Everyone struggles at some level in finding the right work-life balance. Managers may so at a rate that is at least as high, or higher than the average person. That’s because most managers are overachievers and therefore always want to do more than they have time for. This causes stress in finding the right balance between their job and the rest of life.
What you will learn…
- How to think about the time that you have
- How to actively choose where you will spend your time
- How others have found work-life balance
There is no magic solution, no silver bullet to solving this. And to complicate things, life continues to change, creating new and different work-life balance challenges. As a result, you need tricks and tools that you can fall back on to help you achieve the right work-life balance.
Time is Your Most Important Asset
The first thing that you need to do is develop the mindset that time is an asset. It is something that is precious. It is limited. Once you spend it, it is gone. When you think this way, you will be more careful with your time. You will not wait to make time for the thing that matters until later. You will look for ways to do them now.
I have a friend who retired with the dream of finally having time to travel, only to be unable to do what they have always dreamed of because of health issues. I also have a couple of acquaintances who joined startups with the dream of being rich. They worked crazy hours. Gave up their personal life to chase the dream. They missed important events. They were not there to see their kids grow up. As they look back, regardless of whether they did well financially or not, they all regret the trade-off that they made.
Don’t let this be you. Take the first step in finding your work-life balance. Treat time as an asset and spend it wisely.
Make the Hard Decision, How Much Time You Will Spend Working
Start by determining how much time you want to work as this is the driver for your work-life balance. Note that I did not say “at work” as this is not the only consideration in your work-life balance. Working at home is working.
Think about your career aspirations, where you are today, and how quickly you would like to progress. Consider how many hours you will need to work to achieve this. Consider the environment in which you work and the expectations that it creates.
Given this, decide if there is enough personal time remaining to ensure the right balance. If you are happy with this, great. If not, look hard at how to reset your expectations and adjust the home-work split.
Decide what matters.
You now have a good idea of how you want to split your time between work, and therefore how much time you have for everything else, you are ready to filter. You need to decide what really matters to you. This could be dinner at home every night. It could be coaching your kid’s sports team. It could be taking a class. Or it could be an unlimited number of other things that you could do with the time left.
Once you have decided what matters, you have to see if the balance that you came up with earlier provides you enough time for all of this. If I were a betting man, I would say that you have more things that you want to spend your time on, than you have time available. If it all fits – congratulations! You are one of the few.
If it does not – join the club. This is where it gets hard. You have to either take some things off the list or reduce the time that you will spend, or both. Or you can change the amount of time that you spend at work to give you more flexibility. And don’t allocate every minute of your time. Things will come up that you don’t expect.
Get the Most Out of Your Time
Now that you have determined how you will split your time to achieve work-life balance, and you have decided what matters – you need to get the most out of your time. Here are four key aspects to achieve this.
You need to prioritize everything that you do – both at work and at home.
Why make life so complicated? Actually, it is just the opposite. Life becomes less complicated when you find the right work-life balance. But to find this, you will need to make continual adjustments. As Peter Drucker says – “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
To address this, you need to prioritize your work and personal life. Use a calendar to track your time. And go back to compare how you spent your time to your desired work-life split.
I have provided a more detailed description of how to do this in my post Rethink How To Prioritize.
Commuting takes up a lot of time for many of us. In Silicon Valley, it is not unusual to have commutes of an hour or more each way. Some companies will provide free shuttle buses. This does not dramatically reduce the time spent commuting but does provide options for what to do with the time.
Look for ways to reduce or eliminate your commute.
- Work from home. As a manager, this is often not an option. But if you can do this, can be effective doing so, and think that it will work well with your career objectives, this is the best option.
- Flex your work hours to shorten your commute. This is often a good option for managers if you have the flexibility to organize your schedule to align with the times you are home and at the office.
Treat commute time as you would any other time and make the most of it. Whether that is for work (and if this is work time, it needs to count in the time that you spend working) or personal, align it to your priorities. Some simple examples: make phone calls (hands-free of course); listen to a book; or listen to a course.
When it comes to work-life balance, technology can be a good or a bad thing.
Let me first address the negative side of technology. We live in an ever more connected world. With that comes the ability to be available at all times of the day and night, regardless of where you happen to be. The only recommendation that I can make is – be present. When you are working, work. When you are not working, don’t work. Don’t pretend.
Now on to the more positive side of technology. The connected world allows us to leverage technology to our advantage. We can use a calendar to track our time, connect our home computer to work in order to shift our schedule or finish up a presentation, and check for important emails on our phone. The key is to make sure that technology is focused on improving our productivity within the time we allocate to work, not as a way to spend more time working!
Take a look at the Wall Street Journal article How Technology Can Help Work/Life Balance. This really helps you to understand how our cell phone can compromise our personal.
Ok, this one is a bit of motherhood and apple pie. But it is one that I see on a regular basis. You need your sleep. The way to get a better work-life balance is not to trade off sleep. Decide how much sleep you need. Remember most people need 7 – 9 hours per night. Make sure you get enough sleep.
You can make some small trade-offs in the amount of sleep that you get. But science says that you can’t deprive yourself of sleep and then sleep a bunch to make up for it. That doesn’t work.
With that behind us, let’s make the best of both worlds. To do this, you need to prioritize. Starting with personal time, the easier of the two, plan and schedule the things that are most important. It may seem silly, but use your calendar just like you do for work. Block off the time. Don’t over-schedule to start. You will still need unplanned time, and if you schedule everything you will likely get frustrated. Just block time for the things that are most important – especially if you are having trouble making time for them.
Now on to the more challenging – work. At work, it is about three things.
- Stick to the number of hours that you will work
- Brutally prioritize within these hours
- Focus on your own personal productivity.
Stick to the number of hours that you will work.
From my experience, work can be endless. There are always more things to do than you have time for.
Note that it this is not the case – you should be worried. Either about your job or the company.
Given that fact, stick to the number of hours that you plan to work. That does not mean exactly. Some days will be more – when there is a deadline for example. There then need to be days when you spend less. Don’t fall into the trap of spending a bit more, making that the new normal, then spending a bit more. This is not good for you and if it is not good for you, it is not good for the company.
Brutally prioritize these hours.
Regardless of how many hours that you work, make them effective and efficient. Do the things that are most important. Do not lose your way by spending lots of time on things that are just not that important. It is a super easy trap to fall into but fight it. You will be happier. Your boss will be happier. The positive energy will feed on itself.
A Simple Work-Life Balance Tool
Focus on your own productivity.
This is a much longer topic and one that is covered in other posts but is mentioned here for completeness.
You need to continually review what you work on and how you work. We have covered what you work on. Here are a few pointers on how you work.
- Spend the first 10-15 minutes each morning prioritizing. Do not start your day by opening up email!
- Use a calendar to block off time not only for meetings but for high-priority tasks.
- Eliminate as many interruptions as possible during the time scheduled to work on tasks. That includes email, people stopping by, phone calls, etc.
Work-Life Balance – You Can Do It!