I have a confession to make. There’s a question that strikes fear into me like it owns me. To be fair, it’s not so much the question, but the timing of the question. Tell me if you’ve been there: It’s a school morning at 8:05am (as in, ‘we should have left 10 minutes ago’ ) and the clue that it’s coming is the hurried thumping of bare feet on the timber stairs. Oh that sound. Maybe I loved it once, but now … I digress. Right. The question. The question is paired with the thumping – they belong together, and it’s this:
‘Mum … do I have any socks?’
Me: ‘Yep. Sure. There’s some in the dryer. I’ll grab them.’ By that, I mean I’ll find the pair on the laundry floor that look the least grotty, throw them in the dryer for a quick spin – you know, to ‘freshen’ – and deliver them neatly folded to you looking so fresh you can practically smell the daisies. I may or may not have done this more than once.
I struggle to keep a work life balance. How could I not – they’re both important and I want to give both my full effort. Of course, home will always win without question, as long as dirty socks and the odd several consecutive days of takeaway sushi dinners don’t fall them.
I struggle, but I don’t feel compromised and I don’t – ever – feel like I’m falling short of ‘having it all’. Uggh. Even as I type that phrase I hate it. I actually hate it. Like there isn’t enough pressure on women, and men, for that matter, to have it all figured out. Now, ‘having it all’ struts two steps ahead arguing hard that ‘all’ is better than enough. I’m not buying it.
Here’s the thing. I could say I ‘have it all’, but the components of that ‘all’ take it in turns to be excellent. Some days I’m an amazing mum. And some days I’m rubbish at the job. Some days my home is the happiest place on earth, and then there are those days that it has the charm of a two week old temper. Sometimes I can give my career everything I’ve got. And sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my housework is completely up to dat… actually, no – my housework is never up to date. I’m not always the best wife or mother and I’m not always the best friend. I always try to be, but the truth is that some days I’m so far from it, I have to hope that my crew come back to find me – which they always do. They’re pretty awesome like that.
So then, for me, ‘having it all’ is off the agenda. Let’s talk instead about how to have what we want.
Accept that both work and life might want more than you want to give at a particular time. And that’s okay.
Having work life balance doesn’t mean that you will be able to give both work and life what they need to flourish – not at the same time, anyway. The truth is, life and work are intertwined – and that means sometimes one has to compromise for the sake of the other. Decide where you want to put your energy and why, then make the decision free from stress, guilt or regret that you can’t do more.
There will always be competing needs. You can give time and energy to all of them at different times, but not all at once. Let me illustrate …
Think of the important areas of your life – the big ones for me are self, relationship, work, children. It may be different for you. Imagine that each of these areas is represented by a light bulb. To burn at their brightest, they require 10 units of energy each. So to have all 4 light bulbs glowing at their brightest, 40 units of energy is needed. But – here’s the issue: At any one time, you only ever have a total of 20 units of energy available to put into those light bulbs.
The challenge is to accept that, and to distribute your energy wisely and – here’s the rub – guilt free. So, you can have each at an average glow but if one is to excel, the energy has to be taken from somewhere else, compromising the glow from that bulb/s. With me? One can be up to full, but that means there is only 10 units to share between the other 3, so the other bulbs will be switched down to low … you get the idea. Where you give your energy will change from time to time and probably throughout the day. But the thing to remember is this – when one is fully on, the others get next to nothing. Spend your 20 units of energy wisely.
Decide what’s important.
What’s the role you enjoy the most? Wife, husband, mother, father, friend, professional? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because it’s the one you enjoy that it’s the one that can wait. Be deliberate.
Be ruthless about what not’s important.
Work-life clutter is just as suffocating as any form of clutter. Get rid of it. Keep what’s important and get rid of the rest. First though, you might need to make a checklist of what counts as important. Will it get you home earlier? Will it tighten the ties? Will it make you more productive? Will it teach you something? Will it help you achieve something?
Or are you including it because I want to or because you don’t want to say no. Which brings me to …
Learn to say ‘No.’
When you say ‘no’ to the things that aren’t important, you’re making room for the things that are. That ‘no’ might have just paved the way for dinner with your kiddos.
Don’t make yourself too accessible.
Email. Phone. Twitter. Facebook. All good to have but don’t check them all day. Self-impose a restriction on phone and social media – unless you want to do it of course. Try banning yourself between the hours of 7pm-7am – or whatever works for you.
Make your goals specific.
What are your long term goals? A successful career? A happy relationship? A stable family life? Put your goals into specific terms so you know what it looks like when you reach it, or when you’re straying off track. What will ‘a successful career look like?’ Rather than, ‘I want a successful career,’ try, ‘I will attend 2 conferences/workshops this year.’ Rather than ‘I want a happy marriage,’ try ‘I will have dinner with my wife/husband once a week’ or if you live with little people and getting away is tricky, whatever works for you. Rather than, ‘I want a good relationship with my kids,’ try ‘I will be home to read them a bedtime story at least twice times a week.’
Big Rocks and Little Rocks.
You’ve probably heard this one but let’s do it again – because it’s excellent. This concept was developed by Dr Stephen Covey. Imagine that you have an empty glass jar, a pile of big rocks, a pile of little rocks, and another one of sand. They all need to make it into the glass jar so what goes in first? The big rocks. Then the little rocks will settle in between the spaces and finally the sand will fill the leftover gaps. Do it the other way round and the rocks – or the big things in your life – won’t fit, however much you want them to. The lesson? Make the big things your first priority – get them in the jar first (give them your time and energy). Once the bigger things are taken care of, the smaller things will find a way to fit into the gaps.
Get home at least twice during the week for dinner and, if you have kids, for bedtime.
Stay too much out of the day to day routine during the week, and it will take longer to feel like you’re part of the family routine come the weekend. You don’t want that. And they want that less.
Stop comparing yourself.
It’s so easy to focus on what we don’t have compared to what others do, but that will never end well. People tend to put their best foot froward and keep the struggles quiet. If only everyone knew everyone’s shortcomings – could you imagine! All of a sudden we’d be so much more settled with our own.
As with most things, a large part of achieving balance between work and life lies in how you think about it. You can’t change workload or the expectations of other (pity!) but you can experiment with putting boundaries where they need to be and accepting that which is stubborn to change.