Updated: Mar 15, 2020
Disclaimer: Read this piece with a pinch of salt and with the understanding that I am not an integrator type. I try by all means to make sure that there is a clear separation between my professional life and my personal life. As a result, I’ve never been a fan of the buzz-phrase “work-life balance” and here’s why:
1) It implies that “work” and “life” are two completely separate entities when, in fact, work is actually a part of my life, amongst other things. There is more to life than work and this phrase gives it more importance than I think it deserves.
2) There are 7 days in a week, and I spend 5 of those days at work. Not to mention the hours I spend getting ready for working, commuting to-and-from work and anxiously thinking about work every Sunday afternoon. There’s hardly a “balance” in those numbers and it’ll only drive us mad if we try to achieve one.
Essentially, “work-life balance” is a fancy way of telling people how to better manage the 24-hours in the day God has given them. Over the past two years as a graduate trainee, I’ve grown to appreciate the following as key ways to make sure that work doesn’t take over my life and, ultimately, drive me insane:
Stay as productive as humanly possible
Yes, this is easier said than done in some careers than others. However, something that I’ve found extremely useful over the first 2 years of my professional life is making to-do lists in my calendar at the end of each day for the next day. Not only will this help you stay efficient during the day, but the calendar reminders will also make sure you stay on course as much as possible to hit those targets. Unexpected tasks may (and probably will) land on your “to-do” pile throughout the day, but having that list of priorities will really help guide your focus. The more work you finish during the day, the more time you have to yourself after hours.
Learning to say “No” is up there as being one of the most transformational changes I’ve made in my life to date. As a recovering people-pleaser, I realised that the problem with saying “Yes” all the time is that I did it to protect ‘the’ peace and not ‘my’ peace. Paulo Coelho summarises this dilemma perfectly: “When you say “Yes” to others, make sure you’re not saying “No” to yourself”. The truth is, more often than not that’s exactly what we do. When you accept more work, you indirectly say “No” to the free time you would’ve had in the evening to finish that blog post you’ve been sitting on for 2 weeks or go to that salsa class you’ve been dying to attend. I’m not saying avoid work, I’m saying be selective with what you commit to. On the other side of that coin, setting boundaries also means limiting the access people have to your time, both personally and professionally. You don’t have to entertain every conversation you find yourself in and it’s okay to excuse yourself from situations that are taking more from you than they’re adding.
Don’t take work home
Just kidding. As flexible and agile working arrangements increasingly becoming the norm, this is now almost impossible. But, similar to the emotional and mental boundaries mentioned earlier, setting physical boundaries and “work-free zones” can be an extremely good way to switch off your work-mode and unwind. My work-free zone is my bedroom as that’s the first place I go to for some much-needed rest and relaxation. So, the last thing I want to do is bring the stresses and strains from work into my safe space. Find a place that brings you peace and mark it as your own escape from work.
Take a break
One of my senior managers has a “Golden Rule” that he stands by and I absolutely admire it. To stay productive and minimise the risk of serious health conditions associated with desk jobs, he goes for a walk every hour to get away from his screen and stretch his legs. I didn’t fully appreciate this when he first shared it, but further research into it led to the discovery of empirical evidence which suggests that working purposefully for 52 minutes and then taking a 17 minute break can massively improve productivity and help you get more out of your day. As if we needed a reason to go on more tea breaks!
Your body is a temple…
…so take good care of it. Above everything else, your priority should always be to put your physical and mental health first. In a world that glamourises the 5-hours-sleep hustle culture and promotes unhealthy, unsustainable diet plans, it’s so easy to get lost in the sea of what everyone else is doing and ignore what your body is telling you. Consider using some of your lunch to go for a jog in the area to boost those happy hormones, or maybe look for a meditation class to help you better manage stressful situations during busy seasons. Anything you can do to make sure you’re the best version of yourself will always link back to the buzzword of the hour – productivity.
At the end of the day, striking that optimum between the amount of time dedicated to work-related activities and to your personal life is going to look and feel very different for different people across the career spectrum. Some people have the luxury of being able to separate professional and personal life with a clearly defined line, other’s will find this more challenging for various reasons. If it is something you believe you can improve on, just bear in mind that it’s a change that won’t happen overnight. Ultimately, the consistent theme in the tips above is to always put your wellbeing first. There’s a reason why all airline safety guidelines instruct you to put your mask on first before helping anyone else - it’s because you can’t pour from an empty vessel. So, how do you expect to power through work when you haven’t charged your batteries?
About the Author
Where do I even begin? Right – my name! I’m Wadzi Pasipamire, a wander-lusting
Technology Analyst based in the UK just trying to figure this life thing out. When I’m not taking on corporate London, you’ll find me with a camera in one hand or tucked away behind my screen creating content for my platform, Wadzi’s World.
On this platform, I share
the ups and downs that have moulded my life experiences and opinions in the hope that it’ll
help at least one person do something life-changing.