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How do I achieve work-life balance?
As a life and career coach, I get this question all the time. Even if you’ve never explicitly asked this of yourself or someone else, you’ve most certainly danced around it or raised it subconsciously while trying to finish a client’s report, make it to a friend’s party or decide whether it’s worth it to take a long weekend.
We all want to know the secret to arriving at – and staying at – that state of balance, that point where we feel contented and in control of these conflicting aspects of our lives.
But here’s the thing: balance isn’t a state. It’s a process. It’s a continual back-and-forth between individuals—something I like to illustrate with the example of a teeter-totter.
You’re probably familiar with this scenario from your own childhood: you and the person on the opposite end of the teeter-totter take turns going up and down, and it’s all good fun until one of you decides to dig your heels in, leaving your counterpart stranded up in the air.
And then there’s the other scenario, much worse, wherein your friend decides to up and leave without warning, sending you plummeting down to earth for one painful landing.
Professional relationships can be a lot like that. If an employer refuses to budge, the employee is effectively held up in the air, made hostage by his or her dependence on the employer—and equilibrium is lost. If it’s the employee who’s inflexible, the work-life balance is similarly disrupted and working relationships are undercut by a lack of trust or the knowledge that an employee isn’t truly committed to the opportunity given to them.
Exchanges like these, comprised of extreme highs and lows, can only lead to disgruntlement and dissatisfaction. It takes ongoing compromise from both parties to establish the sort of rapport that can make the workplace, much like the playground, a fun, productive environment.
First build trust before asking for favors. Bond over your love of Downton Abbey because relationships matter. Then consider how you can cover for a coworker while one goes to a child’s event and you go to your art class the next evening.
Feel free to bring these ideas up to your boss. Your boss might not mind that you do something during official work hours if you have plans to answer e-mails while on the sidelines of the soccer field. The key is to show that you will demonstrate results and care for their needs while you communicate effectively about your needs.
I’m not saying that every request to jump should be met with a “How high?” but it would go a long way if you were to show a willingness to learn new things and be accommodating when possible.
If you’re honestly out of your depth with handling a new account or really can’t stay late on Tuesdays, relay that information honestly, sans whining, so as to make it clear that you’ll do what you can, when you can, but only within reason. This way you are setting up a collaboration with your employer and not putting your work and home in competition with one another. This can lower your stress and make you an ally with your employer.
There are plenty of them, these days and they add up to more time than you think.
Smart-phones and Facebook feeds may be a vital part of your professional life, but hopefully you’ll know when you’re crossing over into distractedness. Try to make the process of focusing routine: when you’re on your work computer, work! Force yourself to be productive, even if it’s difficult in the beginning.
You’ll be much more efficient—and much better about leaving work in the office once you get home—if you can mentally separate the obligations and associations with each space.
Let’s face it, we all carry some guilt. We think about work at home and home at work. Somehow many of us have become guilt ridden as a way of life. Recognize and own your choices. Choose to be the best you in the present situation. Be okay with being 90 percent or 80 percent some of the time in one area.
Do not let anyone define what you want to be. If you do not like cooking, then you do not have to be that Martha Stewart caliber chef. Decide what is truly important to you and work on that. If it isn’t what social media agrees with, turn it off. Measure yourself against your values and you are more likely to come up satisfied.
Even if the work-life balance payoff isn’t immediate, uphold your end of things: ultimately, it’s in everyone’s best interests to come up with an equitable solution. After all, the teeter-totter only works when both sides are willing to have their ups and downs!
Over the past 18 years, Kelly has successfully coached business leaders and people from all walks of life to reach their highest potential. With a Master’s in counseling, professional coach and mediation certifications, and 20 years of Human Resources experience, she has successfully helped others define their dreams and create pathways to success. She is the creator and owner of 1 Smart Life, LLC a new style of personal coaching with a team of experts in all of life’s challenging areas.