I sometimes have had people look at me in amazement at the busy-ness of my weekly schedule – and some of them actually vocalise what they are thinking “how do you do it all?”. I always laugh the question off because the truth is, I don’t do it all. At some point, one of the roles that I play usually gets shoved under the radar (more often than not recently, this blog – sorry) and forgotten about for quite a while, because I just cannot find a way to balance my working life and my recreational life. How does one find a good work-life balance? Is it even possible?
This inability to find balance in my life was happening to me a lot over the past few months and I found myself defining myself as “unreliable”. I hated that this was the word I would use to describe myself, because I do not like to let people down and I felt that I was constantly doing so. I was really unhappy with this (you don’t understand how unhappy unless you know me personally – think…partially shattered) and because of this, I decided to make a bit more time for me within my schedule – my life is more important to me than my work. My energy levels, physical health and particularly my mental health are more important to me than any of the work that I do on a weekly basis. And I realized that by improving my energy levels, physical health and mental health, I would improve my ability to balance what I love to do on my downtime with what I have to do during my working hours.
What I’ve discovered is the journey to a place where you would consider yourself to have a good work/life balance (and it’s different for everyone) is a long one and that you need to take it day by day – it’s all in the baby steps – changing your life slowly step by step to allow you to create the life you want.
This is how I strive to maintain what I consider to be a healthy and successful work-life balance.
1) Take lunchtimes back
Out of the five official working days per week, I probably take one lunch away from my computer. This is partially because my workplace does not have an official lunchroom, but also because I am usually just working through lunch. This is really bad because you don’t get the break you need to be as productive in the afternoon, and because that means my keyboard is probably full of all types of crumbs and food droppings and is quite gross. Anyway – I’ve been trying to take my lunchtime back – especially since it’s gotten warm. I may still eat in front of the computer (sorry keyboard), but after I eat, I try to take a walk. I work in West Byfleet and it’s gorgeous and green so the lunchtime walks are truly perfect for “breezing out” my head. You know what? They help me to think more clearly and approach the afternoon with a more positive attitude also.
According to a quick google, one in three Brits, 20% of Canadian workers and as much as 65% of Americans eat lunch at their desks! This means you people are more than likely doing what I am and just typing away as you stuff whatever you could pick up quickly into your mouths. Take back your lunchtime. Go for a walk, even if you are citybound and can only walk across the street to a coffee shop. It will help you approach your work a lot more positively I promise!
2) Maintain a strict sleep schedule
This may be a bit of do what I say but not what I do type of advice – but I have been trying extremely hard to maintain a strict sleep schedule, and I have had some small success (yay!). Although there is still work to do (for example, my bedtime should be 11pm instead of 12:30am), I have found this extremely helpful. My body knows its “pattern” now and knows when downtime is downtime. It wakes itself up (which is sometimes annoying when you are trying to sleep in) as well, but generally my energy levels have improved drastically with just a few short changes and I’m able to enjoy activities outside of work without feeling horrible the next day.
I have written about maintaining your circadian rhythm and improving your quality of sleep before, but I can’t stress enough to you how important a fixed sleep schedule is for your well being. Trying your hardest to go to bed at the same time everyday and to wake up at the same time everyday is key to this. Be as strict as you can dare with yourself. It helps set your body clock and allows your brain to figure out how to dish out your energy during the day so that after the work day you have enough energy to concentrate onto what you truly want to do outside of work instead of just collapsing. Imagine having a cocktail on a patio on a lovely summer afternoon, meeting your friends for a movie mid-wee without falling asleep in the dark, getting chores and errands done just because you can. This extra energy and strict sleep schedule will help you get more done during the week (during and after work) and therefore free up your weekends a bit more so that you can truly make that time about you.
3) Grab mid-week relief by the horns
This is sort of related to the above point. Give yourself some mid-week relief to the drudgery of the working week! (If you don’t have enough energy read point 2). The whole point is to make your life a bit more interesting – after all, going to work, sitting there all day, coming home, going to sleep and repeating is not that interesting. What if you could at least once every two weeks do something after work that’s different or that interests you? This could include trying that new restaurant, going to a comedy show, finally strolling through that park that you pass by on your way to work every day…anything to get you out of your normal life rut. You can even make it a regularly scheduled activity like going to the gym, sitting Parisian style at a nearby cafe with an evening cuppa or a weekly walk along the prettiest avenue in town.
In my case, I limit myself to one blog event a week that is within a reasonable distance from where I work. I also do a pilates class once a week and my slimming world meeting once a week. This allows me to socialize, get a little exercise in and to enjoy myself thinking about something other than space planning and architecture. That little bit of “different thinking” is priceless to me and I always enjoy myself.
4) Own the weekend to help find that life balance
So you’ve implemented all the steps above, right? So you now have loads of energy and a fairly empty weekend to use said energy. What have you wanted to do that you have not done because you never had the time/energy? Pinpoint that and schedule it in. Get your errands done, but because you got some of them done in the week, you now have a few hours to do what you truly want to do. Go in search of the best dairy free gelato in town, or go find a gluten free cornish pasty in London (and if you find one please let me know where), go take in some theatre, feed some ducks, spend time with your kids at a funpark or even just cook that gourmet meal you’ve been wanting to try forever or finish the last six pages of that book you started last year. Whatever it is, own the weekend – you schedule your life, your life does not schedule you – so take advantage of the time you have and make the best of it.
Recently I’ve been trying really hard to own my weekends. For example, last weekend I would consider to be fairly successful. On Saturday morning I went down to Borough Market and had a lovely time filling my bags with gorgeous fruits and veg that I really did not need but “had to have” (good eating this week!), then I got home and tried a new recipe – mushroom quinoa risotto – and even took it one step further and stuffed the risotto into some zucchini (courgette) flours and roasted them (yummy). I then cleaned the Luv Luv’s room because men are gross and it smelled…finished laundry, watched a little tv and continued on a sugarpaste piece that I’ve been working on. Sunday I woke up, did some more laundry and then went to help my newfound cousin, Ray, to stick shiny things onto felt for his Carnival band in the upcoming Liverpool Carnival. Yes it was busy, but the tasks I undertook were all tasks I wanted to undertake, they were all things I wanted to do and did in such a way that I did them when I wanted to. This is key – take charge of your schedule, own your weekend.
5) Get moving!
Perhaps it’s just me, or perhaps this is true (since everyone says it is). Since I’ve lost weight and have concentrated on getting my sleep schedule and circadian rhythms set, I’ve had a lot more energy and I’ve chosen to use that energy by keeping myself moving. I’m not quite at that point where I can say I’m a health nut, nor will I say I’m the most dedicated person when it comes to exercise, but I’ve been choosing to walk up escalators (and if you’re in London they can be truly looooong tube escalators) and stairs, walk instead of taking a bus or train and keeping up with at least one exercise session a week. As I mentioned, I added a pilates class to my repertoire and am considering swimming once a week because there’s a gym with a pool near to my apartment. If I was a little bitsy bit closer to Richmond Park I’d probably consider a lovely walk there once in a while – especially if it were on my way home from work.
The point here is that get yourself moving – the more you exercise, the better your energy levels (again – something I found true for me and something that all the health nuts say). The better your energy levels, the more you can get done on a daily basis. The more you get done on a daily basis, the better your weekends will be.
I was recently introduced to this little five minute quiz online which helps you to figure out what your work/life balance says about you. I’m apparently an “Integrator” – I think this means that I need to separate my work and home a little bit more, but the quiz says that it just means that I’m “good at juggling the competing demands of my professional and personal roles”! I’m not so sure that what they say is true because I feel lost and overwhelmed more times than not; and I’m pretty sure that I’m not quite where I want to be with regards to organization and time management – my work and my life are not as balanced as it apparently appears to be and I’d like to continue changing that for the positive so that I can feel as on top of my life as I apparently seem.
So by continuing to practice the five points that I mentioned above and by implementing a few other changes in my life (not 100% sure what those will be as yet), I’m happy to say that I believe I will find what I consider to be a successful work-life balance for me, sooner rather than later – and perhaps move from being such an integrator into the realm of separator or even volleyeur which would both allow me to switch off from one role (eg. work mode) and concentrate on the other (eg. personal mode) fully. It’s all about the baby steps, right? After all…I’m the one responsible for my story, I’m the one responsible for my happiness and I’m the one responsible for my life.
What else do you do to maintain a healthy and positive work-life balance? Any suggestions as to how to continue to work towards my ideal balance?