A healthy work-life balance is something we’d all like, but what does it actually mean?
The idea of a ''Work-life balance'' was first used in the 70s and 80s, as stressed-out baby boomers strove to achieve a balance between career and family lives.
But the thing is, work-life balance means something different to everyone.
The term encompassed a concept that looked at work as one part of our life, and personal life such as family, friends, and health as another. But with rising rates in cancer and mental health, this concept has had little success, I believe. So, someone decided to remarket it as work-life integration. This smells a lot like the 2008 Shreddies campaign where some genius created the diamond Shreddies — A new product with the same physical characteristics, but with an updated image.
I don’t think there is a right work-life integration or balance per se; it’s more of finding a balance that allows you to achieve your personal and professional goals and dreams.
I do think there are standards that you can apply that can help you find the balance that is right for you.
Here are the 5 that I recommend to my clients and work on myself.
1. Schedule ‘You’ time into your schedule as if it was an important meeting
When it comes to scheduling in a workout, yoga class or a 20-minute meditation, most of us
proclaim to do the best we can within our hectic schedules. However, for most, it’s more of a case of finding the time, rather than making the time.
I had a client who more often than not couldn’t find the time to fit his sessions in with me, until he got diagnosed with cancer and then, strangely enough, he discovered that he had more time to make our sessions.
When you schedule ‘You’ time into your schedule, you’re creating routines that allow you to find more balance longer-term, and I hope it will help you avoid having to get a big wake-up call that forces you to.
2. Balance your ‘You’ time with productive periods
Although how we work and the environment in which we do this is ever-changing, other things are more hardwired into our systems. Just as our brain goes through sleep cycles throughout the night as part of our circadian rhythm, we also have what Sleep Researcher Nathaniel Kleitman found to be productivity cycles when we’re awake, called Ultradian rhythms. Kleitman discovered that we have alternating periods of high-frequency brain activity (about 90 minutes), where we can be more productive. This he found was followed by lower-frequency brain activity (about 20 minutes), where we need to recharge our batteries.
There will be individual variances to this, although this way of working allows you to find a lot more balance.
3. Empty your mind before you go home and before heading into the office
Some days can seem to get out of hand. Maybe you're snowed under at work, and the emails are sitting in your inbox are rising by the hour. Perhaps you’re going through a tough time at home, problems with the relationship or the kids are struggling at school.
The pace of our 24/7 lives can seem frantic, and the constant interruptions of our social media and messenger feeds can seriously disrupt not just our actions but our thinking as well. You can't shut down your brain, and you either head home to snap at your spouse and kids or head into the office worrying about what’s happening at home and get nothing done all day.
Something a couple of my clients do is to open a blank email or message and take the time to type out everything that is causing emotional or mental disruption in their life currently. See, it’s a great way of clearing out what’s going on in your head, which firstly allows you to have more clarity when you go back and read what you’ve written later. Secondly, it gives you mental space to focus and be more present whether you’re heading home or heading to the office.
This one always amazes how much quicker problems get resolved in life.
4. Be consistent
“It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently” Anthony Robbins.
There’s a saying in neuroscience that says ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’.
Us humans are creatures of habit, and our brains require consistent effort to create new habits and behaviours that become a natural part of our daily routines and schedules. This is why 30 or 90-day challenges, for example, are so popular. You’re committing to something for long enough to build into your system, something that has a higher chance of becoming something that you can do longer-term.
So, whatever work-life habits you’re looking to integrate into your life, set a period where you’ll commit to it.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller. Take responsibility for your work-life balance, because everything you’re trying to achieve in life is a constantly moving target. You need to be willing to re-evaluate, because life has a beautiful way of tripping us up just when things start to get comfortable.
Once a week or once a month depending on what’s happening in your life and the goals you’re trying to achieve, it’s worth taking the time to re-evaluate and adjust accordingly.