This is the second in a series of posts about work-life balance, in honour of National Work-life week. Last time, we discussed how it’s unhelpful to make work-life comparisons to others.
This time, we’ll look at the need to look beyond time management if you want to make changes to your own work-life situation.
What’s the secret to a healthy work-life balance?
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer to that question, given the variety of people, jobs and cultures out there.
When we try to do to much, we can feel stretched and over-worked. We can also wonder where all our time has gone and yet we still have a full to-do list staring back at us. When responsibilities and workload seem to demand more from us than we have to offer, life can feel incredibly tough. So I wouldn’t presume to offer simple quick fixes on this blog – there are none.
However, while we all have different jobs and personal responsibilities, not to mention personalities and life experience, we do have some things in common. And these commonalities can give us a starting point to look at our lives from a slightly different perspective.
Making a plan
In any given week, we each have a finite amount of time to spend on various work and personal activities. We can’t make any more time, no matter how we try. This is why the 1980s and 90s saw an explosion in interest in personal time management.
But time isn’t the only resource we should pay attention to. If you think about it for a moment, you can easily remember a time when your weekly plan was a work of art. Lovingly crafted in your diary, it set out exactly how you were going to spend your precious time.
And then real life intervened! A retrospective view from a Friday afternoon would simply tell you that your journey through the week was very different from the one you had planned, which can be slightly demotivating.
Our limited resources
This feeling of demotivation is often because we sometimes don’t play attention to two other key finite resources: attention and energy.
Think of attention as the limited mental focus you can bring to your activities. If you use it all on the wrong things early in the day or week, you’ll notice that it’s harder to concentrate and be at your best.
Secondly, the physical energy we have to expend on all kinds of activities is limited. Think of how good it feels to sit down after a super busy day at work. But also how hard it can be to get back up and throw yourself into a personal activity after that same day.
We’re not a bottomless pit of energy and need to recharge, mostly by getting a good night’s sleep.
So why do we need to think of time, attention and energy?
It can be useful to consider how your different life roles and the activities in each demand different amounts of time, attention and energy. Some very brief tasks will be like a blip on your schedule, but will require a great deal of attention. Think about that difficult conversation to have with a colleague or client.
Others might require lots more time, but not as much attention – like admin tasks you’ve been neglecting – and depending on what you’re doing, varied amounts of energy. Consider how long it might take to navigate a busy supermarket, for example.
Consider how you’ll invest your resources
Instead of copying someone else’s daily routine, consider how you can spread your time, attention and energy most effectively over the week. And it’s not just work we’re talking about. The roles and responsibilities you have outside work also require time, attention and energy.
So, when looking at the interface between your work and non-work responsibilities and the various things you have to get done each week, consider not just how long you’ll need for each, but also how demanding or taxing they’ll be. Then you can plan them a little more carefully and enjoy a weekly schedule that’s more sustainable and realistic.
In the next post, we’ll look at some other important elements of the work-life integration equation: the roles and responsibilities you have in life and how you can align your values with them, to give you a real sense of meaning and purpose.