6 Tips on Attaining a Work-Life Balance

The wealthy industrialist from the north was horrified to find the southern fisherman lying lazily beside his boat, smoking a pipe.

‘Why aren’t you out fishing?’ said the industrialist.

‘Because I have caught enough fish for the day,’ said the fisherman.

‘Why don’t you catch some more?’

‘What would I do with it?’

‘You could earn more money’ was the reply. ‘With that, you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats, maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me.’

‘What would I do then?’

‘Then you could really enjoy life.’

‘What do you think I am doing right now?’

                                                     Anthony De Mello, The Song of the Bird, Pg. 132

I recently read an article that boldly declared that the much sought after ‘work-life balance’ is a myth. This was after I had read article after article on how important it is to have a healthy work-life balance, so I found it quite a compelling argument. In fact, for many professionals, whether you are a manager or a CEO, the goal is always to have a healthy balance between work and everything else.

According to this article, first off, the terminology is all wrong. We cannot speak of ‘work and life’ as if these are two separate things. We live life, and work is one of the things we do in this life, similar to having a family, a hobby, etc. It is not difficult to see why this analogy has stuck though- we do spend an awful lot of time at work, which necessitates a discussion on balance.

The second argument is that balance is an unrealistic expectation. This is because we will have different commitments at different times, and these significantly impact our priorities. For example, if you have a project deadline coming up, you might work long hours and weekends, at the expense of your family. If its peak season for your business, you might need to put in extra hours. This suggests that we will, inevitably, commit time to what is essential at the moment, and adjust to situations accordingly. This argument makes sense.

That said, the truth remains that work takes a big chunk out of our lives.  If we let it, work can easily take precedence over everything else that we do.  On average, if we spend between 8-9 hours per day at work, and say 7-8 hours asleep, then that leaves us with about seven hours for family, hobbies, studies, personal time etc. For a country such as Kenya, which experiences terrible traffic jams, one can easily spend an extra 2-3 hours on the daily commute.

These statistics make it necessary to think of how we can attain a healthy balance between work and the rest of life. Just like the article called work-life balance a myth, we acknowledge that work and life cannot be exactly divided in half. Instead, we should aim to create harmony and flexibility between work and personal life in a way that gets both things done.

Here are some tips that you can incorporate to get you started:

Take care of your health

This is possibly the most important thing that you can do to achieve any form of life balance. When you are unwell physically, emotionally or mentally other aspects of your life will suffer. Staying healthy can start with having regular health checkups to eating healthy, balanced meals. It is also advisable to avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Keeping fit also requires physical exercise, so join a gym or incorporate home workouts.

Chronic stress, overwork and physical/emotional exhaustion can lead to burnout, a serious mental problem. It is important to protect yourself from this condition by knowing when to take a break and when to speak to a professional.

Unplug from technology

Mobile phones, tablets, computers, and other gadgets are supposed to make our lives easier, not harder. If you work from Monday- Friday, do not be afraid to unplug over the weekend. Take a walk, jog or cook a favorite meal instead of answering office emails that could wait until Monday. Avoid bringing your phone to the dinner table if you think you will be tempted to check your emails or to read that report one more time.

Studies have shown that using the phone or tablet just before bed is harmful to our health, as it keeps the brain active and engaged which delays sleep. Seeing something disturbing or exciting e.g. on Facebook makes us anxious and emotional which can leave us awake for hours, delaying REM sleep.

Learn to say no/ set boundaries and protect them

Truth be told, there will always be another email, another meeting, another client to chase. Just like the fisherman in the story at the beginning of this article, it is okay to have enough and relax. If you work until 5 pm, let your colleagues know that you are not available to answer questions at 8 pm, when you have personal time. Set time boundaries of when you can be reached after hours and how, if necessary. If you respect these boundaries, others will too.

Take your vacation days

Taking a vacation is a perfect way to restore balance after working for a prolonged period. You might worry that taking a vacation will disrupt your work or that someone else will take your role while you are gone. You might be afraid of finding a pile of work waiting for you after a week. Yet, not taking some time off can leave you stressed and burned out, not to mention that you might start resenting your job a little. Taking a few days off, on the other hand, will leave you rested, rejuvenated, and with a fresh mind ready to tackle new challenges.

Get enough sleep

It doesn’t need saying that getting enough allows you to feel rested, stay focused and productive. If you are not getting enough sleep you will end up being irritable and stressed, and this could also harm your physical health. It will affect not only your productivity but also your relationships at home and work. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was asked how much sleep he needs to operate at his best as CEO. ‘Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference for me, and I try hard to make that a priority. For me, that’s the needed amount to feel energized and excited.’ Perhaps we can all learn from this successful man.

Get a hobby/ exercise

A great way to attain the much-needed balance in your life is to exercise or work on a hobby. Instead of mindlessly going through your phone after work, run a few kilometers or take a yoga or aerobics class. Hobbies are a great way of de-stressing as well. Perhaps you like to bake, to paint, dance or read. Be purposeful about setting time for yourself to do something that you love. Having some ‘me time’ will leave you happy and re-charged, ready for a new day.

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