Life and work balance seems like it is always a massive struggle for so many people in their lives.  There are constant pressures and trade-offs between working more to get ahead and having time for the rest of your life that seem to always clash no matter what the circumstances.  Here, I’ll present some options for dealing with this.

The Dilemma

1093389_balance_3 Most people have an impression that has developed that you must working longer hours in order to get ahead in your career.  This comes from a huge range of sources nowadays, from work itself, the hectic busy lives in cities right  back to seeing our parents as children and how we are taught in school.  Everyone talks about working more and working longer in order to get what you want.

In learning this, people who have hopes and ambitions for their careers are trained early that it is necessary to put in those extra hours to get ahead which will have a drastic effect on your personal life outside of work.  This is the dilemma one faces when trying to balance life and work.

The Timing

Timing of this dilemma means multiple things to me.  It is about the timing of the balance itself and the timing of the beliefs that feed and re-enforce the dilemma in the first place.  It seems that people change their minds on this belief as they progress through life so where you are at in your career, position or even your age has something to do with how to balance work and life.  I personally don’t believe this one bit and I think that people should be much more careful with when and to what extent these beliefs drive them.  Young people tend to be looked upon as people with less responsibility who can and therefore, should working more in their life.  The age old comments about people who live on their own, have fewer responsibilities and who don’t have kids is something that makes my blood boil.  No one should judge others in this way and if you ask me, young folks make a massive life mistake by adopting this thinking that they should work more now and then later in life have time to do all the other things.

Timing your life is not something you should ever plan for, it’s too short, too unexpected and would be terribly irresponsible not to use your time wisely at any point in life.  A young person should take on work life balance even more seriously than others as it will have a bigger impact on the rest of their life than if they only have 5-10 years left to work.  Imagine if you developed a practice to always have time for yourself each week when you were 20 years old and fit work in without making a huge commitment to work extra and try to get ahead.  Do that when you are 20 instead of when you are 50 and you can save yourself 30 years of unhappy work life balance.  If you change these beliefs early in life, the payout is far higher than waiting until work has worn you down and you only look to balance your life out of necessity before burning out.

The other aspect of timing for work life balance is simply in how you can balance it in the first place.  Develop yourself a routine so that you are dependable with your work and that people learn to respect your time and your decisions about balancing your life.  Flexibility to nice but not at the cost of your free time and life over any long period of time.  Short term flexibility and adjustments of course will be needed in many careers but you don’t need to, nor should you allow these behaviors become habits.  If you do, they become very hard to break and it changes expectations from those you work with.  If you have worked 60 hours a week for 5 years and then suddenly want to scale back to 40 hours a week, all I can say is good luck.  You either won’t be able to, will be so stressed you’ll not enjoy your free time or it will be seen very negatively from your employer.  On the other hand, if you have always worked 40 hours a week and this is consistent, you have no problem scaling up for a short time and returned back to a normal workload.  Don’t let anyone take advantage of this and always discuss it with an employer before you let it happen for more than a couple of weeks so they know it is temporary.

The Sacrifice

So, some of you probably think that working only 40 hours a week will be a sacrifice to your career.  Well, yes it is.  Maybe.  If you look at your career over a longer term however, like I do, then you will not think it is a sacrifice to your career, but to your life.  Why would you really want to work significantly more?  What will it gain you?  Possessions, security, time?  Aren’t each of those things only sought after to give you more freedom and enjoyment in life anyway?  Why would you choose to defer those things if you can have more of it now?

Let me reframe the idea of sacrifice then from one of sacrificing your career progression to one of sacrificing your life.  Don’t be convinced that putting off life, no matter how temporary it is, is going to pay back more in the end, it won’t.  Life is short, it can end abruptly with no warnings and you will never find a single person on their death bed wishing they had worked more in their lives instead of living it.  So, make the sacrifice one of work to ensure you lead the type of life you want, have the free time you need and change your habits to make living the focus.

This sacrifice is something that can also reinforce many great character traits.  If people know that you will NOT sacrifice your life and cannot be taken advantage of for work, good people will respect this and value it.  They won’t try to take advantage of you and you will be appreciated far more when you do put in extra effort from time to time.  Anyone who doesn’t respect this type of moral decision will likely never respect you and I’d say to walk away if you are giving ultimatums or your work is made more miserable because of it.  This is a smart sacrifice to make to get yourself in a job where people value your time and respect your decisions.  I know if I didn’t have that in my job, I would walk a way in a second!

The Solution

Finally, I want to cover more of a solution to this dilemma of work life balance.  It’s definitely not an easy solution to come to.  If you haven’t started your career yet, I guess this might be much easier to apply without any side effects but anyone in a role with a habit of overworking that they want to break, it’s not going to be easy to change.  The best way though by far is to continue to get your work done, but do it in less time by becoming more efficient and more productive while you are working.

If your hours are tracked by a superior, sit down with them and talk to them about your plans to reduce your overtime or extra work.  They need to know you are going to change it so that you do not surprise them and disappoint them unexpectedly.  Discuss the areas of your work that are most important and which areas if something had to go, should.  Ask about ways to be more efficient and be honest with yourself and your boss about time that is wasted on the job that you have room to eliminate to become more productive.  You can make a strong case if you admit that some of your time is wasted on person email or internet browsing when really you should be working and that you are going to reduce your hours worked, but also eliminate those things that could be done outside of work.  This honesty and self-assessment will impress them and give you a big bargaining chip.

Most people if they added up all the time they spent each week on wasted activities could easily have the free time that they really want and they fall into the trap of making themselves look busier than they really are.  Let them know that you are going to try it for a week or two and see how it changes things.  Make a strong effort to kill those distractions and wasted time so you can prove you can get just as much work done.  Ask to meet and review progress in a week and continue to highlight that it is working and making you happier and more productive.

If you are giving no support to try this at your work place I’d would suggest to do it anyway.  Log the hours you work and the hours you waste (for yourself) so you can see what you could still get done with reduced hours.  Then, do it anyway and take on the consequences.  If you are serious about work life balance, then you need to make a stand and do your best to make it work at your present job.  If that won’t happen, then take the plunge and switch jobs, it might be the only way to reset and start over with a fixed work schedule and attitude.

To me, the topic of work life balance is a critical one and the foundation that supports it in your life is productivity.  The more productive you can be, the easier it is to be successful in your career while keeping a happy work life balance.

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