Good work-life balance doesn’t happen magically by itself – it requires active steps to take a good look at your life and then make a clear decision to claim more of it back for activities other than work. Once you’ve made that decision, the possibilities are endless.
First, work out how much of your life work is really taking up. That includes the time you spend on site or in the office, work you take home, the time you spend thinking about work, and even the times when work has made you too tired to do anything else. You will probably be surprised by how much it adds up to – and by how much of it can wait!
Now to make more time for what makes you happy. Knowing how much time you’ve been effectively ‘at work’ without realising it may be the wake-up call you need to start redressing your work-life balance. It’s important to remember that work will nearly always expand to fill your time (that's why your work-life balance got out of kilter in the first place!), so you need to know how you are going to occupy the time you have chosen to save.
At this point, you might find it helpful to categorise the different aspects of your life that you consider important. So there’s your work aspect, for one. Others might be your health and fitness, your role in your family, your love life, your broader social life, your interests... you get the picture.
Now make a list of the things you enjoy – all the things you probably haven’t had the time or energy to do for a long while. It can be something as simple as doing some gardening, meeting an old friend for a drink or taking your children to the park. Put each down next to one of the important aspects of your life.
Next, challenge yourself. Add some bigger goals to your list of everyday pleasures. What did you plan to do before work took over your life? Learn a new skill, perhaps? Experience a foreign culture, raise money for a good cause, take on a sporting challenge? If you decided to pursue these ambitions now, how would you would break them down into manageable steps to fit them into your busy schedule. And how would you take the first step?
Finally, put your plan into action! As pleasant a diversion as this brainstorming exercise may be, you need to act upon it and make time for the things you want to do more of in your busy diary. It could be as simple as getting hold of your local college’s course brochure, booking a swimming lesson or calling a friend you haven’t spoken to in ages. What matters right now is getting the ball rolling. The trick is not setting yourself up to fail by aiming too high. So start with realistic goals and build upon them gradually. Schedule your commitments sensibly – maybe just a couple of things a week to start with for a couple of hours each. Or for balance, choose one from each of the important aspects of your life you identified earlier. But treat them as high-priority appointments – these are the most important things you could possibly be doing with your time. If you’ve scheduled spending an hour with your children, make that hour sacred. If you’re going to spend one lunchtime reading your new guidebook to Patagonia, let nothing overtake it.
That doesn’t mean never thinking about work. Work is an enormous part of life and can be hugely stimulating and satisfying. There’s nothing to stop you allocating a time in the week when you will think about ways to improve your work or advance your career. Doing this in a focused, concentrated way, away from the day-to-day pressures of work itself, will be far more productive than worrying about it in a semi-conscious, anxious way all the time. And when that session’s over, draw the line, put it away and go fully into something else.
In short, choose your activities, make sure they’re achievable, schedule them and stick firmly to the plan. You’ll be amazed at how quickly neglected sides of your life begin to flourish and move forward, and how the balance of your life begins to change.