Throughout this Covid pandemic, the concept of work/life balance lies at the end of the rainbow. Just as you feel like you are about to reach it, it moves away.
It is an illusion. It was never there, even when work and life were geographically separated.
As a starting point, let’s replace the word balance for harmony.
As a strategic intervention coach and personal development trainer, here is what I know about work/life harmony –it is not something you find, and no company can give it to you.
Work-life harmony has to be created.
It is a choice.
It is a created by design, not by default.
It is not only about the activities that fill your day but the mindset you bring to these actions.
Nothing can be solved in one blog post, but I can give you some practical ways to think about how you can begin this process. It is not about looking for more hours but about creating better hours.
Harmony = presence — guilt.
My definition of harmony is presence minus guilt.
In other words, when you are working, be fully engaged with your work. Give the task in front of you your complete focus and attention without any guilt that you are not with your family.
Equally, when you are with your loved ones or spending time on a hobby, please drop the guilt about the work you ‘could or should’ be doing. This is probably the harder one to do. If you keep playing mental multitasking, you will drain your mental bandwidth and not enjoy either task.
Remember, it’s about quality and not quantity. There are always times when you have busier periods like year-end, and perhaps you don’t get as much time with your loved ones. If you have one hour available, make it a quality hour and spend the time device free. No checking messages, emails or ‘quickly logging in’.
Replace FOMO (fear of missing out) for JOMO — the joy of missing out. Instead of focusing on what opportunities you could be missing out on, decide on what you are prepared to go big on and give it your undivided attention.
You are more than just work and life.
To create harmony in your days, you need to take a step back and see yourself as more than just a two-dimensional being of work and life.
This work/life wheel is a snapshot of what your life consists of. Consider each of the areas in the wheel and give yourself a rating out of ten based on the last 30 days.
Perhaps adventure/fun has been severely lacking from your life and has a rating of 2/10; the objective is not to try and tackle each element every day but to question how you can bring each area into harmony over some time.
The way to create more harmony in your life is by ensuring that none of these aspects is neglected for too long. If fun is missing, ask yourself what you can do about it over the next month. Perhaps it’s camping in the living room or playing a board game with the family?
You don’t need to spend money or leave your house to have more fun. If personal growth is lacking, you can commit to watching one T.E.D. Talk a week or listen to an audiobook? You can read an inspirational quote every day or start the day with a three-minute meditation or prayer.
When the elements of the wheel move into more equilibrium, your entire life moves back into harmony.
Create a To-YOU list.
The reason you may feel out of balance is that you are not showing up in the calendar.
That’s why you feel resentment about everyone else’s needs coming first. You can’t be the last item on your to-do list that gets bumped from week to week. You need to create a list that’s dedicated to you!
Are you showing up on the calendar at all? Have you carved out time for your self-care and the activities that fuel you from the inside out?
If you used to walk or meditate regularly but now feel like you don’t have time for it, it’s time to be the architect of your calendar rather than the victim of it.
How you schedule your day is how you spend your life. It’s time to shift these items from the ‘someday’ list to the To-You list.
If it’s in the calendar, commit to it. Don’t bump it off to another time when you think things will be less busy. You’re still waiting for this magic quiet period to emerge, and things only feel like they are amplifying in altitude.
Often it’s not that you don’t have enough time but that you put other people’s priorities ahead of your own. Remember to treat these entries with the same respect as anyone else you consider important.
When the slot appears, honour it and show up to it. Remember, confidence is built upon the promises you keep to yourself.
Develop a time abundance versus a time scarcity mindset.
A time abundance mindset is critical to implementing the To-YOU list. Let’s say you have scheduled a tennis lesson or an art lesson on your calendar. When the day comes, your inner critic will tell you that you don’t have time for it.
How can you spend time doing that when you have so much work to do? I am sure you are familiar with this voice.
What is the first thing you think about when you wake up? Is it ‘I have too much to do, how am I going to get it all done?’This is the time scarcity mindset.
To permit yourself to take action when your dedicated slot comes up, you need to develop the mindset of time abundance. It’s not that you have unlimited hours available; it’s changing your belief that you don’t have time for these kinds of activities or even primary self-care like exercise and mindfulness.
Remind yourself that you have more than enough time available, and by investing time into these activities, you are creating more space for yourself. Spending thirty minutes on something that energises you transforms your state from stress and overwhelm into calm confidence.
Self-care is self-leadership. By making more space for yourself, you can achieve more, not less. How can you show up powerfully when you are sleep deprived and burnt out? By adopting the time abundance mindset, you will create harmony in your life.
Build-in recovery time.
“Rest is a responsibility” — Greg Mckeown.
The most successful people do not have less work than you; they are better at recharging consistently throughout the day rather than trying to cram recovery into a weekend.
If you are experiencing an energy crash in the late afternoon, perhaps you need to put your recovery strategy under a microscope.
Recovery means standing up every fifty minutes to stretch, getting a glass of water, or giving yourself an actual lunch break.
What if you reframed recovery to strategic pauses?
I define recovery time as any activity that doesn’t have an outcome attached to work, so it is so hard to implement. If you read a business book, it justifies the time spent on it.
When it comes to activities like doing a hobby, learning a new skill unrelated to work, colouring-in or simply sitting in nature, you are riddled with guilt. Let this go and make peace that rest, relaxation, and joy are valid outcomes and not a waste of time.
Initially, it feels uncomfortable until you accept that this time will ultimately create the harmony you are craving in your day. Even fifteen minutes will offer a mental reset which is enough to change your days significantly.
Be aware of playing the game of the carrot and stick approach to rest. The self-talk goes something like this ‘If I work hard this week, I will allow myself time to rest on the weekend’. What happens if your week isn’t as optimal as you hoped because of an unexpected crisis?
Another strategy is to plan your recovery time. Book out leave and a long weekend before you need it. Please don’t gamble with your recovery time; when you’re burnt out, it’s too late.
Set a quitting time.
The physical environment of the office helped you to distinguish your work role from your personal time. Now that you are in one environment, you need to take ownership of when your workday begins and ends.
Setting the start and end time is not enough; you need the self-discipline to commit to this. If your quitting time is 6 PM, you need to permit yourself to disconnect entirely and not check into your inbox office every hour into the evening.
In the same way, if your start time is 8:30, then why are you logging into your inbox at 7 AM? Drop the habit of checking your phone as you wake up, and you will already experience a significant shift in your mental bandwidth. Checking your phone first puts you into a reactive mode and at the mercy of everyone else’s urgencies.
Take that time for self-care activities and create a morning routine that puts you into a peak state. If you are not triggering yourself in the morning, then everyone else is going to trigger you.
Honouring your quitting time is about your mental recovery. If you continue to check email obsessively after hours, it will feel like having every single app open on your phone. Your battery will be drained, and you start the next day with your internal energy tank in reserve.
Setting a quitting time is not only for you but your family. Allow yourself to read a book or play with the kids without the guilt. It was bad enough when you felt guilty about being in the office all day.
Guilt also creeps in because you may have a belief that stillness equals stagnation. The thought of not ‘being productive’ is what prevents you from taking your recovery time seriously. If you want to do an online course unrelated to work, give yourself the freedom and space to do it.
You do not need a return on investment for every moment of the day.
Turn your values into time.
The key to self-mastery is knowing your values. Your values are revealed to you in your everyday life. It is what matters to you, what you stand for and who you are at your core.
For example, do you value honesty, trust, flexibility, creativity, connection, spirituality, friendship, family? The list is endless and tailored to your personal preferences.
The key to creating harmony in your life is by turning your values into time.
Does your calendar reflect your values? To be the person you want to be, you have to make time to live your values.
Here are some questions from Dr Demartini’s book, The Values Factor, to better understand your values:
• What do you fill your primary personal or professional space with most?
• How do you spend your time primarily when you are awake?
• How do you spend your energy most, and what energises you most?
• How do you spend your money?
• Where are you most organised and ordered?
• Where are you most reliable, disciplined, and focused?
• What do you internally dialogue with yourself about most?
• What do you talk about most to others in social settings?
• What inspires you most?
• What is common to those individuals, insights, experiences, or events that have inspired you the most?
• What do you love learning, reading, studying, or listening about the most?
How does this relate to your level of work/life harmony? If you value family but spend all day working and neglect this area, you will feel out of alignment.
If you value creativity but do not allow yourself time to write, paint or express this creative energy, you will start to feel empty inside despite everything looking fine on paper.
Carve out dedicated time in your calendar every day according to 3 categories: career, relationships and self. Design your week according to your highest values, and you will discover new energy and zest for life.
Choose your words
Your internal operating system runs on your thoughts and beliefs. Consider the words you use to construct your thoughts.