Striking a healthy balance between work and home life has always been a struggle for many people. I believe it is especially problematic when your mission is to make others’ lives better. When you’re so passionate about the work that you do and feel like if you leave something undone it will have consequences to your clients. It’s hard for some of us to let go. A 2014 Gallup survey of all professional salaried workers in the United States showed that 59% work more than 40 hours per week and 50% of all salaried workers work more than 50 hours per week. What’s worse that survey doesn’t include the amount of time most workers spend on their cell phones doing work at home. Add to this the fact that 52% of all U.S. workers report having unused vacation days every year.
Consequences of Unbalance
When the scales of work and home life get tipped too far to the work side, there are consequences.
- Fatigue – the hours of work with very little personal time has a cumulative effect. You get increasingly fatigued. When you’re tired your ability to work productively and think clearly suffer. This can have profound effects on the quality of your work.
- Stress – secondly, the effects of fatigue are compounded with increased stress. This will have emotional, spiritual, and physical consequences.
- Poor Health – Further, stress and fatigue are associated with effects on the immune system and can make other health problems worse.
- Lost time with Friends and Family – Above all, no one at the end of their life ever looked back and said, “I wish I would have spent more time working.” Enough said!
- Increased Expectations – Finally, if you regularly work more hours, working more hours will be expected of you. It becomes an ever-tightening trap.
Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy work life balance.
How you define success determines where the scales of work life balance will tip. If getting that next promotion, being recognized in your field, or getting to the top of the corporate ladder is your definition of success, then the scales of work life balance will tip to work. However, my definition of success is doing the work I’m called to do, where I want to do it, and doing it with those who love and care about me the most. That definition of success means doesn’t speak to more hours, but to what, where, and with whom I’m doing the work. My definition of success tips the work-life balance towards home.
Let go of Perfectionism.
You’re reading this blog because you want to be a leader or to be a better leader. That means you are driven to improve your status and be the best leader that you can be. Those are good things, but they also predispose you to perfectionism – a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.
Perfectionism traps you in an endless cycle of tweaks, edits, and redo’s. You can’t put it down, turn it in or turn it off because it’s not perfect. As you grow in your leadership and managerial responsibilities this trap of perfectionism demands more and more of you. Trade in your perfectionism for excellence. Excellence doesn’t set unrealistic demands, it simply requires our best.
Trade Your Perfectionism for Excellence
There are two questions you can ask yourself to trade your perfectionism for excellence. First, ask yourself: “Have I done all I can do?” If your answer is “Yes.” Then walk away. However, if your answer is “No, I could do more”, then ask yourself the second question: “And then what?” If you keep working on this and make it perfect, “and then what?” If you don’t have a good answer for that second question, stop and walk away.
Schedule your priorities.
If you don’t schedule the things that are important to you, you’ll end up doing the things that are not. Take some time either at the beginning or the end of your work week and do some time blocking. Using your calendar, block out all the times you need for yourself and your family or significant others. For example, you might block out times for quiet time/meditation, workout time, time with family or significant others, church, sports, school, or reading. After that, schedule your work tasks. If you need to do it, it needs to be on your calendar. Once you have your week scheduled, live and work by your calendar. If someone asks you to do something, check your calendar. Doing this will protect what’s important to you.
I had a manager working for me once that was pretty rigid about work life balance. When it was quitting time, she was walking out the door. No matter what was going on, she was walking out the door. As you can imagine, this can really be a problem. There are ebbs and flows with any job, times when you need to put in some extra hours. Maybe it’s a big project, or someone else is out and you need to cover, or there’s a crisis. Expect those times. Give and take some. Putting in some extra time when it’s needed shows you’re a team player and are willing to do what it takes. The key is to make sure that this is not the norm. Remember your priorities and make the necessary adjustments to get things rebalanced.
Do Your Briefcase Time.
I was having lunch one day with a new manager. As we were eating, he paused, looked at me and said, “How do you do it? How do you let things go? It just feels like I’m always thinking about work. I’m having difficulty turning it off.” His question actually took me by surprise. It’s something I had struggled with at one time, but my way of dealing with it had become so second nature I stopped thinking about it.” I told him, “I always do my ‘briefcase time’ at the end of every day.”
Pack Up Your Day
I really don’t remember how or when I started this practice, but it really works. I schedule about 15 minutes at the end of every day and label it on my calendar as “Briefcase time.” That time is protected and nothing gets scheduled on top of it. During my briefcase time, I mentally pack up my day and put it in a briefcase. Here’s how I do it:
- I go through my to-do list for the day and check off what I got done.
- After that, I take the things I didn’t get done and make a plan for tomorrow. I mentally tell myself, “I’m letting go of this. I’ve done all I can do today. I’ve got a plan for tomorrow.”
- In addition, I also go through my emails and clear them out. My goal is to have “inbox zero” at the end of every day. I use David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method to sort through the email. This way I know there’s nothing in my email box that I haven’t either read, done something with, or scheduled to do another day. This allows me to mentally let go of it. I know some of you are thinking there’s no way you could clear out the thousands of emails in your box in 15 minutes. Well, that’s the subject of volumes of books, but let’s just leave it at this: if you find a good system and stay on top of it, you can do it.
Briefcase time lets you leave work at work.
Sometimes you just have to do it! Turn off the laptop, cell phone, and tablet and just unplug. Our constant attraction to technology has created an always-on mentality when it comes to working. For instance, when you’re at your kid’s soccer game, you’re checking your work email. You’re reviewing a file for work while you’re watching television. The ease of access makes it very tempting. You tell yourself, “I’ll check on this one thing.” Then realize the time you had with your family was not really that, it was work time. Sometimes leadership is about doing the tough things and making difficult decisions. This is one of those. Unplug and be fully present with your time away from work.
In conclusion, having a healthy work/life balance is an important part of successful leadership. If you’re struggling to find that balance, find a good leadership coach to help you.
Matt Moore owns Sprig Solutions. He helps leaders solve their biggest pains, dysfunctions and key challenges and reach their goals through leadership coaching and training.