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October 21, 2014

Balancing Act

Ruth Hill

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©©GettyImages/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
My house is a mess!

I think of it as a lifestyle choice. It isn't one I’m proud of, but something had to give - and I never liked housework much anyway!

The media is full of information about how to work smarter, be more efficient, find time for continuing professional development… But I’ve stretched and tweaked and squeezed my routine until I can literally add no more.

In a typical day, I’ll rise before dawn, go jogging in the dark, and get myself and my family ready for the day ahead. Then it’s time for the school run, journey to work; articles, newsletters, blogs and Twitter. Pick up the little one, dinner and a bedtime story, then it's off to agility training with one of the dogs. Dinner with hubby, and a blessed half hour to catch my breath, before sorting the laundry, and heading for bed. Phew!

It’s a familiar story the world over. Busy people living busy lives. For most of us, it’s a simple fact of life, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. On Facebook and Twitter, numerous links to articles promise to reveal the solution, but they never quite seem to deliver.

Only this morning, I was left feeling deflated after reading about “4 surprising secrets to work-life balance” that were nothing of the sort. So here, from one busy person to another, are four tips for work-life balance that really do help.

#1 Honor your values

You won’t mind being busy, if you’re busy doing things that you love.

My own values have changed over time. As a fresh young graduate, footloose and fancy-free, my priority was establishing my career, and I thought nothing of relocating in order to get the position I wanted.

Now that I have a family, my daughter comes first. For years, I worked as a freelancer, picking and choosing projects and assignments that I could fit around her needs. Taking on a permanent position at Mind Tools has been quite challenging in this respect. Working from home helps enormously but, on the days when I do need to go into the office, I work reduced hours.

Ironically, this creates its own problems. Pro rata arrangements create a trade-off between having more time for family day-to-day, but less leave entitlement for the school holidays. Since my values focus on family first, we have reached an arrangement, in principle, that helps with the long summer holidays.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that your values should be the same as mine – only you can decide what’s important but, if you’re honoring your values, balance should follow.

#2 Prioritize

Every day is filled with conflicting demands. In my life, there’s always a deadline to meet, team members relying on me, dogs waiting to be walked, laundry to be done, mouths to feed… Not to mention my own wants and needs. How to prioritize those?

I start with the essentials - things that others depend on me for. Then come the time-crucial tasks, and everything else has to form an orderly queue. I’ve found that if you ignore a lot of things, they often go away of their own accord, once the deadline has passed (only joking, boss!)

#3 Get into good habits

It can be easy to fall into bad habits when you’re rushed off your feet, but getting into good habits pays off in the long run. A lot of those conflicting demands I mentioned earlier get taken care of by my good habits.

Getting up early and running with my dogs ticks three boxes (me time, exercising the dogs, and keeping fit) without eating into my day. The fresh air and beautiful scenery set me up for the day ahead, too.

One of my not-so-good habits, however, is neglecting to keep a list of household items as they get used up. Running out of dishwasher tablets is one thing, but the day we ran out of toilet paper was something else!

#4 Delegate

If you’re struggling to achieve everything you want to do with your time, the answer is simple - get someone else to do it for you!

We all know how important it is to delegate at work, but many of us struggle with it. What we seem to forget (and I’m aiming this comment mainly at the women reading this now) is how important it is to delegate at home, too.

So far, I’ve avoided making this a gender issue, because I think demographics are moving away from that male/female model now. I admit that Brighton, the English coastal town where I live, has a culture all of its own, but among my own circle of friends at least, there are just as many men who take care of the school run or cook the dinner as women.

However, there is a startling amount of evidence to suggest that, even though the majority of women now work, they still take care of the lion's share of childcare and housework. And ladies, I’m holding you partially responsible for this; not because I agree with Kirstie Allsopp, who recently stirred up controversy by stating that women enjoy mundane chores (I certainly don’t), but, because in a recent Mumsnet survey, a staggering 66 percent of women said they didn’t want their partners to take on more responsibilities around the house, because they didn’t trust them to do a good job.

My Mum has a fridge magnet that reads “Dull women have immaculate houses… and I come from a long line of fascinating women.” With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that my house is such a mess. So, drop your standards, ladies and gents, and go and do something more interesting with your time instead!

Tell me, from one busy person to another, when it comes to achieving a better work-life balance, what works for you?  

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9 comments on “Balancing Act”

  1. I'm not an organized person by nature - I like it when things happen haphazardly and by surprise. I don't like routine either. BUT...I have found that if I'm a little more orgnized, I have a better work-life balance because then I have more free time. Less organized means I spend more time on things than I need to and that steals time from my 'down time'.

    1. Me too! Routine can be so... predictable.

      But it helps me to organize those boring tasks so that when a spontaneous opportunity does arise, I can grab it, instead of realizing that I can't go because I have a backlog of things to do that I can't put off any longer.

  2. haha...yes!! Predictable - that's the word! And a word that I don't really like too much. I get what you say about being able to grab that spontaneous opportunity. I've had times where I fell so far behind on my "must do-routine-things" that I missed out on opportunities that came my way, simply because I was too busy catching up on the routine stuff.

  3. ya ,i am becoming more organised but i have so much to cover and get it done for me on carrer front as well as at house.doing for self is the first step for progress...

    1. Hi vinamrata

      Well at least you are becoming more organised - so you are on your way to reap the benefits of it, even if it's not natural to you to be organized like we've seen with some of the others who commented as well.
      What is your next step in becoming more organised?

    2. It's so easy to put work and home before yourself, Vinamrata, but I try to make "me time" a priority, too. If I have to miss out on the things that put a bit of spark back into my life, I don't perform nearly as well in the other areas of my life, so I figure it's a good investment.

  4. Love this! After a year spent figuring things out and moving around with my boyfriend I'm now working as a freelance writer, basically around the clock. It's crazy how relatable this is, helpful too!

    1. Great to hear you've figured things out Ashley! But now you have new challenge: how to figure out the work/life balance. If you work from home, you're always at work too! Any ideas how you might maintain the right balance?

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