Work-life balance is one of those phrases that gets thrown about a lot, especially now in the context of working from home and in relation to the concept of the hybrid office. Whether you’re in a senior management role in a large corporation or running your own business, you’re likely to be endlessly striving for that perfect ideal of a healthy work-life balance. That means achieving your career goals on the one hand while having quality time for everything else in life on the other. And yet trying to do everything will mean that you’re working longer hours, being torn in different directions, and, at worst, your mental health is likely to suffer. So let’s consider how to have a better work-life balance.
How to have a better work-life balance
1. Define success
To work out how to have a better work-life balance, you must start by defining what a *better* work-life balance looks like for you. While you’re at it, you should define ‘work’, ‘life’, and ‘balance’!
You’re never going to have any meaningful kind of work-life balance if your working day involves extreme stress, a toxic office environment, and work that you simply don’t enjoy. Gone are the days when work was just work, a way to earn a living. Our expectations and opportunities are much bigger these days, as we search for work with a purpose, that’s aligned with our values, and that we feel makes a meaningful difference.
Next, your personal ‘life’ outside of work includes a rich tapestry of people and activities. What are the relationships that matter in your life? Hobbies and activities? Health and fitness? Knowing what’s important to you is a prerequisite for making time for what matters.
And, finally, ‘balance’ is a subjective and evolving state of being rather than a predefined end goal. It will never be possible, or even desirable, to be 10/10 in every domain of your life. You will inevitably need to, and want to, make priority calls on where to focus at any given time.
2. Identify the blockers
Once you’re clear on what success looks like to you regarding work-life balance, the next step is to look at what’s currently getting in the way. Why don’t you have that balance right today? What are the barriers?
Do you feel like you just have too much work to do, your obligations in the office are so great and your boss so demanding that you simply must stay late in the office, work long hours, and eat into your personal time?
Or, likewise, do you feel that your family obligations weigh too heavy? All the life admin, housework, paying bills, taking care of the kids… all this leaves no time or energy for the fun stuff?
Whatever your excuses today, you need to face these head on and understand clearly what you feel is getting in the way right now, so that you can look at how to address those barriers moving forward.
3. Look for solutions
And that’s the next step: looking for solutions to the professional and personal problem areas you’ve just identified. How can you reduce stress and manage your time and energy more effectively?
When I talk about delegation in business, I always suggest that you divide your projects and tasks into different buckets: (1) the things I have to do (because they’re important and I’m the only one who can do them); (2) the things I want to do (they’re in my ‘zone of genius’ and I really enjoy doing them); (3) the things someone else could do; and (4) the things that don’t need doing at all.
Whether we’re talking business or personal tasks, bucket three will include all the things that you can and should delegate. In business, you’re looking at hiring a virtual assistant, a graphic designer, a social media manager, etc. In your personal life, you’re talking cleaner, housekeeper, nanny…
And the things in the fourth bucket can be thrown away and forgotten about altogether!
4. Prioritise ruthlessly
One of the most powerful metaphors that I’ve come across for how to have a better work-life balance is the idea of balls. Not simply the usual cliché of juggling balls but a more nuanced distinction between the rubber balls on the one hand and the glass balls on the other. I’ve repeated this idea many times over the years, never sure where it came from. A little online research suggests that the origin may be in a commencement address by Brian Dyson, then CEO of Coca-Cola:
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.
But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
5. Stick to your guns
Here’s the thing: it’s not enough to understand this idea in principle, and to have a clear work-life balance strategy on paper. It’s not a case of making this decision and then, that’s it, you have an ideal work-life balance. You’re going to be tested, again and again. You’re going to have to make priority calls, tough decisions, and compromises, again and again and again.
So you need to keep those priorities front and centre, in your mind or even on a post-it or whiteboard by your desk, so that you can easily and repeatedly make the right decision when faced with a choice of what to prioritise. You need to set and maintain clear boundaries. And, most of all, you need to get good at saying, “no”! Only then can you hope to achieve work-life balance in practice.
In fact, ‘achieving balance’ is probably an impossible ideal that can’t be fulfilled. Balance is, by definition, an ongoing process. Your ambitions and obligations will expand and contract in different areas of your life, and your personal definition of success can and will evolve as well.
If you’d like help with how to have a better work-life balance, then get in touch and let’s talk about how I can support you in the coming months.