How many of you feel you have managed to achieve the perfect work-life balance? As someone who is feeling a little frazzled around the edges of late, I have been giving the subject some thought.
Life has been a little hectic, a continual balancing act between keeping the little bumbumbees fed, cleaned and watered, childcare arrangements and demands at work, all conspire to squeeze my creative time.
If you are up for a mini history lesson, the idea that working hours should be limited to create the fabled and mythical ‘work-life balance’ goes back to the 1800s. Manufacturing laws were passed to restrict the number of hours women and children were working and by 1938 the Fair Labour Standards Act established a 44-hour work-week. It’s such a shame I can’t put Adam and Rosie to work just yet, but laws are laws I suppose.
The Women’s Liberation Movement brought work-life balance back to the forefront in the 1980s to accommodate women in the workforce who were also mothers or primary carers in the home.
Throughout the decades we’ve seen progress and backward steps in equal measure. Rising prices mean that both partners generally have to be working to own a house and even then, it’s a stretch. Everyone is too busy, too stressed with too little time for the important things. The story is the same in the majority of homes.
The big rethink
COVID was an opportunity to rethink how we could do things since it became apparent people were as productive if not more so, working from home and employers were forced into looking at new models of employment. You may have seen the term ‘hybrid’ appear on the likes of LinkedIn – meaning the option to work remotely and/or at home. I have been quietly hoping ‘the good’ in spending more quality time with loved ones could be retained from that experience – but the nature of some employment makes that tricky.
The idea of the 4-day week has been floated by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden as a way to help with work-life balance while still improving productivity. A 4-day week would mean clocking up around 30 hours instead of the minimum of 40.
So with all these great strides in the name of progress, I do wonder why it is I feel frazzled as I write this? The work-life balance feels more like a fantasy than ever, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
So why is ‘work-life’ balance so important? Achieving and maintaining a work-life balance isn’t just important – it’s imperative for creating a healthy, balanced life. Apart from anything else it significantly reduces stress and helps prevent burnout. It’s vital for mental health and that’s something we need to be especially careful of through such unpredictable times.
Being content in the moment
If you are wondering what the optimum work-life balance is, you may be forgiven for thinking it’s all about splitting your time equally between work – and the rest of life. Most of us think of it in terms of ‘time’ – when what it’s really about feeling ‘content’ or ‘being in the place we would prefer to be at any given time’.
That’s quite an eye-opener when you think about it that way. Yes, it is about ‘time’ to some degree because we all have so many things we ‘have’ to do … like pay bills – or feed the hangry ones – but if we start thinking about work-life balance as setting some boundaries around how we prioritise our time, perhaps we would start to create our own work-life balance – rather than have it dictated by mounting stress levels.
With this in mind, it makes sense that I’m feeling work-life balance is out of whack. It’s not simply down to the hours I’m working (many people are unaware of just how many hours teachers put in outside of the classroom – but I’m not starting that discussion here). I’m generally happy in the moment at work and I’m happy as a mum, though undoubtedly would love more time to cuddle my babies while they still let me. The clue was right at the beginning of this article. My creative time is being squeezed and that’s when I start to feel things are off.
So what’s the answer? If you have a passion or a hobby in life, something that clears your mind or lifts the stress of the day, you HAVE to make time for it – no matter how busy you are. It’s good for your health.
Feeling work-life balance is out of kilter?
- Plan, book out – schedule some time to do ‘your thing’ each day or each week. Put it in the diary or set a reminder on your phone – guard that time. Protect it. You would block it out if it was a meeting at work – isn’t this just as important? More so?
Set time in your schedule – even if it’s only 20 minutes.
- You may find the above helps you identify where you may need to set some boundaries.
- If you have LOTS to do, prioritise your tasks – remembering to factor in ‘your time.’
Work out what absolutely HAS to be done – and move the rest a bit further down the list.
- If you are a creative type, keep a handful of your art supplies (or your journal) set up on a table where you can pick up a pencil without having to drag everything out – and put it away each time.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep and looking after yourself in all the other ways you have control over, so you have the energy to enjoy your work-life balance.
These may seem like basic things to start working into your day, (and they are) but it’s amazing how much resistance we feel to carving out time for ourselves. That is a story for another day – when I have more time (cough cough).
To conclude these thoughts, I’ve been having on work-life balance, I would say creating (and maintaining) it is partly down to having the luxury of time, but more significantly it’s down to our mind-set and the ability to define boundaries (without the guilt) and prioritise the things that really matter in life.
All good advice that I am determined to follow for myself – if I don’t fall asleep on the couch after the kids have gone to bed that is.
Until next time …