How to Regain Control of Your Work/Life Balance
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you already know how much I love living in San Francisco and participating in its startup culture that values hard work and productivity on projects that have the potential to change the world in some positive way.
Unfortunately, one of the issues that I see all too often in this city is the tendency to become so wrapped up in these exciting work projects that the concept of a fulfilling personal life falls entirely to the wayside. If you’ve ever found yourself checking email before you’re even out of bed, leaving the office so late that it’s technically the next day or turning down plans with friends to get in a few more hours of work, you already know what I mean!
Of course, this disruption in our work/life balance affects everybody – not just San Francisco startup entrepreneurs. People around the country are feeling the crunch of increased on-the-job requirements and limited time for personal affairs, even though this “all work and no play” attitude can easily lead to burn-out, illness and a host of other negative effects.
If you find yourself feeling out of balance, it’s time to take back your personal life, by following the tips below:
Tip #1 – Identify your top priorities
The first step to regaining control of your work/life balance is to recognize that you can’t really “have it all” (or, at least, you can’t have it all at once). You can’t be a ladder-climbing careerist, top-notch parent, best friend, favorite child and social butterfly all at the same time – which means that some priorities need to take precedence over others.
So whenever you start to feel overwhelmed, take the time to identify your top 3-5 overall life priorities and then look for ways to minimize time spent on activities that aren’t covered by this list. As an example, some of the priorities you may consider include:
- A commitment to advancing your career
- Dedicated time with your children
- Hobbies that you’re particularly invested in
- Social bonds with friends
- A college education or technical training program
- Your overall health and wellness
- Time spent supporting an elderly parent or relative throughout the aging process
- Volunteer work with a cause you care about
- Travel to new places
Really, the possibilities are endless – and you shouldn’t feel obligated to choose the priorities that society deems “most valuable.” Choose the demands that you feel most drawn to at this point in your life and fully commit to them with the realization that doing so may mean turning down other opportunities.
Tip #2 – Protect your commitments to these endeavors
Once you’ve set your list of top priorities, it’s up to you to protect these activities from other demands on your time. This can be challenging, as doing so might require turning down an invitation to something that sounds fun but would pull you away from the commitments you’ve made to yourself.
The best way to protect your sanity and well-being is to set definitive boundaries and share them with others in your life. As an example, if you’ve chosen to prioritize your family over your career, setting the limit that you’ll leave the office by 5:00pm each day (even if you’re still working from home), gives your colleagues an easily-understood guideline that allows you to maintain your commitment to your top priorities.
Tip #3 – Learn when to say “No”
Another vital part of the process of protecting your commitments to your top priorities is learning how to say “No.” If you’re a perpetual over-achiever, the idea of turning down exciting or lucrative opportunities may sound scary, but it’s a vital part of regaining control of your work/life balance.
Fortunately, creating a list of your top 3-5 priorities makes it easy to determine when to say “No,” as decisions can be weighed against whether or not they support your chosen objectives. If, for example, you’re invited out to a cocktail event with college friends when you’ve decided to focus your time on your career and family, you can easily say “No,” as saying “Yes” would mean time and energy that can no longer be allocated to your primary purposes.
Tip #4 – Practice efficiency in your personal and professional life
One other strategy to be aware of when it comes to balancing your personal and professional commitments is the idea of maximizing efficiency throughout your everyday activities. Here’s why this is so important…
When you minimize the amount of time you’re spending on redundant or unnecessary tasks at work, you need to worry less about staying late at the office at the expense of other personal priorities. Optimizing the amount of time spent commuting each day could likewise free up time that can be better spent on personal pursuits.
So while I still believe that it’s a good idea for everybody to get in the habit of learning when to say “No,” it’s also possible that you may be able to engage in all your top priorities without cutting out other activities by simply becoming more efficient overall. Give it a shot if the idea of turning down friends for after-work cocktails in exchange for yet another late night at the office sounds mind-numbingly painful.
Tip #5 – Outsource tasks to make more room for top priorities
Finally, consider the possibility of outsourcing when it comes to freeing up time in both your personal and professional lives. Really, outsourcing isn’t just for corporate CEOs anymore. Anyone can outsource menial lifestyle tasks using services like TaskRabbit or Craigslist.
What kinds of things might you want to outsource? A few ideas to consider include:
- Hiring someone to shop for and deliver your groceries
- Hiring a maid service to clean your house
- Sending out for a laundry service
- Calling a handy-man service for minor home repair projects (especially those that’ll take you hours of Youtube research to complete)
- Hiring a car service to minimize time spent on public transportation
- Calling in a babysitter to give you a few hours of productive work time
As with the list of priorities you can consider, the options here truly are endless – and adopting any of these practices can make a major difference in your ability to find an enjoyable, sustainable work/life balance.
If you can afford to pay workers to complete these services for you, the amount of time and mental energy they’ll free up can all be reinvested back into your top priorities. But even if you don’t have the spare cash on hand, look into options for bartering services with others. If you have a professional skill, try trading with others to get the services you need. If not, partner up with others and volunteer to coordinate tasks like routine shopping trips, child care and other activities to complete tasks in the most efficient way possible.
Obviously, in this age of opportunities, the struggle to find an ideal work/life balance is one that’s going to go away anytime soon. While it’s true that employers are becoming more and more open to things like flexible work schedules, the reality is that the competing demands of modern life are always going to challenge us to identify and protect our own top priorities.
It isn’t easy to live this disciplined of a lifestyle, but it’s a necessary approach when it comes to making time for the priorities we deem most important.