Work Life Balancing is Not a New Olympic Sport

Not long ago, I was doing research on the correct way to ease out of fairly long career and look in to travelling and spending more time with my four wonderful grandkids. One of my first stops was the obligatory SSA.gov to learn more about Social Security benefits. The SSA was kind enough to let me know that the average lifespan for people born in the year I was, is only about 20 years from now! Twenty years?? Two more decades and it’s checkout (on average???) time from life’s hotel? This really got me thinking about things and what my peers and I have been doing building careers and professional success. I came to the realization that I have not been paying attention to my personal flight plan quite closely enough. Basically, the bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. If we are to be expected to fly our ship of life, we must face how our professional priorities are causing turbulence to the flight. That’s when I got to the issue of a work/life balance.

These days, work-life balance can seem like an impossible feat. Technology makes us accessible around the clock. Fear of job loss encourages longer hours. In fact, a whopping 94% of working professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly half said they worked more than 65 hours per week in a recent business survey. Experts all seem to agree: the compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness.

Work-life balance means something different to every individual, but we all need to do a better job of putting ourselves way higher on our own “to do” list! Here is some of the information I found out about ways to improve the quality of both our personal lives and even our career performance. Hopefully, you can find the balance that’s right for you.

  1. Let go of perfectionism

A lot of overachievers develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on their time are limited to school, hobbies and maybe an after-school job. It’s easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as a kid, but as you grow up, life gets more complicated. As you climb the ladder of your profession and as your family grows, your responsibilities mushroom. Perfectionism becomes out of reach.

The key to avoid burning out is to let go of perfectionism. The healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence.

  1. Unplug

From telecommuting to programs that make work easier, technology has helped our lives in many ways. But it has also created expectations of constant accessibility. The work day never seems to end. Do you ever feel like there are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment?  Then do it! That thought is you telling you something. Electronic devices interrupt your off time and inject an undercurrent of stress in your system. So don’t text at your kid’s soccer game and don’t send work emails while you’re hanging out with family.

  1. Exercise and meditate

Even when we’re busy, we make time for the crucial things in life. We eat. We go to the bathroom. We sleep. And yet one of our most crucial needs – exercise – is often the first thing to go when our calendars fill up. Exercise is an effective stress reducer. It pumps feel-good endorphins through your body. A good friend of mine once advised me that my appointment calendar would open up fairly quickly once a heart attack comes calling. True words! Exercise helps lift your mood and can even serve a one-two punch by also putting you in a meditative state.

  1. Limit time-wasting activities and people

First, identify who and what is most important in your life. This list will differ for everyone, so make sure it truly reflects your priorities, not someone else’s. Next, draw firm boundaries so you can devote quality time to these high-priority people and activities.

From there, it will be easier to determine what needs to be trimmed from the schedule. If email or internet surfing sends you into a time-wasting spiral, establish rules to keep you on task. That may mean turning off email notifications and replying in batches during limited times each day.  And if you find your time being gobbled up by less constructive people, find ways to diplomatically limit these interactions. Cornered every morning by the office chatterbox? Politely excuse yourself. Focus on the people and activities that reward you the most.

To some, this may seem selfish and maybe even anti-social. But it isn’t selfish or anything other than self-preservation. It’s that whole airplane metaphor. If you have a child, you put the oxygen mask on yourself first, not on the child. When it comes to being a good friend, spouse, parent or worker, the better you are yourself, the better you are going to be in all those areas as well.

  1. Change the structure of your life

Sometimes we fall into a rut and assume our habits are set in stone. Take a birds-eye view of your life and ask yourself: What changes could make life easier? 

Identify stress points in your day and take steps to eliminate them. I will tell you this to get you thinking….. No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office’!

  1. Start small. Build from there.

We’ve all been there: crash diets that fizzle out, New Year’s resolutions we forget by February. It’s the same with work-life balance when we take on too much too quickly.

Many of us who might even be classified as workaholic commit to drastic changes: cutting their hours from 80 hours a week to 40; bumping up the daily run from zero miles a day to five miles a day. It’s a recipe for failure in my opinion. If you’re trying to change a certain script in your life, start small and experience some success. Build from there.

“If you want to make a big change in world, go home and love your family”. This little act will have a huge effect on the world if we can all follow Mother Teresa’s advice.

You Might Be a Workaholic…….. (adapted from the comedy of Jeff Foxworthy)

Read on to see if you have symptoms of a workaholic.

  1. You work longer than your colleagues

Workaholics are typically the first to arrive in the office and the last to leave, or they log in after hours and work into the night.

  1. You can’t turn off

Workaholism isn’t simply defined by working long hours. True workaholism, is the inability to turn off thoughts of work. “A workaholic is someone on the ski slopes who is dreaming about being back in the office.

  1. Your body feels unwell

Workaholics have a lot of bad habits that can hamper health. Constrained for time, some turn to junk food, some inhale lunch at their desks and others skip meals all together. Exercise is often abandoned and sleep habits get thrown off schedule.

  1. Your relationships are strained

Workaholics need to look no further than their loved ones for signs of their work addiction. Family members and close friends are often the first to feel their absence. “When people who love us tell us, ‘I never see you’ or ‘you’re never around,’” it’s time to reevaluate our work-life balance.  

  1. You tie your worth to your work success

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