When I started working in the city of London over 8 years ago, I sometimes had to stay late at the office until 8pm to fix issues with the Equity trading application I supported then. At that time working late wasn’t really a problem as I was single and free and didn’t have any major responsibilities and commitments outside work.
Since I got married however, the integration of my work life and personal life has been a rough ride sometimes but since I became a working mum of two, I had to figure out several practical ways to find a satisfactory balance across all aspects of my life. Work-life balance can mean something different to each of us, to me it is about achieving a reasonable harmony between my work life and my personal life and more importantly to ensure that my family life doesn’t suffer at the expense of work.
Without a doubt, poor work-life balance can result in unhealthy levels of stress and unhappiness. You could wake up one day and realise you’re not happy with your life. Now I have hundreds of tips for working parents but here are my top 5 practical tips that has helped me in my quest to achieve a better work-life balance.
#1 Be clear about what is important to you
“It is not the shortage of time that should worry us, but the tendency for the majority of time to be spent in low-quality ways”
I believe that the first thing working parents or anyone for that matter needs to do is identify what truly matters to them and communicate it openly to your spouse, boss and anyone else that is key in your life. Don’t expect your boss to guess what makes you feel balanced and fulfilled. Do you need to leave work at 5 p.m. so you can pick up your child from nursery or have dinner with your family? Do you need to be able to leave work at 12 p.m to attend a gym class? Then you need to establish what you envision a typical, desirable day would look like beginning from when you wake up until you go to sleep. Once you define it then you need to be transparent and open about it. Furthermore, you have to make a conscious choice to continually talk about what is working or not, and make decisions to change direction if needed.
#2 Set Your Priorities Each Day
“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one”
Over the years, I have seen too many people (myself included) spend too much time working on things that don’t really matter. Time is the one thing you cannot buy more of so don’t waste time. Focus on what really matters. At the start of each work day, create a to-do list that includes your top three priorities to focus on for the day. Even when you have some bandwidth, still focus on the top three which should be the important items that define your overall value, contributions and success in your job. What really drives the most values for your clients? Are you working on priorities that drive the overall goals of the business or are you just spending time on work that doesn’t count?
Whilst its really important to scrutinise your day and max it out every hour, minute and second to focus on the most important outputs, its also key to have some down time for relaxation so you don’t end up getting burnt out. Additionally, its necessary to pace yourself in other to have a long, healthy, productive, and happy life and career.
Likewise, in your personal life its important to focus on tasks that add value to your family instead of trying to do everything or assuming that a particular task is necessary. I learned this lesson in my marriage- when we first got married I always prepared a local Nigerian soup that I assumed my husband really loved however it took over 4 hours to prepare. It took me few years to realise my husband wasn’t fussed about that soup and actually preferred another soup that only took 5 minutes to prepare.
#3 Learn to Say “No”
“When you say yes to others, make sure you’re not saying no to yourself”
Ensure that your commitments mostly support your priorities. Your inability or unwillingness to say “no” can easily allow you to lose control over your day and those things that matter most to you. If you need to buy some time to think about your final decision of whether or not to say “no,” then do so—even sleeping on it. Use whatever methods will help you better control where you commit your time. If you do not seize control over the commitments you make, your time will be surrendered to others and you will not like the impact to you. You have far more control over your day and how you spend it than you may realise.
Also its very important to limit time-wasting activities and people. This action will free you to spend more time on the important activities and people, and will likely provide you with additional time that you did not realise you had. Not only will your productivity benefit, the quality of your work and the satisfaction you get from your work likely will also increase. Many people spend too much time on things that don’t really matter. Time, arguably, is the most valuable commodity in life: It is the one thing you cannot buy more of. Therefore, don’t waste it.
#4 Build a strong support network
“Surround yourself with people who will lift you higher”
Effective working mothers and parents need to build a network of mum friends and reliable people they can lean on when needed. Gather together as many trusted friends and/or relatives as you can, and don’t be afraid to lean on them during the times when it can all seem to get too much. Its never a sign of weakness to ask for help. Yesterday, I had to rely on my neighbor’s husband to drop off my child alongside their child at the summer kids club. Also, there have been many instances when myself and husband was held up at work and my brother-in-law had to pick up my son from pre-school. Its no surprise therefore that people who have achieved good balance have a strong support network they can depend upon to help them get through difficult times and emergencies.
One key thing to do is to take stock of activities that don’t enhance your career or personal life, and minimize the time you spend on them. Consider whether you can outsource or delegate any of your time-consuming household chores or errands.
#5 Put Yourself First
“You cannot pour from an empty cup”
Sometimes in life, it is so easy to become wrapped up in our work, kids, and doing what is ‘expected’ of us, therefore we can easily forget the importance of taking time for ourselves. I personally think that it is important to do this every day. It may seem a little selfish, but it doesn’t have to take up hours of your time; it could just mean having a quick five minutes to sit outside in the garden with your cup of tea in the morning. I believe that occasionally putting some time aside for ourselves has a number of benefits and, ultimately, it makes us better, happier people in the long run.
By putting yourself first, only then can you be your best and give your best to others. I always use the airplane and the oxygen mask analogy where you’re directed to always say to wear your mask before wearing for others. You must make sure that you are in a position of strength before you can be at your best for those who may have a dependency on you.
Also, don’t be so quick to sacrifice your private time for other work and personal events. Your private time may be essential for catching your breath, recharging your energy and reaching a level of understanding and acceptance with yourself and all that going on around you.
Don’t assume that you need to make big changes to bring more balance to your life sometimes taking small steps such as leaving the office earlier 1 night per week can make such a huge difference.
Now is the time to seize the control over your life if you haven’t done so in other to make it the life you would truly love.
What other work-life balance tips can you recommend? Leave your comments below.