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Proactive Steps to a Happy Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance means different things to different people. For some, it means spending more time with the kids. For others, it means enjoying frequent international holidays or overseas escapes. In recent times, a happy work-life balance has become a common career goal amongst job seekers. Employees and employers alike realise that everyone benefits when staff are happy. If you’re seeking improved work-life balance, we recommend taking the following proactive steps for realistic, rewarding results.

Step 1 – Find Synergy

Synergy between your career and core values is paramount to a satisfying work-life balance. As the saying goes “Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work another day.” Arriving at work eager to embrace the day’s challenges and cooperate with friendly faces brings enjoyment to each day and satisfaction to your life. If you dread work, don’t enjoy your daily tasks and dislike your workplace, every day will be draining. You won’t perform well at work and you probably won’t be happy after hours.

The key to creating work-life synergy is to select a job that is well aligned with your core values. If you value natural healing, natural light, outdoor exercise and meditation, a telemarketing job selling weight loss pharmaceuticals will frustrate and annoy you. If your personality thrives on excitement, fun, conversation and human interaction, a job as a technical writer will probably leave you feeling lonely and depressed.

When evaluating job opportunities, write down your core values. Be clear about your likes, dislikes, goals and aspirations. Consider what’s important to you, what motivates you, how you like to work and the types of people you work well with. Do you want to work in an office or outdoors? Would you like to manage people, run meetings and work all hours, or prefer to work autonomously, clocking off at 4pm on the dot?

Synergy between your career and personal life will give you energy and a zest for life that lasts beyond the work hours. Seek a job role that fits well with who you are. The role, the workplace and relationship with co-workers all contribute to the overall synergy of your work-life balance.

Step 2 – Add Flexibility

A fixed nine-to-five work day often stops us doing the things we love. Fortunately, advances in technology give you the opportunity for increased flexibility at work. Laptop computers, smart phones and affordable wireless Internet make it easy for people to complete at least some work tasks from home. If you feel increased flexibility will improve your work-life balance, talk to your employer about:

  • Time Off in Lieu – Perhaps you could work an extra hour Monday-Thursday in exchange for one full day off per fortnight. Overall you will work the same total hours per fortnight, but claim a whole day to yourself.
  • Working from Home – Would you like to finish work earlier, or start later? Consider asking your boss for the option to work some of your hours from home. Many tasks lend themselves to easy completion from home, including answering emails, making phone calls, reporting, administration and documentation. For a standard 8 hour work day, you could work 7 hours during the day, saving the remaining one hour’s work to complete at home in the evening. Such a simple change enables you to enjoy an extra hour of sunshine during the day.
  • Flexible Start/Finish Times – Would it suit you best to start at 6:30am and finish at 2:30pm, just in time to collect young children from school? As long as your productivity is unaffected and you’re able to attend all required face-to-face meetings, many employers will allow you to work flexible hours.

Whether you hope to enjoy more sunshine, play extra sport, volunteer in the community or simply need to pick up the kids from school, flexible hours can give you the relief you need. You’ll feel a greater work-life balance when you have free time to satisfy both work and personal commitments.

Step 3 – Design Your Day

It’s important to realise that work-life balance rarely happens by accident. If you’re feeling overworked, stressed and frustrated by a lack of ‘you time’, it’s time to start designing your work-life plan. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Schedule Downtime – Time slots get allocated to work, meetings and appointments, so why not schedule downtime on your calendar too? For example, you could schedule downtime every Friday night or Sunday afternoon. Imagine knowing that you have scheduled leisure time from 1pm until 8pm every Sunday. You could go to the movies, take a scenic drive, play golf, walk on the beach or spend time with a close friend. People who intentionally schedule downtime report feeling more relaxed during the working week.
  • Look Forward To Time-Based Rewards – In addition to scheduling regular downtime, give yourself something to look forward to by creating time-based rewards. For example, you could reward yourself with a new best-selling book to read every pay day. Other ideas for small rewards include a monthly lunch date with friends, a weekly trip to the cinema or fortnightly take-away meal. Bigger rewards might include an annual holiday overseas or a new piece of furniture. In either case, a time-based reward gives you something to work towards every day. You’ll feel more motivated and positive when you have something to look forward to.
  • Escape Time Thieves – People, computers and technology can be time thieves. Have you noticed one person regularly trapping you in gossipy conversation? Are you spending hours on FaceBook or browsing the Internet? These unproductive activities can drain your time. You might even find yourself staying at work longer to make up for wasted hours. It’s important to escape time thieves as soon as you identify them. A few minutes of non-productive time at work is perfectly normal, but many lost hours causes low-productivity, over compensation, stress and tiredness.
  • Outsource – If you work long hours, it’s difficult to find time for cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, personal paperwork and home maintenance. Where possible, hire people to help you with one or more of these tasks. Hiring a cleaner could save you two to three hours per week, allowing you to invest that time into an activity, friends or family you love.
  • Disconnect – As wonderful as technology is for allowing you to work from home, it can also overrun your personal life. If you’re constantly connected to the internet, you might feel like you’ve been working a 12 hour day, when in reality you’ve only worked productively for two or three hours in that day. It’s a good idea to turn off your mobile phone after hours, or at least put it on silent. Many smart phones allow you to create separate ‘profiles’ for work and home activities. By switching to your personal profile after hours, you’ll avoid the temptation to answer work emails and accept client calls. In addition, take time to get away from the computer and spend time with friends and family. Social networks such as Facebook can be fun, but don’t allow social media to replace real, in-person connection.

Notice that each of these ideas requires pro-active steps. Your work-life balance is created by design. Don’t expect everything to fall perfectly into place without a little bit of effort.

Step 4 – Exercise

It’s well known that exercise raises your overall energy level and improves your ability to concentrate. In fact, there are so many benefits to exercise that it should be a non-negotiable part of your day. You’ll be more productive at work and happier after hours. You’ll feel better, perform better and have more energy to contribute to the people around you.

If you struggle to exercise regularly, it’s probably because you’re doing exercise you don’t enjoy. It’s not necessary to sweat for hours or perform intense weight training. Here are some tips to help you exercise more often:

  • Choose Something You Enjoy – Walking the dog, swimming, stretching or a leisurely bike ride are enough to stretch your muscles and get some fresh air.
  • Mix it Up – Some people enjoy routine, preferring to do the same thing every day. Other people like variety and challenge. If that’s you, keep yourself motivated and inspired. Mix up your exercise routine with a variety of activities.
  • Listen to Your Body – Some days you’ll feel like running, other days you’ll want to stroll. It’s important to listen to your body. Run when you’ve got the energy and you’ll feel great afterwards. If all you can manage is a slow meander, don’t feel guilty. You’ll feel better for any form of exercise, no matter how gentle.
  • Use Your Commute – Consider fitting exercise into your daily commute. Leave your car at home and cycle to work. Taking public transport will increase the distance you walk every day. If you live too far to walk, run or cycle to work, park further away or get off the train or bus a stop or two earlier than usual.

In the pursuit of ideal work-life balance, there’s no need to endure gruelling physical challenges. Keep it simple. Focus on fun, relaxation, movement and fresh air.

Step 5 – Discover Excitement

“Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your “passion” or your “bliss”, I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement.” Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferris suggests people are only happy when they have something to be excited about. It’s easy to see how feeling excited about your job creates subsequent work-life satisfaction.

Discover excitement at work by first choosing a job you love. Next, write down the goals you’re passionate about. Work toward those goals and reward yourself when you achieve them. Keep goals that motivate you, excite you and give you a sense of progress and achievement. Ideally, you will look forward to work every day, enjoy the company of your colleagues and feel positive about your employer’s contribution to society.

Perfecting Work-Life Balance

In reality, perfect work-life balance does not result from splitting your time equally between your career and personal life. Instead, true work-life balance comes when you experience overall happiness at work that transitions smoothly into your personal life.

Employers realise this too. It’s common knowledge that overworked, unhappy staff produce bad results. Likewise, when employees are happy, there is a noticeable increase in productivity, results and staff morale. It’s in every employer’s interest to keep staff happy and healthy. You might be lucky enough to enjoy a corporate wellness program, staff gymnasium or other staff benefits.

Whether or not your employer offers these benefits, it’s important for you to take a proactive approach to work-life balance. Seek a meaningful career that integrates well with your core values. Follow the five steps outlined above and you’ll begin to experience fulfilling work-life balance in the ongoing pursuit of income and lifestyle.

Visit our Careers Advice section for related articles.

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