Work-life balance - a thing of the past?
The average working week in the UK currently stands at 37 hours, the rise of the cloud and ever-more sophisticated handheld devices means it is now possible for us to work from anywhere at any time. As a result the effort we actually spend on our professional lives is no longer limited to hours spent in the office.
Excessive working is alleged to be a major cause of stress, depression and illness but it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of being constantly switched on. So follow these tips to help you achieve the elusive work-life balance.
Organisation is key
Our working patterns are now more flexible than ever and effectively managing our days is not as easy as it once was. By organising your time efficiently you can help prevent your workload from spilling into your free time.
Keep a diary on hand to see your schedule at a glance and check your workload early each day so you have an idea of what you have to achieve - this should allow you to realistically timetable tasks and a to-do list can help you add structure. Ticking off completed tasks will bring with it a sense of achievement and a wall chart is indispensable for planning much-deserved holidays.
Learn to switch off
Today it is physically possible to work around the clock. The rise of mobile internet and the ‘anywhere-working’ culture means it's sometimes hard to switch off. This, coupled with the globalisation of the business world, means that working traditional nine to five days is not always practical.
For this reason, it is often hard to find time where work is not at the forefront of your mind. Make sure you spend some time each day away from your phone and email. Turn the Wi-Fi off on your smartphone, close your laptop, and don’t feel guilty about it.
Set yourself a cut-off point
A recent report by the online data back-up service Mozy suggests that Brits now typically start work at 7:17am and finish at 7:02pm - but in reality we are rarely offline. It’s wise to set yourself a cut-off point to make a clear distinction between time dedicated to personal and professional pursuits - particularly if you work flexibly or remotely.
It may be tempting to finish a report or put together a presentation but by failing to set a clear benchmark you could easily end up working until late in the evening or beyond. If you do this repeatedly it will not be long until you are feeling frazzled. Make a rule to stop working after a certain time and stick to it.
Learn to relax
Whether it be yoga, baking, painting or even playing computer games, spend some time doing something which requires singular focus and allows you to zone out. Studies have shown that regular relaxation reduces stress, helps eliminate insomnia and decreases the chances of developing certain health conditions so you owe it to yourself to set aside time to relax.
According to the ONS, the average worker spends 5 weeks a year commuting - use this time to listen to music or an audio book if you drive to work, or read if you travel by train to decompress after your day.
Make the most of your free time
It can sometimes feel like Groundhog Day when the working week becomes a continuous cycle of work and home. But by making an effort to break this rhythm your days can become much more fulfilling. Get out and about in your lunch hour – even if it’s just a brisk walk around the local park. The fresh air is good for your body, the change of scenery is good for the mind and light exercise releases endorphins which will help your performance in the afternoon.
It may be tempting to curl up in front of the TV in the evenings while checking Facebook on your phone, but lack of human contact can be depressing. Arrange to meet with friends - if only for an hour after work, or join a class or group. Mixing with a wide group of people is a great way to switch off. Likewise, it’s essential that you make the most of your annual leave. Well rested staff result in greater efficiency in the workplace and the experiences that you acquire while out and about can add value to your career. Stepping away from work for longer than a day or two allows you to put things in perspective. You will return fresh, full of ideas and raring to go.
There is no doubt that managing personal and professional responsibilities is a balancing act but remember you work to live – not live to work. Professional success is not possible without hard work and dedication, but investing time in your personal life will arm you with the drive required to climb the career ladder.