How on earth does anyone navigate all this? And we still have retirement to save for! If anything sounds like ‘mission impossible’, juggling these responsibilities and somehow staying sane would surely top the list.
The trick to keeping everything in some sort of balance is said to be in establishing boundaries. Invasions, breaches and a skirmish or two are inevitable, but there are some strategies that may help us strike that elusive work-life-living balance. We need to build better walls. Not to further compartmentalize – to survive.
Defined by your work? Married to the job?
This kind of all-out commitment, while admirable in many ways, comes at a very high price. There is something to be said for the notion that we are human ‘beings’, not human ‘doings’. An imbalanced work-life-living situation has its damaging effects:
- Fatigue. Deep, endless fatigue. Sometimes, we are so tired for so long that we forget what it’s like to feel refreshed and energized. Consider this to be a warning sign. Being tired negatively affects production at work; we cannot think clearly either. Mistakes creep in. Tempers flare. Deny it though we will, we are human. We need rest and recovery time, not just more recreation and diversion, to be at our best.
- The price of increased expectations. This is a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ sort of situation. You keep putting in extra hours, so more responsibility comes your way. Instead of enjoying your job more, you are swamped with more and more work and headaches. Around and around it goes.
- Lost time with family and friends. This always starts out with little things, a game here, a quick burger there. Then we can’t make a graduation ceremony or engagement party. We’re too tired to go out for supper and a movie with friends. Soon we start to feel left out and even a bit resentful. Friendships suffer. Families suffer.
- Learn to say no. Heard this one before? Of course you have. It is absolutely okay to say ‘no’ when asked to take on another project at work. To say ‘no’ when asked to coach another season of youth sports. To say ‘no’ to managing the fundraiser at your child’s school. Just be polite and respectful, and thank them for the offer.
- Leave work at work. This one is clearly easier said than done, but try anyway. And now with all of our busybody technology, meaning they can find us anywhere, any time, it is particularly important to establish those boundaries. You will have to do this deliberately, mindfully, and respect them yourself as well. Turn off the cell phone once the day is done. Put the laptop to sleep. When you are with your family, mean it! When you out for dinner, be there 100%.
- Track your time. Keep a journal of everything you do in a week, at work, at home, at play. Then go back over it and evaluate. What did you enjoy doing? What was truly necessary? Can you delegate any of the tasks or responsibilities? Do you have any solutions or concerns to share with your employer? The family?
- Figure out your options. There are all sorts of creative work schedules out there: compressed work weeks, job sharing, telecommuting, flex hours and so on. See if your employer is open to any of these options. You will be less stressed if you are more in control of your hours.
- Hone your time management skills. Maybe the housework could be streamlined or made more efficient. Have one really thorough cleaning session per season, then do daily ten-minute maintenance rounds rather than saving all work for the weekends. Your house will always be in order this way. The same approach holds true for the laundry, too. Rather than letting it pile up for a day off, do a load every other day. Run errands in bunches. Keep a daily to-do list. Play efficiency expert at home and see what you can come up. It might actually be fun.
- Take care of your support team. Help a co-worker out when he or she has a family crisis or emergency – very likely they will be there for you when you need them. Friends can help with child care or pet sitting or other household responsibilities when you need to travel for your job or work overtime. Again, do the same for them. The spirit of community is very powerful – just set it in motion.
- Take care of yourself. Ah, our old favorites. Eat properly, meaning lots of fresh foods: fruits and veggies and whole grains. Exercise daily – no excuses. Make and keep the time. Go out and play with your friends – it’s not just kids that need this! Hike, take a dance class, go boating, practice yoga.
- Seek professional help. You will know when the time comes for this, or someone close to you will. And we all need help from time to time. Creating a manageable work-life-living balance is hard, and an ongoing process. Everything around us is constantly changing, ourselves included. Keeping on track is just the beginning. If you are lost or angry or sense that life is spinning beyond your reach, see a counselor or other mental health professional. Your employer may have an employee assistance program you can tap into. You probably won’t believe this, but you’re worth it! Really!