How do I find Work Life Balance?

As a therapeutic coach, the second most common question I get asked is: ‘How do I find better work-life balance?’ (The first being how to manage stress & anxiety).

Generally, when people say they want to improve their work-life balance, what they are asking is “How do I work less?” or at the very least ‘How do I focus less on work?’

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Nobody ever shows up at a coaching session saying they want to work less. It’s always that they want to improve their work-life balance. Why is this?

I suspect there are still a lot of taboos about admitting your dream is to work less and live more. This is crazy. What are we here on this beautiful planet for? Because in my mind, it isn’t about being enslaved to work long hours and be miserable. (I appreciate that I’m talking from within a society where there is some choice in this). Productivity and self-worth are so intertwined in our conditioning that it’s common to hear people apologise for working ‘only’ their contracted hours. Burnout is seen as something to be expected, rather than our body telling us that we are not ok. How do we break out of this mentality and find the freedom to connect more to what it means to be alive?

Even the terminology is interesting; work life balance as a phrase implies that life is what happens outside work, and we must balance the two separate things. What if we could include work in the living of our lives so that we could embody a holistic living of life that encompasses all we do? Neither working to live, nor living to work, but a full-bodied living that encompasses it all.

When did this mindset begin? When did people start burning out? Or consider that their life was out of balance? Was it with the industrial revolution, or in the 80s, or in the tech boom of the last 20 years? I don’t have an answer to that, but it does seem timely that people are waking up to it since the pandemic. Lockdowns allowed people to experience working the same hours without a commute. They could put the washing on and get things done in the background. They could see more of their families and friends (at home or online). Along with the anxiety-provoking statistics of covid deaths in those early months of the pandemic, people re-thought their priorities. They wanted to have more time to do the things they enjoy; with the people they love. On the flip side of this, being locked down blurred the boundaries for many between working and living. Suddenly, you were working from your kitchen table and it was easy to do a few extra hours. It has been a confusing few years and we’re no longer clear on what working and living life looks like.

 

What is work life balance? Why do we all want it?

Theoretically, work life balance is the perfect equilibrium between doing what you need to do to earn a living whilst still having the right amount of rest and play.

Being out of balance feels stressful and prolonged periods of stress from an unbalanced working life often leads to feelings of burnout. We often feel we need to earn rest and play through working hard. But really, is this true? If we have the means to live and we are stimulated, happy and feel purposeful, what keeps us chained to the desk and the laptop?

We all want to feel balanced. This involves feeling productive and earning a means to live (work) and having time to do the things we enjoy, spend time with people we love (live).

 

Does work life balance exist?

Maybe the question is, does it exist for you? What factors lead you to feel balanced?

For me, work life balance is not a state that is set in stone. It’s not one size fits all. It’s not a scientific theory that sets out the conditions everyone needs for balance. We are all different.

It’s also not a fixed thing. You know, you reach it, and you’ve nailed it. At best, it’s a fluctuating state to be managed alongside the complexities of life – those ups and downs of health and illness, relationships and family life.

I’d say it’s about making choices individually about our priorities, and then that continued journey of making choices on a daily and weekly basis, reflecting each week on what felt good and what didn’t. We soon realise our patterns and we can make adjustments. It’s a process of reflecting and learning about ourselves that continues through the seasons and stages of our lives.

 

 What do I need to do to find (work life) balance?

I’ve recently started a weekly reflection practice. It helps me ensure I’m finding balance because I take time each week to acknowledge what brought joy, what didn’t, and what I set out to do plus what actually happened and why. I worked for years as a social worker and burnt out on several occasions. I’ve made the choice to work less hours and do things differently, but it has taken time to find what works individually for me, and to work on those mindset demons telling me that I’m not good enough because I haven’t worked enough.

Here are some of my pointers to finding your own balance with work and living:

  1. What are your priorities?

Please don’t misunderstand this question. I’m not asking you what’s at the top of your to-do list.

What I want to know is what wakes you up with passion? What makes you come alive? What’s the most important thing in your life? What do you value?

If you know your answer, ask yourself whether you are living your life aligned with this, or has something else got in the way?

If you’re not sure of your answer, ask yourself what you want to be remembered for. What do you want people to say about you at your funeral? It’s a provocative question, but it helps to focus the mind quickly! What’s important to me, and am I living that life? If you want a prompt, look up the top regrets of the dying to see what people say they wish they’d done differently (hint: one of them is to have worked less, and just imagine being able to make that choice before it’s too late).

 

2. What do you actually need?

In the UK we are living in a wealthy country based in a wealthy continent. I’m not sure we always realise this! Standards of living are high, and there is support available for those in need. Yes, of course, more support can always be a positive thing, but relative to many, or should I say most, countries, we do pretty well here. As a result, we have high expectations of what our lives should involve and include. Materialism is the norm. Being attuned to your actual needs, not so much.

Simplify your life. Figure out what you need to stay safe, happy, warm, fed. The most important things are often free (love, connection, stimulation, moving our bodies). What do you actually need in order to be happy, stimulated, fulfilled?

 

3. Prioritise yourself!

Put yourself higher up your own to-do list. So many clients show up to sessions exhausted and frustrated having run around trying to get everything done. Long lists of never-ending tasks at home and at work.

What would happen if you put yourself higher up your ‘to-do’ list?

What would be different in your day to day life? What would happen if you didn’t do everything on your list?

You can’t pour from an empty jug. Ensure you have what you need as a foundation to supporting others. It is not selfish, it’s sensible.

 

4. Understand your behaviour patterns

How self-aware are you? We can all benefit from deepening our self-awareness. With self-awareness, comes choice. As we learn to see our subconscious, habitual patterns, we then have a chance to decide whether they are working for us, or to change what we are doing.

For example, are you prone to people-pleasing? Do you struggle with saying no, setting boundaries or taking on extra responsibilities that feel overwhelming?  It can be all too easy to get stuck in an energy-draining dynamic thinking that we are doing the ‘right’ thing, not even noticing that there is a choice to act differently.

Becoming aware of how our behaviour impacts our life is empowering, and life-changing.

 

5. Work less, get more done.

Recent research on a 4-day working week carried out by several UK local authorities showed that employees got as much work done in four days as they had over five, plus had more dedicated time to rest, felt happier and more motivated.

Rest, whether that is an extra day or 5 minutes each hour, has a major impact on our energy levels and ability to focus. It seems counter-intuitive but working less can mean you get more done.

I’ve been experimenting with work hours and ways to focus over the last year. Things I’ve found useful: in-person and online co-working sessions, accountability setting withing a supportive group, apps on my phone which mean I can’t endlessly scroll, adapting my schedule depending on energy levels. Generally, working less hours has never meant I got less done, but has improved my focus.

I hope you’ve found something useful in this post. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. What have you found helpful in finding better balance in your life?

Ruth

 

Hi, I’m Ruth. I support anxious, stressed or overwhelmed people to recover from burnout and create a life they don’t feel exhausted by. If you’d like to hear more from me sign up to my newsletter here:  https://awareconsciousliving.com/shift-from-stressed-to-calm/

 

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