If you’ve ever wondered what work/life balance looks like because you’ve been chasing it for so long but still haven’t caught up with it, don’t worry. Amy O’Connor, a sales training consultant for Shore Consulting, said the concept is just a fantasy.
“It’s a myth that you can have it all; certainly not all at the same time,” she said. “Instead, we develop coping mechanisms to make up the difference.”
Kimberly Mackey, president and founder of New Homes Solutions Consulting, agreed with this sentiment. She manages the demands of work and family by clearly separating the two: She leaves her work at the office, and focuses on her family when she’s at home. “There’s no balance, just full engagement whereever I am,” she said.
While that may suffice and work for some, even the best time managers become overwhelmed and ultimately overworked.
“Stress constricts creativity; we always work best in times of cognitive ease. More complexity puts us in a state of cognitive strain. Minute tasks becomes insurmountable. Making small business decisions becomes so scary that we don’t do anything at all,” O’Connor said.
“If you want to be better…focus on the why and not the how. Far too often we see complexity, and we start instituting more systems to handle it. But that only adds more stress and complexity to the situation.”
So how does one reduce complexity and regain some semblance of work/life balance?
That might be the wrong question to ask yourself, O’Connor says. Instead ask: What are my priorities, and what are the right activities to support those priorities?
Once you take that first step, O’Connor and Mackey offer the following suggestions to help you manage your time better and give you the freedom you need to make it home in time for dinner.
Step 1: Put your time management in check
One way to do this effectively is to plan out your week using time blocks. Put big projects at the times with the least interruptions, Mackey said.
Some other ways to get things done more efficiently include:
- Developing routines
- Doing similar tasks together
- Setting a timer when facing a deadline
- Planning the coming week on Friday afternoons instead of on weekends
- Working in intense 20-25 minute spurts, focusing on one thing at a time
- Determining clear goals before beginning a project
- Taking time to reflect on your victories
Step 2: Determine your personal ROI
When it comes to work/life balance, the investment is your time or expertise. Assessing your return on investment for the time and effort you put into anything—whether at home or at work—is key to establishing, setting and managing priorities and their associated activities. Some things will be more important than others; it’s critical for you to figure those out and work from there, Mackey said.
Step 3: Delegate. Train. Reward. Empower.
There may, in fact, be someone better suited to handle a certain task for you, whether at work or at home. Try finding a trusted family member, staff member or colleague to take it off your hands and free up your time (even if only for a little while), to focus on something that yields a better return of investment for you.