What Is The Key To Successful Work/Life Balance?

by Aug 7, 2017

Does work take over your life? Do you crave a healthy work and play balance? Here Melody discusses regaining her work/life balance and gives some top tips to help you do the same.

From the moment I could legally work, at 12 years old I got myself a paper round. 2 hours of lugging papers to my neighbours at 6am every Saturday and Sunday for less than a fiver for the whole weekend. I have always been driven by work and money and been plagued by feelings of anxiety and guilt when I take time off, take a lunch break or leave the office at 6pm. And this is a familiar feeling for many of us. But nearly 20 years later, I’ve decided it’s time to take a break so I am having a proper summer holiday. Guilt free.

I’ve had a number of personal experiences that have made me acutely aware of my mortality and how short life can be. Because of this, I didn’t want to waste time, and I’ve spent the last ten or so years madly climbing the ladder, saying yes to every invitation, getting myself in shape both mentally and physically, taking opportunities to learn new things all constantly working on self improvement. All these external successes that we all feel the pressure to strive for are often things we invest ourselves in for the benefit of others and having something to show for our time, but they don’t necessarily bring you happiness. I’m starting to appreciate the value of leisure, creativity, and relaxation to my emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. I’m rediscovering hobbies and giving myself time to follow a path that’s right for me rather than chase a career that earns me more money. Perhaps the things that are really important to me are my relationships with others, and exploring my creative pursuits. So after finishing my last contract role, I packed up my flat, rented it out for a couple of months, and have moved myself down to Cornwall for a few months to stay with my mum. I’m three weeks into my stay and greatly feeling the benefit and wanted to share a few tips on the process.

It’s not just about packing up shop and moving home, there are so many ways to regain some balance in your life that can be incorporated into the day to day and it’s what is important to you that will decide the changes that you should be making. Ask yourself what you would do with your time if money and time were not barriers. If you didn’t need to work, how would you really like to spend your time? I’m not just talking life goals here, maybe just getting more sleep or eating a proper breakfast will make you feel like you have more calm and control in your life. Looking at how you would spend different time periods can help you use that time when you get it… if you had a spare ten minutes, an hour up to a month or a year, what would you do with it? Invariably we all end up with our heads in social media, but if you put together a plan for how you want to spend these spare moments you might find you’ll use them more effectively. How much time do you spend doing things that you don’t want to do versus those that you really do and what can you do to readdress the balance based on what’s important to you?

Adapting your behaviour even for the things you really want to do is not an easy task, otherwise you’d be doing those things already. So what are your barriers? Often the most common barriers are time, money or ability, so this is where we need to get creative.

Time is a huge factor for everyone but if you can always find the time for the things you love. Try to tune in to everything you do with your time and identify whether it’s having a positive or negative impact. Sometimes working late can really help you to reach a goal, sometimes it can leave you feeling more stressed. Going to the pub can be a good way to get to know colleagues and let off some steam at the end of the week, or it can be a habit that leaves you with a wasted Saturday and a bad head. Self regulation is just about reminding yourself to do what’s right for you – forget any factors related to guilt, social pressure or obligation. Getting to know what makes you feel good and what are your positive behaviours and if it frees up some time then you can use that to do more of the things you want to do.

Technology is all consuming and can suck you in from what was meant to be a quick email check to hours of Pinteresting and looking at memes. Sure it’s fun but decide upfront how much time you’re willing to give up to this. I’ve turned off a lot of my notifications so that I’m not ruled by my phone and only check my apps when I decide to. I’ve also turned my phone off at night and find I’m sleeping better without any notifications of Instagram likes popping up at 2am!

Money is a huge barrier. Of course if we were all millionaires we could quit our jobs and sleep all day right? It’s not really as simple as just quitting your job and moving to the country. I’m lucky to be in this position now but it’s not been without planning and effort and sacrificing other things. There are always ways to maximise your income to help you reach your goals. I’ve done countless car boot sales, and sold things on Ebay, dog sat, house sat, rented my flat while I’ve been on holiday, rented my car when I’m not using it, freelanced, taken working holidays and started businesses on the side.

For many people travel is the goal and it can be an amazing life enhancing experience too. If you want to travel more but don’t have the means then maybe consider a working holiday. Lots of companies offer sabbaticals, and there are loads of voluntary organisations, or voluntary work in a retreat meaning a few hours behind a bar gets you free bed and board and yoga classes giving you the opportunity to get away without any crazy spending. Having a financial stake in something also acts as a good motivator. If you want to improve your fitness, pay up front for a set of classes, pay for a flight as a reward for yourself. Try to break down your goals and where there’s a financial blocker, find an alternative that doesn’t cost money. It’s always going to be a challenge but where there’s a will there’s a way.

Sometimes there isn’t any financial or time blocker it’s just the pressures we put on ourselves to commit to certain behaviours in order to be perceived in a certain way. Obligations and guilt trips we give ourselves, behaviours we have trained ourselves to do and yet they don’t actually help us to live our lives the way we want to. We are trained to be working, achieving, earning, expanding our horizons, learning new things, working out, having a social media presence, looking good but who does it benefit? Remind yourself what’s really important to you and always return to those questions about whether you’d be doing them if this were your last week on this planet and use that as your north star.

Once I’ve committed to a behaviour, I find it really helpful to make a diary invite for myself. I usually block out some time at work for emails, so that I’m not constantly responding to them. I also block out time for my lunch break so that I can take myself out for a walk and get away from my desk. If I’m deciding to go to yoga in the morning, it goes in the diary and I pay for my class, it’s in my head in advance and somehow having that little diary reminder and putting it in writing helps me to manage my commitment to myself. Plus if it’s blocked then if I decide not to commit to it, it’s because I’ve changed my mind, or I have chosen to use that time differently, rather than it being taken away.

Sometimes we don’t even realise that we have an imbalance so start with looking at how your time is spent so far and how you would like to spend your time and see where the biggest differences are. Consider sleeping an activity, and a very important one too! Here are a few pointers that have helped me re-look at the balance in my life and get me back to doing the things I really love:

  • Goal setting: Decide what you’d be doing with your time if you didn’t have to work and have a think about what holds the most positivity for you. What’s missing at the moment?
  • Self observation: What are you doing with your time now and what has the most positive impact on your emotional wellbeing? Observe the behaviours that are negative and make some adjustments to how much time you spend on each.
  • Overcome the blockers: What’s holding you back, and are there any halfway house alternatives you can adopt as a more realistic alternative?
  • Don’t obsess over guilt: It’s a total waste of time. Allow yourself to live a balanced and happy life, and don’t apologise for it.
  • Use money as a motivator: Reward yourself, book classes, events or trips, search for alternative opportunities within your workplace and make commitments to change your lifestyle.
  • Revert to your goals: Always ask yourself if your habits are helping or hindering your balance and if you do have to work longer hours, make sure you take some time out to get some proper relaxation time.
  • Put it in writing: Set yourself reminders to have some downtime, or take lunch breaks

For everyone, the approach and the needs are totally individual. This isn’t about being selfish and making decisions that are only about you, it’s about taking a bit of control of your time and money and pointing it in the right direction for mental, physical and emotional wellbeing and most of all remembering to enjoy it. I’ll leave you this poem by Wm. Henry Davies

LEISURE

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

By Wm. Henry Davies

Wm. Henry Davies (1871-1940) is considered as the poet of the tramps. Born at Newport, Wales in the UK, Davies went to America from Great Britain and lived the life of a vagabond. One day, as the result of jumping a train, he lost one of his legs. Davies returned to England where he continued to live the life of a tramp and a pedlar. He wrote poetry and, eventually, he decided to print his own book and did so with the little money he had earned panhandling. A copy of this first work, A Soul’s Destroyer, came into the hands of George Bernard Shaw; which, in turn, led to the popularisation of the poet.

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Images © To Work or Play

About Melody Michaud

Melody is a freelance producer with a background working in digital agencies. Her keen fascination in product development comes from understanding human behaviour and how technology can help improve our lives. Her interests include writing, champagne and sausage dogs.

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