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Deep down most of us know when our life is out of balance—we sense that we’re neglecting our priorities and our body is suffering through tiredness, burnout or niggling health issues. Unfortunately though, most of us ignore these early warning signs and it is not until our marriage dissolves or we have a heart attack that we make the commitment to reprioritise.
The main reason we fail to do something about the imbalance in our lives is that there is an immediate payoff for work and life being out of balance whereas the costs are usually long term. Poor work life balance enables us to get the promotion, make that extra commission or achieve a high achiever award. Yet the consequences come down the track via deteriorating health, neglected relationships, or loss of “youth”. We bury ourselves in paperwork and fail to focus on the opportunity costs of long hours and stressful deadlines.
The secret to work life balance requires understanding this dilemma and doing something to counteract it. This means knowing your “work life balance weaknesses” and putting steps in place ahead of time to ensure you don’t succumb to the temptations! Below are several strategies to help you do so.
Strategies to Balance Work and Life
1. Know your “work life balance weaknesses”
On holiday suddenly our world takes on new meaning and our priorities become clear because we have stepped back from the daily grind and had a taste of the good life outside of work. At this point we see the pleasure of a life well lived and the costs of working so darn hard. Nonetheless upon our return to work we go back to our usual ways. The key to balance is knowing the temptations that lead you down the wrong path to burnout—perhaps you intend to delegate better but as soon as someone makes a tiny mistake you take the work load on again; or perhaps as soon as you get excited about a new project you keep working into the night because you love it; or perhaps when there is conflict at home you stay late to avoid the drama. Identify your personal work life balance weaknesses so you can break the habit once and for all.
2. Ask the important questions
Questions have a greater impact on our behaviour than advice because they cause us to look deeper for an answer that is true for us personally. Ask yourself the important questions to find true motivation for change. For example:
• What would make my life more meaningful, purposeful, or happier?
• Who do I desire to be in my life?
• What am I sacrificing in order to take on this extra responsibility/make this extra money?
• What do I value most in my life and does my life reflect this?
• Is this behaviour sustainable and what will be the long-term consequences?
3. Develop small daily disciplines
Let go of believing that balance requires a major shift in your life. Rather, focus on a few key disciplines each day or week. For example, block out one hour each evening to spend with your partner without thinking about work. Turn off all computers, phones, and distractions to be totally present for that time. Start a meditation practice for 10mins each morning. Allocate a two hour “me-time” slot every Saturday. Small changes each day or week creates a sustainable approach to work life balance and the life you love.
4. Learn to say no
Most of us dislike saying no to others which not only increases our work load but also creates feelings of guilt, resentment and being taken for granted. Learn basic assertiveness skills to help you say no in a friendly way. Role-play with a buddy who also finds it difficult to say no. Expect it will feel uncomfortable at first but with practice it will start to feel natural.
5. Reduce the mental chatter
Mental chatter wastes a great deal of time and energy whether it’s being unable to stop thinking about work at the end of the day, ruminating over your problems or your mind racing when it’s time to sleep. It’s impossible to eliminate the mental noise but you can certainly learn to tame it. Start by creating a 10 minute practice each day where you practice mindfulness or refuse to allow yourself to think about work. Alternatively, attend a workshop on “presence” or get help from a coach or counsellor to reduce the mental noise.
6. Bring back the playfulness!
Bring some fun back in to your life. Get back in touch with things you used to love to do just for the fun of it. Lighten up, get in touch with your inner child, express your creativity or simply make the decision to see life from a more playful perspective.
Author of 'De-stress Your Success: Get More of What You Want with Less Time, Stress and Effort', Sacha Crouch is a business, executive and life coach who helps people create the work and lives they love. For other free lifestyle resources visit www.activ8change.com.au.
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