Work Life Balance.
Why it’s not working, and what to do about it.
Is work life balance important? Definitely. Is work life balance possible? Absolutely. But you must know a few things to make it happen. In this article, we tackle the question: what’s work life balance? And we look at strategies for work life balance and why it’s not working in its current format.
Is Work Life Balance Important?
Every year people make the bold assertion that things will be different. They say “I work too hard. I never make time for myself or for the things that really matter.” But rarely do things change. To most people, work life balance is a myth.
While 72% of people rate work-life balance as the most important attribute of a new job - above salary (70%) and flexible working (65%), we are still not getting it right. In OECD countries, Australia ranks in the bottom 15% scoring just 5.4 out of10.
This lack of work life balance is not only affecting employees, engagement and wellness, it is also hurting business. Stress is affecting 73% of employees in Australia and these people are 2.5 times more likely to be looking for a new job. On top of this, flow-on effects like poor health and lack of sleep are costing businesses over $2bn a year in lost productivity.
“Stress is affecting 73% of employees in Australia and these people are 2.5 times more likely to be looking for a new job. On top of this, flow-on effects like poor health and lack of sleep are costing businesses over $2bn a year in lost productivity”
WHY ISN'T WORK LIFE BALANCE WORKING?
Ask anyone about their work life balance and they will say that they spend too much time and effort on work. No one ever says they ‘life’ too much. Why is this the case?
Unfortunately, work primes us to pay attention to work. It has all the hallmarks that appeal to our hardwiring - rewards, accountability, urgency and short time frames. For the areas of life outside of our work, these ‘triggers’ rarely exist. But here, we present you with some simple, counterintuitive strategies for work life balance. They’re not your everyday recommendations like ‘exercise everyday’ or ‘have one date night with your spouse every week’ or ‘schedule time in your diary for you.’ You all know those things and they’re clearly not working. Instead, these are lessons in controlling your attention. They are about how you manage yourself and your day so that you can focus on the things that matter and stop wasting time being sucked into things that seem important (or urgent) on the surface, but which take away from your balance. And for you high achievers, these lessons not only help with balance, but improve productivity dramatically
“Ask anyone about their work life balance and they will say that they spend too much time and effort on work. No one ever says they ‘life’ too much. Why is this the case?”
THREE PROBLEMS WITH WORK LIFE BALANCE
1. We don’t really know what work life balance is
Without a definition of work life balance, we will forever be chasing something elusive. Our strategies for work life balance need to revolve around a clear definition on a macro level and daily level.
2. We think everything is important
To achieve balance requires us to focus our attention on the things that really matter. It’s about understanding what’s most important. In the 21st Century we are consumed by doing more and more - but with more on our plate, our hardwiring encourages us to ‘tick off’ small, seemingly urgent things rather than devoting energy to the things that really count.
3. We mistake multitasking for productivity
Multitasking is applauded in much of our society, but the reality is that multitasking and being distracted stops us from achieving balance. We become very reactive, instead of proactively focusing on doing things that are high value. And it doesn’t matter if that involves shutting out distractions at work or shutting out work while you’re trying to spend quality time with your family and friends, we need to train this level of focus.
Check Out this Video: What Is Balance?
WORK LIFE BALANCE STRATEGIES: DEFINING WORK LIFE BALANCE
What does work life balance actually mean to you? In our keynotes and workshops, people tell us all the time that they want more work life balance. So, we ask the obvious question: what does work life balance look like? The answers we get are vague to say the least. People will say things like: “I’d like to get home earlier from work,” or “I don’t want to work so much on the weekends.” While these are valid statements, they don’t really give us a clear idea of what we’re trying to achieve. It is like saying “I want to be a good runner,” but then not having any idea what being a good runner means to you. How far should you be able to run? How fast? How often would you run if you were a good runner? Being a ‘good runner’ makes no sense until we give it some meaning. The same is true of work life balance.
“It is like saying “I want to be a good runner,” but then not having any idea what being a good runner means to you”
There are two ways we need to be able to define work life balance – one is a macro, big picture view, and the other is a micro day-to-day view.
Work Life Balance: Macro View
For a macro view of work life balance, we just have to understand our general philosophy on work life balance. Here’s ours at Performance Lab:
“Work Life Balance is about thriving in the areas of Work, Home & Relationships, and Self. It’s not about juggling these things so that each is mediocre, it’s about understanding the actions in each area that make the biggest difference, and being relentless in doing these consistently”
The best way to understand what your own philosophy might be is to research and role model. Read and understand different concepts of work life balance (research) and look to others that are doing it well (role model).
Once you understand the Macro view of work life balance, you can start to think about your Micro view.
Work Life Balance: Micro View
Your micro view is your day-to-day definition of work life balance. It takes the vast macro view and makes it actionable right now.
You might start each day by deciding what actions create work life balance for you that day. It might be as simple as taking a lunch break to catch up with a friend, leaving work at 5pm and then helping the kids with homework, or walking home to get some exercise and process what happened during the day. Whatever you decide, you’ve begun to take control of what balance looks like for you and each of those daily actions should help you get closer to your macro view.
Here is a great explainer video about the three Critical Areas: Work, Home & Relationships and Self
WORK LIFE BALANCE STRATEGIES: HIGH VALUE ACTIVITIES
The key to work life balance is having clarity about what is most important. Everybody is wishing there were more hours in the day. But there’s not. And this problem leads us to a realisation: somethings don’t get done.
Every hour of every day, we make decisions about what to do and what not to do. We no longer just choose a task or behaviour; we prioritise those tasks and behaviours. We choose to do one thing at the expense of doing another. Without Clarity, we tend to do the next thing that seems most important, instead of the thing that is actually most important. Most people don’t consciously choose what to do, they just react to what is around them and do that.
Work Life Balance and the 80-20 Rule
If you’re not familiar with Pareto’s principle (more commonly known as 80-20), it states that 80 percent of our results come from 20 percent of our efforts. The converse of this says that we spend another 80 percent of our time doing things that make very little (20 percent) difference. When we help people understand work and work life balance, we always find this to be true.
Seriously, 80 percent of our day gets absorbed into a black hole of email, social media and non-critical activities that don’t really make a big dent in what we really want to achieve (ok, 80 percent might be a bit high for some people, but it will be at least 50 percent). And this happens because we never take the time to work out what is really worthwhile and what is just a time-vampire.
Your High Impact Behaviours
Your challenge is to figure out what you do that makes a difference. In work, what are the critical things that really move the needle? What are the activities that deepen your relationships and bring you closer to those you love? What about your own personal goals? As importantly, what are the things that take up your time but don’t make much of a difference at all?
“In work, what are the critical things that really move the needle? What are the activities that deepen your relationships and bring you closer to those you love?”
Too regularly, we see people engage in behaviours and activities that see them going through the motions instead of making progress (we call these treadmill behaviours). People will leave work early to pick up the kids from school, but spend the whole car ride thinking about work instead of engaging. Or people will spend their morning doing ‘busy work’ and then have to stay late in order to get the high value work done.
So go through the areas of your work and life and see what initiatives move your closer to your goals and what just keeps you on the treadmill. Prioritise those high value activities.
Work Life Balance Starts at Work
Of all these high value behaviours, the most important are the work behaviours. Why? Because work life balance starts at work. We say this because work is infinite – you could spend all day every day at work and still not have it ‘completed.’ It is never-ending. So, it becomes your responsibility to decide when it will end. At the start of the day, you need to be able to say, “a great day at work would mean that I accomplish x, y and z” And then, when you’ve accomplished these (if it’s realistic) you should be happy with your workday and leave your desk to live the other parts of your life.
On the other hand, when work is never-ending, we forever feel guilty about leaving our desks and we never feel a sense that work is competed for the day. This robs us of our attention when we finally do leave work, making us distracted as we engage with our loved ones.
Our Online Course, Creating Balance, is a Great Introduction to Achieving Work Life Balance
WORK LIFE BALANCE STRATEGIES: PRIORITISE FOCUS
Focused time is infinitely more productive than distracted time. I don’t need to convince you of this. You get more done when you’re not interrupted in the office, and you get more out of your relationships when you’re not scrolling social media. But, distractions have become so compelling for us. Sometimes we say they’re ‘urgent’ but generally they’re not.
“when work is never-ending, we forever feel guilty about leaving our desks and we never feel a sense that work is competed for the day. This robs us of our attention”
We spend our days being ‘reactive’ and barely get time to be proactive. Consider these statistics:
- We switch tasks every three minutes
- Once we’re interrupted by an email, it takes on average 24 minutes to get back on track and get focused on the original task again
- 28% of the average person’s day is taken up with distractions
Being distracted is one of the ultimate contributors to our lack of work life balance. The most obvious is when we’re with our families and are distracted by work matters. But the flip side is that we get distracted by unimportant things at work that stop us from being more productive in the time we have.
Change Your Mindset
Just approaching your day with the intention to work with full intensity, and single-task your way to success is a big start. Just being aware that we get distracted, being aware of what it is that usually distracts you and being aware that multitasking is not your answer to getting things done puts you on the right path.
Work deliberately with the intent to get one single thing done. Or be deliberate in spending time with the people you love without distraction.
Following from above, this is even more effective when you set time frames. Maybe start small, but set aside a period of time to get one single thing done without being distracted. If you’re a distraction junkie, then having a definite ‘finish time’ that signals when you’re allowed to be distracted again is a huge help for our anxiety about missing something important.
Control Environment - Control Yourself.
Here is the key to controlling distractions. In fact, it is the key to exerting self-control, period. The simple rule is:
The best self-control is the self-control you don’t have to use!
What does this mean? It means that controlling your environment is a heck of a lot easier than controlling yourself. The simplest example: shut down your email program.
Just like it is easier to resist eating ice-cream when it’s not even in your freezer, it is also easier to avoid distractions when they are out of your reach. Make it as easy as possible to ignore those things that completely hijack your time and attention.
If you have trouble resisting the temptation to check your smartphone while having dinner with the family, then turn it off and leave it in another room. If you have trouble avoiding the call of your email at night, then leave your laptop at work or - at the very least - leave it in your car.
Hopefully these ideas help you solve the problems of work life balance. Just having a clear definition, knowing your high-value behaviours and prioritising focus over distraction is an easy way to get more out of the different areas of your life.