of unpaid overtime, the many missed lunch breaks and the time not spent doing things I enjoyed, well it all seems a bit silly in retrospect.
Thankfully my work epiphany came early and I realised two important facts:
- Work won’t love you back
- When you’re old and grey you’re unlikely to think ‘Oh I wish I’d worked more hours.’
So for the last eight years or so I’ve been experimenting and trying to get the work life scales to balance in a way that suits me. A major factor in moving to the Central Coast was to allow my family and me to escape the financial stresses of Sydney. Thankfully, we only have to commute to Sydney a few times a week and the lower cost of living lets us earn less and therefore work less.
Of course striking the balance is a project in progress and there are still days when the dog doesn’t get walked, my son has bananas for dinner and I realise that my eyebrows are so in need of a good pluck they’re joining in the middle (of my back). But I’ve learnt a few things along the way, so here’s my advice on how to strike the perfect work life balance.
Define what balance means to you
Your balance might not be the same as everyone else’s, especially if you’re lucky enough to earn your cash doing something you love, but whether it’s incorporating time to have dinner with the family, or ensuring you always get to the gym, make sure you’re working to live, not living to work.
Realise your limits
The truth is that after around eight hours of work most of us are no longer working at full capacity. Tasks that took one hour in the morning (when our brains were perky) drag on in the evening and take much longer. Realise when you’re not at your best and give yourself a rest.
Learn to unplug
In this digital age it’s so easy to stay permanently in touch. The iPhone in your pocket, the computer permanently on, the Smart TV streaming emails while you watch your favourite shows. But even if you’re self-employed, it’s important to set yourself work boundaries. Perhaps Sundays could be a ‘no computer day’, or you always turn your phone off after 6pm. Being unavailable for a few days a week will be great for your stress levels!
Make ‘me time’
Ever noticed how you usually make the appointments that are written in your diary? Well do the same for’ me time’. Schedule strict times to do something for yourself and then don’t reschedule it unless it’s an emergency.
Okay, sounds obvious, but many people have never thought about simply working less. Working a four-day week or a nine-day fortnight might not make a huge difference to your income (when you factor in tax, expensive lunches and travel costs). And just think what you could do with all that extra time.
Most of us have used the ‘too busy’ excuse to avoid exercise. But, in fact, making time for a quick run with the dog, or a stroll down the beach at the start of the day will actually make you more productive. By getting your blood pumping and releasing endorphins you’ll actually work smarter and achieve more in less time!
I still find it hard to get out of ‘work mode’ and into ‘mum mode’ when I’m with my son. It’s so tempting to nip back into my home office and check emails. But if I don’t want him to grow up glued to the computer screen, or working himself into an early grave, then I have to set a good example right?
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