I have recently been feeling burnt out at work and a bit overwhelmed at home as well. Everyone talks about a proper work/life balance but the concept seems very elusive. Can you give me some advice on how to cope with my life challenges and still maintain my professionalism?
Dear Stressed Out,
Work/life balance is a new buzz phrase that gained popularity from about 2015. It was thought that at that time if employees were given flexible working hours and the option to work from home from time to time in order to spare the employee time in traffic and commuting to work, they would become more productive employees. In more recent times, however, life challenges demand that the whole concept of work/life balance should encompass a whole lot more that just flexible working hours. It now also focusses on your state of mind to ensure that you are both productive and mentally present when you are at work.
My advice to you on this issue is to stop trying to achieve work/life balance but rather to strive for a level of productivity and effectiveness in each area of life that makes you feel comfortable.
Here are some tips to do this:
Mental and emotional clutter are sure fire ways to undermine personal and work-related productivity. Keep a weekly to do list prioritising the urgent and important work-related tasks. Include deadlines and if the outcome is not dependent solely on your input, be sure to ask contributors to send their parts a few days or even ideally a week in advance of the deadline so that the requisite reports, presentations or otherwise can be compiled sans stress. A comfortable internal deadline, well in advance of the final one obviates the stress of others defaulting on the deadline, thereby relieving you of any additional and unnecessary stress.
Keep personal to do lists
Include here all of your personal and important deliverables, like scheduling a massage or haircut, baby showers, shopping for a gift for a special niece or nephew. Remember that your personal life and the persons in it are just as important as your job performance. Therefore, if you are stellar in your interpersonal relationships off the job, chances are that you will have all of the gusto and support that you need to do a stellar job at the office as well.
Define boundaries for personal time and mental space when not on the job.
In an age when most smart phones allow you to access work e-mails remotely, it is important to decide when and how to switch of. Taking phone calls after working hours and checking e-mails last thing at night before bed is a “no no” when trying to manage stress levels at home. Many potentially stressful situations – even if you become aware of it – cannot reasonably be resolved until the following morning when you are fresh and focused to deal with mental stresses of the tasks at hand. In this regard, it is wise to clock off mentally just before bed. If you do not, you can run the risk of indiscreet coworkers or even bosses encroaching on time that should ideally be devoted to family or whatever you choose to spend it on personally.
Find a constructive outlet for stress
Exercise; time with friends or a loved one; unwinding to music and laughter are a great way to shed the stresses of the day and unwind. The positive link between the mood enhancing chemicals that are released when you engage in exercise such as serotonin and dopamine, cannot be underplayed. Serotonin and dopamine are those feel-good hormones that aid in your body’s ability to ride out the wave of work-related stress. Not to mention the other cardiovascular benefits; the positive impact on High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Exercise is hard to beat as a not too time-consuming way of bringing balance to your body and consequently to your mind. The other listed ways of passing your free time are also wonderful ways to ensure that you are not constantly at work mentally even though you are not there physically and are also good emotional buffers to insulate against stress.
Take constructive breaks during the work day.
Take breaks during the workday and allow your mind to recharge from the mental and emotional demands. Let lunch be lunch and coffee breaks not be over extended, but a power-packed spot in the day when you can focus on something other than work. Get out of the office, close your laptop, eat in gracious surroundings and slowly chew your food. Be sensitive to the demands of your organisation and your job. While you may not be able to have a leisurely lunch every day at work, try to fit it in once or twice a week and really make it count.
Load shed nonessential work and personal tasks
Delegate, delegate and delegate some more. Simplify the complexity in your life. In an age where most if not all supermarkets cater to the busy executive, maximise this avenue for having domestic support. Buy precut and prepacked veggies, peas or meats. There are lots of options to keep your diet healthy that can also cut your work in half. Also, try getting some help at home. Even if you cannot afford an everyday helper, get someone to do deep cleaning and leave the lighter tidying to you. You can also schedule car servicing when you are travelling on business or can afford the down time without your vehicle.
At all costs, keep the emotional and physical balance that will help you to give of your best in the workplace and at home as well.
The desire to achieve a work/life balance can often leave you more stressed out than necessary when this balance is not achieved. Life dictates that by focusing on efficiency in each area – independently of the other – is a more effective way to deal with the stresses that are sure to come.
AFETT is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 2002 with the goal of bringing together professional women and engaging in networking opportunities, professional training and business ideas. ASK AFETT is a column meant to address issues and concerns of professionals seeking advice to assist in progressing in their careers. Today’s response was written by AFETT member, Donna Marie Alexander, owner of Off the Chain Fashion. Learn more about AFETT at www.afett.com, search for AFETT Events on Facebook, follow us @AFETTEXECS on Twitter or contact us at 343-2160. Email us your career-related questions at email@example.com.
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