How to … get the balance right

by 06 Feb 2007

Did you spend 2006 taking work home on the weekend? Did you wish you had more time with your partner? Were you even thinking about work over the Christmas break?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then you’re probably bursting with one final question: how can I get the balance right in the coming year?

Part of the solution comes from acutely knowing the problem. Few people suddenly take on a larger workload. More often they experience commitment creep; they commit themselves without really thinking about what they are taking on. Before you can reflect on the long-term costs, you’ve taken on too much as commitments beget commitments.

Equally commonly, many people find themselves at an impasse when the commitments they made in the past are no longer aligned with their current values and priorities.

For women, family pressures compound the ‘time poor’ syndrome. Even with good childcare arrangements, women are constantly adjusting work patterns to accommodate malleable family needs.

Work expectations can quickly turn into work commitments. While the workload might blow out of proportion, more often we take our cues from other workers – especially leaders – and the culture of the industry/profession we work in. Once we cultivate a reputation for working hard and long, it can be difficult to shake.

Put prioritising at the top of your list

You may have heard it before, but few people put into practice the truism that a key part of prioritising is knowing the difference between importance and urgency.

If you find yourself at work tied up in urgent tasks that aren’t actually that important then you’re reacting rather than responding. A few time management skills will help you prioritise and use your work time more efficiently.

Next, set clear boundaries. Decide in advance what you’ll be flexible with (usually the things that aren’t too important), and what you won’t budge on (the things that really matter).

This will sometimes necessitate being assertive with work colleagues, supervisors and line managers. Be transparent about your needs with others, and know in advance what you will and won’t compromise on. Sometimes negotiating can take time, so be prepared for evolving rather than revolutionary changes.

All tightropes need safety nets

Balancing work-life commitments doesn’t mean you can’t establish fall-back positions and safety nets. Cut yourself some slack if you don’t find yourself in the perfect arrangement after a set period of time. Contingency plans need not be complicated. The perfectionist in you may shy away, but often the ‘next best option’ reveals an easier way next time the task comes around.

Finally, while there’s always someone out there trying to get you to do what’s important to them, only you can take quality time out for yourself. Grab a coffee and the paper, put your feet up and savour the moment.

By Di Pierce, senior training consultant, Australian Women & Leadership Forums