Work/life balance issues often surface in my work as a coach and mentor. I’ve never liked the term work/life balance; for one thing it infers that work and life are two distinctly different things and for another, it suggests that there is such a thing as balance between the two, that somehow the scales should be evenly weighted and that time spent working should be balanced equally with time spent enjoying life! Whoever manages that? Striving for this elusive idea of balance can lead to feelings of perpetual failure and guilt.
This is not a simple issue but here are some ideas to consider.
Let go of your ‘open-door policy’. If you feel strongly that you want to be accessible and approachable whenever team members or clients need you, you’re making a rod for your own back. Carve out some uninterrupted time each day, at work, for your own work and let people know that you’re doing this and why. Put it in your diary and communicate a clear signal, eg a closed door or earphones that makes it clear when you are not to be interrupted. Tell people when you will be available and make a time to catch up then.
Switch your email signals off and resist the urge to check every email as it comes in. Make two or three times a day to check and respond to emails and let people know that’s what you now do. Managing the expectations of others is important in making this work.
Delegate. Outsource. Call it what you will, but give some of that work you love to do to others. How will they ever learn and grow if you do it all yourself?
Coach your team members. When they pop their heads around your door or desk with a question, resist the urge to tell them the answer and ask them what they think instead. What would they do if you weren’t there? Who else could they ask? What’s one approach they could try? What’s another?What else? What’s their preferred approach? When will they give it a try? You might be surprised (or even disappointed) at how quickly they become self-sufficient if you stop spoon-feeding them answers and instead encourage them to think for themselves.
Have a good hard think about your priorities and list them. Whole of life priorities, not just work ones. These will change from time to time, so it’s a good idea to do this regularly. My top priority has been, for the last 15 years, to spend time with my husband. It took me a long time to find him and I don’t want to waste a minute of the time we have together. Having said that, I’m currently on the home stretch of a large piece of work that I’ve invested a lot of time being trained for and I really want to make the most of my opportunity to enjoy delivering the last of this work over the next three months. I’m also, with a colleague, reaping rewards from our Leading in Complexity programs we have been delivering over recent years, so this work is currently a high priority too. I also have a 100 year old mother, a large extended family, friends and neighbours who are very important to me.
The way I manage these competing priorities is to think carefully about what I say yes to and what I say no to. Having clear priorities really helps with this, so it’s easy to say both a straightforward yes or no to work and social invitations that don’t fit with my priorities.
If you’re clear and firm, people are surprisingly accepting of your choices and that results in a powerful sense of freedom.
I suspect if we aimed for a yes/no balance, instead of a work/life balance, freedom would be the outcome.