How I improved my work-life balance and how you can too
Ideas to help you balance your work and home commitments.
For years, we women have been told how we can ‘have it all’: balancing a good career with raising a family while keeping our homes in order.
This was an exclusively female thing for a long time, but I see a growing desire by men to ‘have it all’ too. This is great news of course – the idea that men will happily work long, tiring hours and hardly see their children is so old fashioned.
However, it can be difficult to find that balance between your job and your personal life. It can feel like you’re being pulled in different directions sometimes and it’s difficult to know what to do for the best.
Ideas to help you improve your work-life balance.
Returning to work after Olivia was born was a breeze: I easily slipped back into my old work routines and even got myself a new job with more responsibility. For me, things got much harder after I had William. Returning to work after my second child was much more traumatic than I even thought possible and I struggled.
Unfortunately, quitting was never an option because my salary is vital to us keeping a roof over our family. Instead, I had to find ways of coping to make life a little easier.
Here are 12 things that have helped me improve my work-life balance by separating my professional and personal commitments. If you’re struggling to find a balance, hopefully these may help you too.
Use your commute to mentally prepare / unwind.
Working in London, I take the train and tube to work. In the morning it’s a good opportunity to focus my mind on what needs to get done at work that day. In the evening, it gives me space to shake off my working day and relax. By ridding myself of any work-related stresses or frustrations means that when I get home I can concentrate fully on my family.
Dedicate some time towards the end of the work day to reflect on activities and write a to-do list for the next day.
To help me unwind at the end of each working day I have time set aside to reflect on what I’ve done and what needs doing the following day. I write a to-do list to break down tasks and keep them looking manageable. It’s a tactic I use to stop me from feeling overwhelmed.
Set clear boundaries for home and work.
This is so important in helping to improve your work-life balance. By setting boundaries I am more easily able to separate work and home. You can read a bit more about this in my ‘how to be kind to your body and mind’ post.
Take work emails off your personal mobile phone.
In my current job it’s necessary for me to have a work mobile. I work from various locations so people need to be able to contact me easily. Instead of having two separate mobile phones I thought it’d be easier to forward my work calls and emails to my personal smartphone. Big mistake! Cue my phone buzzing late at night with (non-urgent) work emails, interrupting my evenings and making me unable to switch off from work.
Shut off all work technology on holiday.
The whole point of a holiday is to relax, switch off from work and enjoy quality time with your family. If you take your work phone or laptop with you, the temptation to check your messages or send one last email can be overwhelming. I used to tell myself that this was a good thing because it meant that I didn’t have such a big pile of emails to return to. The reality? I didn’t fully switch off and chill out. Now I make sure I leave those pesky devices at home!
Forget multi-tasking and focus on one thing at a time instead.
For years now we’ve been sold this idea that multi-tasking is the ‘holy grail’ of managing life. However, it may not be as good as we think: studies suggest that multi-tasking can actually damage our brains. Yikes! The new trend is to ‘single-task’. This is where you concentrate on just one thing at a time. Writing for The Pool, Lauren Laverne says single-tasking has changed her life. It has helped her feel calmer, more focused and lets her get more work done in less time. It’s something that I am trying to do more of too.
Take parental leave.
All parents are legally entitled to 18 weeks of parental leave for each child up until their 18th birthday. This is on top of your usual annual leave entitlement although it’s normally unpaid. If you’re able to, taking some parental leave can be very helpful. I used this to take some time off when Olivia and William both started school. It allowed me to be close by as they settled into their new school routine without compromising the rest of my time off.
Submit a business case for flexible working.
In my previous job the commitment and energy needed to work full-time, keep my home running smoothly and care for two young children made me regularly exhausted. I recognised that I’d benefit from a more flexible working pattern and set about putting a business case together. It took a while to get it all sorted out, but I was eventually able to work from home one day a week. It can make such a difference.
Re-adjust working hours.
Working full-time and having a long commute home takes its toll. Time with my children at the beginning and end of each day felt squashed and insignificant. Working from home helps, but I still felt there was more I could do. I decided to change things up and readjust my working hours. I now leave for work when they are still in bed (thereby missing the usual morning grumpiness), but get home earlier. This means more quality time with Olivia and William on a daily basis.
Learn how to say ‘no’.
Knowing your limits is just as important as understanding your strengths. I learnt this the hard way after silently struggling with my workload and getting seriously stressed out in my last job. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or turn down work requests if you feel like you’re already juggling a lot of projects. ‘No’ is an incredibly empowering word and a perfectly reasonable one to say in the workplace. I’m doing this a lot more and I feel so much more in control of myself and my workload.
Find a job closer to home.
This might seem extreme, but one of the reasons I changed jobs last year was to be physically closer to my family. The amount of time I spend commuting is a major happiness factor for me and having a nearly 3 hour round trip to work each day just wasn’t making me happy. By finding a job where I predominately work much closer to home, I’ve shaved about an hour off my journey time and feel much better about that.
Ditch the working parent guilt.
Guilt is a negative and sometimes destructive force. Don’t let it consume you. Once I accepted that things won’t always to go to plan, it was much easier to handle.