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In the 24/7 world we live setting boundaries can seem impossible. Last month, I contacted several work/life balance professionals to get some guidance on setting those boundaries so we can better balance work, family, and friends. What I got was enough information for two articles.
Their responses featured in Are You A Good Juggler (Part 1) focused on the stress of juggling work, family and friends and the difficulties of disconnecting from our professional lives. Here they offer their take on why we work/life balance is so elusive. Our panel also offers suggestions on how doing one thing differently can change your life.
CI: What are the three biggest reasons why we are unable to find a balance between our personal and professional lives?
Wendy Kaufman, CEO, Balancing Life’s Issues
We are unable to recognize that “having it all” requires making choices and sacrifices. It’s hard work that takes backbone and courage. We must commit to the lives we want to lead rather than lives others expect of us, too. Finally, we need to manage our guilt so we come first –a great me, makes a great us, which makes a great producer.
Julie Cohen, Author, 7 Keys to Work Life Balance
First, balance as a state is very difficult to attain or maintain. The ‘striving’ for balance sets us up to be disappointed. Try to reframe work-life balance as a journey towards a more preferred direction. You want to make choices that move you towards a better feeling around your work-life balance, as opposed to putting pressure on yourself to find a perfect state of balance – as it doesn’t exist.
Most of us don’t say ‘no’ enough. As we advance professionally, and our personal responsibilities expand, we are usually asked to do more. If we continue to say ‘yes’ to everything, it will be very difficult to feel satisfied with our work/life mix. It’s important to know that we can’t do it all – it least not all at once.
Often, we are not clear on our priorities. If we know what is most important in our work and in our personal life, it will make saying ‘no’ to non-priorities easier, and we will likely enjoy our work and what we’re doing in our personal life more.
Kathi Elster, Business Strategist, K Squared Enterprises
Work/life balance takes effort – it takes a conscious effort to makes choices that are sometimes difficult, for instance, you might have to say no to a non-mandatory conference because you have family obligations. You may think it will hurt you at work, but actually in the long run no one at work remembers, but your family will.
It does not always come easily – circumstances don’t always work in our favor. Sometimes there is just way too much work to leave the office at a reasonable hour.
Setting boundaries can be difficult to achieve. Most of us don’t like saying no. We don’t want to say no at work because it could jeopardize our career and saying no at home might get us in hot water with those we love. But, learning how to set healthy boundaries of your time is something that once we achieve, it becomes habit.
Elene Cafasso, Executive Coach, Enerpace, Inc.
One of the reasons we can’t find a balance is we haven’t defined what we really want in each area. What would a balanced life actually look like to you? Start by writing very detailed definitions of a “10” in each important area of their life – career, money, health, relationships, spirituality, etc. Until you know your personal definition of each area, you don’t know what the end game, what you would consider balanced, would look like.
Once you have this vision, identify a baby step you can take in a few areas to move closer to balance. For example, you could start with making a commitment to not work late on Wednesdays and use that night for time with your family and friends.
We are a culture that wants instant gratification and we want everything at the same time. The reality is that we CAN have everything – -but usually not all at once. We need to make choices. Realize that that when you say “yes” to working late you’re actually saying “no” to whatever else you had planned that night.
Kristin Andree, Author, Don’t Make Me Pull This Car Over: A Roadmap for the Working Mom
The real reason we are unable to find “balance” between our personal and professional lives is that true balance – where our personal and professional lives fit exactly in equal proportions – does not exist!
It’s less about trying to “balance” the personal and professional to-dos on that mile long list of ours, and more about trying to “blend” them. The key is finding a place for the various areas of our lives and ensuring that we aren’t missing anything. The reason we can’t find balance is that we are looking for the wrong thing – we should be looking for a “blended life.”
People search endlessly for “balance” and when they can’t find it, they feel stressed and feel as if they have failed. It is critical we realize that some days will be more “family focused” and others will be highly “work-related” … and that is perfectly okay.
Cathy Alessandra, Founder & President, National Association of Entrepreneur Moms
The three biggest reasons we are unable to find balance between our personal and professional lives is that we lack passion, integration and energy. We are moving so fast, in all aspects of our lives, that many of us have lost the passion that originally fueled the fire to do what we are doing in the first place.
We need to continue to feed the fire in all areas. When there is a lack of integration we become overwhelmed by being everything to everyone. By deliberately making different choices to get help or support, saying no and so on, we are able to more easily find balance.
The many demands we face and the high-stress society in which we live cause a lack of energy. Chronic stress causes sleep and health issues which drain energy. Lack of exercise and unhealthy habits all go towards our lack of energy.
CI: Often we hear that making one change can mean a big difference in our lives. If you could suggest only one thing to help people find a better balance what would it be? Part 2
Don’t hit the snooze button. You will gain valuable minutes that add up to hours if you comment to not hitting the snooze button. You will also find yourself enjoying better sleep hygiene including not eating right before bedtime, going to bed and getting up at consistent times.
In turn, with better sleep practices you will find time for exercise, reading or bonding with your family. You’ll be healthier and happier.
Take better care of yourself. When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant says that if the air cabin looses air pressure, you need to put the mask on yourself first before you help someone else. This story applies to work/life balance as well. You need to take care of yourself – eat well, sleep well, exercise, etc. – in order to accomplish all that you want while managing a full and stressful work and life. When you take better care of yourself, you will feel more satisfied in general. You’ll also feel more satisfied with your work and personal commitments.
My favorite suggestion is to: leave work and not talk about work to their friends or family. You may have to respond to an important e-mail or text, but do not talk about it or make work a topic of discussion after hours. This 12 hour break along with a good night’s sleep will give you a fresh perspective the next day.
Define what it is you really want. What would a balanced life look like to you? Only then can you create it. It’s all about what I call “multi-dimensional success”. The goal is to achieve success, as you define it, in each area of your life that’s important to you.
You have the right to define success in the various areas of your life the way YOU want. It’s your life! Claim it!
Strive to create a life (and a schedule) that incorporates these seven critical areas: Self, Spouse, Children, Family (extended), Career, Friends, and Community (which includes spiritual and charitable endeavors). When you include each of these pieces – and forgive yourself for them not playing equal roles in your schedule – you will begin to create a more fulfilled life.
Each of the areas MUST have a place in your schedule – none of them can be neglected if you want to really thrive. Start by prioritizing these areas in order of their importance to YOU. Next, layer the activities associated with each of these categories into your schedule. This way when that extra work creeps up on you (as it always seems to do), you will have other items in your week to balance out all those professional to dos – and make you feel better in the process.
The most important thing to help people find better balance is learning the difference between a commitment and an obligation – and then choosing wisely. Learning to say no to some things allows you to say yes to things you feel passionate about doing and gives you more time for YOU. Whether that means volunteering, going to dinner with friends or taking that run on the beach.
A commitment is something you want to do, that you are passionate about and you enjoy doing – an obligation is something you are doing for someone else, that you feel pressured into and doesn’t feel right. Spend time making those decisions, contemplating the commitment versus obligation and learn to say a gracious no. I promise when you learn to say yes to only those things that fill your soul, you will feel a sense of balance like never before.