When embarking on a career, many of us thrive on being successful, climbing the ladder, breaking through that glass ceiling and, ultimately being well paid for our efforts.
Whilst it is great to have a rewarding job and to be stimulated by the 9-5, it’s very easy for the ‘work to live’ ethic to turn in a ‘live to work’ necessity, and before you know it work is filling your 24/7.
The Dreaded Burn Out
It’s only natural to want to be well thought of in the work place, however it is easy to get into the habit of burning the midnight oil, working through lunch breaks and constantly being ‘on call’ which can be a habit that is difficult to break.
Whilst employers are clearly grateful for a team who go the extra mile, it is also worth keeping in mind that contracted hours and paid holidays are there for a reason; to ensure that employees get enough ‘down time’ to enable them to emotionally and physically manage the stresses and strains of their job requirements.
In fact, far from regarding employees who never leave their desks as being ideal recruits, employers can actually tear their hair out over them. This is because, although they are the first to offer to run that weekend pitch and take on extra work, they are also the first to crumble under the accumulated pressure and ultimately end up taking time off for stress and exhaustion.
Finding the balance
It’s a dilemma that many of us face, as we naturally want to do the best job possible. So, how do you know when work is taking over, and more importantly, how do you know when to take your foot off the pedal?
Five warning signs that your work/life balance needs adjusting:
- You are experiencing difficulties at home due to spending too much time working
- Your friends have given up inviting you out, as you are always too busy to attend, or cancel at the last minute
- You only communicate via text because you have no time for phone conversations
- You find yourself being intolerant and short-tempered with those around you
- You are becoming out of shape, due to not finding time to exercise and eating on the hop
Ten steps to Zen
It’s not called a work/life balance for nothing, and there is no denying that it can be difficult to achieve the correct combination. However, the following top tips will hopefully help you find a window in your busy schedule reserved exclusively for you:
1. Learn to say NO
Prioritise what is important and say no to the additional tasks that eat away at your time with no major benefit. You will soon realise that the world won’t stop if you streamline your workload, and you will ultimately benefit from being able to focus properly on the important tasks.
2. Put down the phone
One of the biggest negative factors in family life is the partner or parent who is glued to their phone/iPad/laptop, whether taking work calls or constantly checking emails. Get into the habit of switching off your phone when you get home, or at least scheduling a slot to check before putting your phone away again.
3. Give 100% wherever you are
How often have you looked forward to leaving work and sitting down to dinner with your partner, and then spent the whole meal dissecting your day at work?
If possible, try to separate the two areas of your life and give your full attention to work whilst you are there, and then family life when you are at home. This is equally important if you work from home, as the edges can very easily get blurred. Obviously you will want to talk about your day with your family, just make sure you give yourself a time limit.
4. Pre-book your annual leave
There never feels like a good time to take time off work, as a result many of us accumulate our annual leave and find we have a big chunk to take at the end of the year, or worse, run out of time to take it and subsequently lose it.
With this in mind, schedule your time off at the beginning of the year and spread it over the months ahead, if you can actually book breaks away in advance, even better. Even though it can be hard to walk away from your responsibilities, your work will ultimately benefit from you having time to refresh and relax. And, we promise that once you are on that sun lounger, that big presentation suddenly won’t seem quite so monumental!
5. Prioritise date nights
It may seem clichéd, but couples who play together really do stay together, and we are all guilty of neglecting our nearest and dearest when the pressure is on at work. The truth is, when employees are happy at home they perform better at work, so taking time to invest in your relationship will ultimately help you succeed in the office.
6. Make time to exercise
When you are juggling a busy home and work life, the first thing that gets pushed to one side is usually exercise. Ironically, it is the best thing you can schedule into a hectic schedule, as the endorphins released through exercise will undoubtedly give you a well-needed energy boost, not to mention improve your productivity at work.
If the idea of trying to squeeze a session at the gym into your already heaving schedule brings you out in a cold sweat, try factoring in a couple of ten minute walks into your day. Simply getting off the bus a stop early, parking further away from the office or walking to a sandwich shop at the far end of the street will help raise your heart rate, and even better, you can still make work calls the whole time!
7. Eat well
‘You are what you eat’, it’s as simple as that. It can be really difficult when working in an office to take time to eat healthily, as client lunches, late night takeaways and the inevitable lunchtime trip to the calorific sandwich shop are the norm for many of us.
It’s no surprise that heavy lunches result in us feeling drained of energy and sluggish, so try to factor in some healthy packed lunches a few times a week, and if at all possible, try to eat them away from your desk.
8. Schedule in some laughter
It is all too easy to decline or cancel social events with friends because of work commitments, but taking time to unwind and have a giggle can be a great tonic, which will undoubtedly benefit your overall mood and performance.
Whilst it is great if you have good relationships with your colleagues, try not to fall into the trap of spending too much of your social time with them in the pub after work. Keep in touch with old friends, or friends who work in different professions to help get away from ‘talking shop’ all night.
9. Get mindful
The days of meditation being associated with hippies and new age travellers are long gone and many professionals are now tapping into ‘headspace’ type meditation programmes to help clarify their thoughts and take ten minutes for themselves.
The best thing about taking time out to meditate is that you don’t really have to take time out. There are numerous mindfulness apps available to download on your phone, with many designed for listening to whilst you are walking or even driving for ultimate convenience.
10. Accept when enough is enough
Many of us embark on our career paths when we are young and commitment free, when the all-consuming work life, combined with social engagements and possible travel is exciting and exhilarating. As life progresses, however, and home and family life begin to take on a greater importance, it can sometimes be hard to adjust your work life to accommodate your additional needs.
Although this is a very common scenario, many people find that this change of emphasis takes them by surprise, and suddenly the extra curriculum work requirements no longer feel like perks and can actually end up being an additional chore on the to do list.
Sometimes you have to be blunt and assess whether your job is still meeting your needs. If you feel like work is taking over your entire life, maybe it is time to step back and reassess. You are never too old or too experienced to seek career guidance, and you may find that your skills could be better used in a completely different, more rewarding role. After all, it’s no use having the pension plan and hefty salary if you don’t get chance to enjoy them!