This is the last part of our 3-part series on Work Life Balance. If you have not read the previous article, you can go through them here :
In the last post, we were discussing what excuses people offer for an imbalanced work-life. But maybe you already know you are responsible for this and want to do something about it. It’s just that you are feeling helpless and stuck in this situation, with no idea how to get out of it.
Let’s look at certain factors you can address.
Balanced ambition. Ambition is a double edged sword. You have to be very careful with it. Are you giving all of your energies to work, with nothing left to pursue anything else? Are you ruining your health and social life, to get that next promotion early? If you are feeling overwhelmed, you can do good to yourself and your work by going a little slow. Smell the roses in life. Youth and vitality are not for ever, don’t give them all away to create a secure tomorrow. Balance your work with other activities.
While aspiring for a better life is a healthy goal, focusing just on money and professional success, and ignoring other important aspects like health and relationships, is stupidity. How can you enjoy life if your health is poor? How can you grow and expand internally when you have no one to connect with deeply?
Take your professional life easy. Keep time for connecting with others, both at work and back at home. Take time out to look after your health. In fact, to reach higher in life, you need to be able to maintain a steady speed, you need to maintain an optimal level of performance and productivity for several years. There are no short cuts to this. And for this to happen, you absolutely need a balanced life style. Life is a marathon. Those who run too hard in the beginning, loose steam soon. They might find themselves ahead of the rest when they start, but soon the rest will pass them by. What’s worse is that they started alone when they were ahead, and they finish alone, when they get left behind.
Face your fears. Do you continue working too hard, hoping to keep your bosses happy, hoping for a few promotions here and there? Do you feel scared of your boss? Be honest. Most people are, or have been afraid of their superiors at some point. In the first year of my job, I was scared of loosing my project or even the job. I was scared of being told that I am not good enough. I was scared of making any mistakes, I was scared of being reprimanded by my superiors. Fear may do more harm than you realize. Since it happens gradually, you don’t notice how it takes over everything in your life. Fear is such a killer of spirit and freedom.
As a first step, you have to accept your fear. It’s not easy to accept you are afraid. Accepting your fear is a bold decision, an act of courage. Accepting your fears is half the battle won. As soon as you accept it, you are already on your way towards it’s removal. As I mentioned in an earlier article on handling fear , there are two ways of getting over it – study the object of your fear and face it.
What is the worst that can happen? If you tell your boss that you consider your personal time sacrosanct, most probably, he would not be happy. He might advice against it and if you still do it, you may be fired. Will that be the end of life? No. Would that require you to look for another income stream? Yes. And probably this is what a lot of people are afraid of, looking for a new job. What is more important to you? Your health or keeping your current job with this lousy manager and bad work timings? Would you rather stay here and miss on life, just to stay comfortable with what you have been doing? Or would you do what it takes to be able to face your fear… your fear of having to look for a new job?
Looking for a new job is not as threatening as so many people believe. Break out of your comfort zone and make the effort. Anyhow, your comfort zone is not so comfortable anymore.
Improving value. When I was having trouble with my work and with my manager, I took up the problem in my journal . I realized I was afraid and started analyzing my fear. I started looking for a way out of it. What could I do to get over it?
The answer I saw was that I needed to improve my own value, so that other people would want me, so that getting a similar, or better job, won’t be so difficult. Just deciding on what I had to do was so liberating! Suddenly the manager started looking less of a trouble. Suddenly I did not feel stressed anymore.
I started preparing for some relevant certifications. It took a lot of effort and time management. In about a year’s time, I cleared two very important certificates with very good scores. This improved my self confidence. I now knew I was good enough, I knew I could get a job with other companies. I started appearing for job interviews, just to see if I could clear them.
When I cleared those certificates, it motivated other fellow workers to take those certifications as well. Without intending it, I had started a positive change among the people around me, just by facing my own fears! Fear was no longer the reason I was working for, and mostly, has never been since.
Add value to yourself. Your company may or may not push you to do that. Some companies have the idea that very talented employees won’t stay long and might actually discourage widely accepted certifications and promote their own certifications that don’t have as much value in the outside world. You will have to find a way here for yourself. When I did my certifications, I saved time every where I could.
I finished my work early so that I could leave as early as possible.
I found that I was taking too long at lunch, talking to my friends, I cut down my lunch time almost by half.
I allowed myself only Sundays for fun. On Saturdays, I would study.
Instead of discussing movies and gossip with my friends, I started discussing certain certification topics that were also relevant to our project.
Make time out to add value by studying relevant books, taking up relevant courses and certifications. If your company allows you time for it, nothing’s better. But if it doesn’t, don’t go whining about it, find ways to make time.
Better productivity. Doing some work well is not the same as doing it for long. It’s a known fact that a person’s focus and productivity go down as a person continues at something for too long, without a change. If you spend too many hours at work, you are working way below your optimal productivity levels. Here are some other facts about improving productivity :
1. The Parkinson’s Law. If you have made a habit out of working long hours, your mind already knows it has so many hours to finish regular work. the result is, you finish in 10 hrs what you can finish in 2-3 hrs. This is known as the Parkinson’s law. It says, Any work will expand and fill into the whole time available for its completion .
Give yourself progressively less time for the same work. If you have been doing something for 2 hr before, shave off 10 mins first. After a few runs, try to shave off another 10 mins. See how quickly you can do it. Understand that it is possible to do it quicker. The time constraint is only a construct in your mind. You can expand and contract it at your will.
2. Working in small, focused time blocks. We work usually in small creative spurts. For more read being in the zone . It helps to focus on these ‘in zone’ moments to do most of your work. You will be surprised how quickly you can finish your days work, leaving you with major part of the day for other activities. This is also explained by the Pareto Principle, which says 80 percent of the work gets done in 20 percent of the time .
When I started noticing how I was spending my time in office, I realized I was doing actual, focused work for only about 2 hrs in the day. For the rest, I was either doing very little or nothing at all, I was just passing time. I started doing it more consciously and did all my office work in those 2 hrs. To my surprise, I was doing exactly the same amount of work still! No one said I was doing any less. For the rest of the day, I would just prepare for my certifications or read something else. Even now, as a writer, I just write for 4 hrs a day. This is done in 2 hr blocks with an hours rest in between. In each block, I work for 25 mins, then take a rest of 5 mins and then work again for 25 mins, and so on. This is known as the Pomodoro technique. A good friend, who is also one of the readers of this blog, suggested it.
Procrastination. The problem here, apart from wrong priorities, fear and bad time management, is also one of procrastination. A lot of people get used to a sedentary life style. They have been working long hours for years. If you are one of them, you might have a tendency to put other things off. You will procrastinate on doing some fun physical activity or hobby, or going out with your friends or family on a fun trip. You might start up on some good habits but will loose enthusiasm soon and return to your old self. Read this article to answer this particular problem.
Our bodies and minds need variety. Even with the most passionate work, you need breaks and a change of mind. Remember, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’ Jack Nicholson made that very clear in his movie, The Shining.
Mix up things, maintain a hobby that you pursue regularly, spend time with other beings you care about, do something fun along with them.
Enjoy life! Incidently, it is the best way to work well too