Just as defining balance is a very individual process, strategies for achieving work-life balance need to be customized to address personal challenges. In the following paragraphs, I will present some of the strategies that my clients have found helpful – personally, within families, and at work.
This is not intended as a comprehensive list; rather, use it as a starting place to develop individual and organizational strategies that work within your own unique circumstances.
An important starting place for finding that elusive work-life balance is to proactively watch for signs of burnout (e.g., chronic exhaustion, general dissatisfaction, unusual irritability, inability to concentrate). Other preventative strategies include healthy eating, engaging in fitness activities, and getting sufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation may result from role overload (i.e., staying up late or getting up early to fit everything in) and has serious health and safety consequences (Hassen, 2004).
Scheduling a daily time for quiet reflection and regularly reassessing goals and priorities may also facilitate improved work-life balance as individuals become more realistic about what they can do and learn to say “no” to unrealistic demands on their time. Challenging the “super hero” myths may be an important first step in reclaiming a balanced lifestyle. Some individuals may even choose to join the increasing ranks of the “Slow Movement” (Honore, 2004; Large, 2005). Honore, who coined the term, provides tips for decelerating that include leaving some gaps in daily schedules, enjoying a daily technology-free break to sit quietly and reflect, making time for a hobby that requires a slower pace (e.g., reading, painting, gardening, or yoga), eating supper at the table, and consciously monitoring one’s speed.
Couples and families report that an important strategy is to schedule time together – and keep it! In times of chronic busyness, it is easy to overlook the people that can offer the greatest support and meaning in life. Spending time with them – whether during meal-times, on “dates,” or during weekends away or on a longer vacation – helps to sustain these important relationships.
Many dual-career couples also find it helpful to put one career first for a specific period of time, perhaps alternating whose career is first in order to maintain successful careers for both. Many couples find that limiting availability for overtime work and restricting business travel are strategies that contribute to their work-life balance.
In the workplace
To facilitate wellness and balance at work, many individuals find it helpful to build in short fitness breaks throughout the day (e.g., a lunchtime walk or taking the stairs to the cafeteria). Communication and collaborative problem-solving seem to be helpful when considering such topics as realistic and satisfying goals, delegating tasks, and other workplace concerns.
Although the temptation may be to eliminate holidays and work excessive overtime, individuals that spread their holidays throughout the year and clearly decide how much of their lives work is worth report better work-life balance. This fits with Limoges’ (2003) maintenance philosophy of balancing holding on with letting go.
And, of course, it’s not just individual change that impacts work-life balance. Organizations can help by offering family-friendly policies that accommodate flexible scheduling, respect employee boundaries, and provide sufficient resources to get the work done without excessive overtime.
Roberta Neault is a registered counsellor and president of Life Strategies Ltd. located in Aldergrove, BC. She is a member of Focus on the Family Canada’s network of referral counsellors. You can learn more about Life Strategies Ltd. at Lifestrategies.ca
Excerpted from That Elusive Work-Life Balance! by Roberta Neault. The full article is available online at http://www.natcon.org/archive/natcon/papers/natcon_papers_2005_e5.pdf. © 2005 Roberta Neault. All rights reserved. Used with permission.