By Geno Cutolo, President and CEO of Staffmark
Work-life balance sounds good in theory, but it can be so difficult to achieve. It’s all too easy to make one a priority over the other. Just ask the 70 percent of workers who struggle to strike a balance between the two! And if you do find that sweet spot where all things are equal, it can be difficult to maintain — at least for any length of time.
I had the pleasure of speaking on this topic back in June at Engage, a global staffing and recruiting conference. As a husband, father, and CEO, the idea of finding the ideal work-life balance is always top of mind, and it’s something I’ve strived to achieve for most of my career. And like many people, the road to balancing these seemingly two different “lives” wasn’t necessarily easy.
Living a double life?
Part of the problem is achieving a work-life balance has to do with certain habits. By our very nature, we follow a pattern of extremes. Come New Year’s, most of us optimistically make a resolution to lose weight, exercise, etc. And all goes well for the first month or so, but the change in lifestyle is often so drastic that it becomes a challenge to sustain day after day.
We also struggle as a result of the misconceptions that swirl around the idea of work-life balance. For one, there’s this belief that working long hours is inherently bad. I’ve been known to work longer hours for stretches at a time. Sure, I was a little short on sleep, but this time spent working came with a deep sense of accomplishment.
Besides, the term “balance” is ripe for misinterpretation. Finding a balance doesn’t mean all things are equal. Rarely will that be the case. Sometimes, work will take precedence, and everything else finds its way to the backseat. The problem comes if you allow work to take over when it’s not necessary. That’s why it’s so vital to measure your priorities and divide your time to meet your needs. Because, really, work-life balance is a measurement of what matters most to you.
Achieving work-life balance
This, of course, leads us to the question of the hour: How do you achieve a true work-life balance? The following is what I’ve found helpful, and what I shared at the conference:
1. Be there.
Bryant McGill said it best, “Almost all sadness comes from thinking about the past and all worry from thinking about the future. Present mindedness is your only safe haven.” If you focus on the task in front you, you actually give yourself a gift: productivity. You begin to accomplish things faster and more efficiently. Your time is spent working on things that are important, not urgent. In other words, you act instead of react.
Each day, consciously decide what you’ll be doing. Organize your time so you can commit to being there — both professionally and personally. And check in with yourself periodically to see exactly where your attention is at that moment in time. Ask yourself, “Where am I now? Am I focused on the task at hand?”
2. Don’t mortgage your higher priorities for lower ones.
We all have certain aspects of our lives that are more important than others, and they will differ from one person to the next. Identify what’s most important to you. Make sure your answers reflect your priorities, not someone else’s. Knowing your priorities allows you to draw boundaries so you can devote time and attention to those things that top your list.
As you question your priorities, and decide where things fall, you can then determine what needs to be trimmed — or establish rules for things lower on the list. Email, for example, shouldn’t take precedence over other aspects of work. So, maybe you establish a rule for its use, like only replying to messages three times a day.
3. Put family first.
Chances are, you’ve had a meeting on your schedule so important that the only way you’d miss it would be for an emergency. Ask yourself, “Do I treat my personal time in the exact same way?” If not, I’m here to reassure you that it does deserve the exact same respect.
Don’t wait to see what time is left over after the workday is done. Make a point of scheduling time for yourself and your family, and only reschedule this time if there’s a real emergency. Time spent away from the office is one of the only ways to recharge your battery so you can be as productive as possible at work.
4. Make work fun.
People who’ve achieved a good balance often make work fun. In fact, one study found that integrating fun into the workplace reduces stress and increases productivity, so it “pays to play” when in the office. Seek out projects you enjoy, establish relationships with colleagues, and always celebrate your successes.
If your work-life balance starts to feel strained, take a moment to reflect on your priorities and make adjustments as needed. Keeping this list top of mind will help you make better decisions in every area of your life.