6 Tips for Balancing Work & Life
By Kathy Harvatt, co-author of Wired for Success: Real-World Solutions for Transforming Higher Education, and assistant vice president of strategic outreach at Drexel University Online
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve always been what my mother called a “workhorse,” whether by choice or out of necessity.
In college I juggled a full course load with a demanding (but resume-building) job, working in the district office of our local Congressman. As a “stay at home” mom, I kept my professional skills up to par by freelancing when the kids were off at school or tucked in bed – a practice I continued as a “single” mom to supplement the less than adequate income from my full-time job.
Now that my children are grown and gone, I’m still using my know-how in a job I love at Drexel. Yet through it all, I’ve learned that as much as I like to work, I also cherish the time I spend with my family and friends. So over the years, I’ve figured out how to integrate my professional and personal lives to get the most out of both. And here are a few of my best tips for doing that yourself.
Decide what’s most important and take it from there. Take control of your time, by prioritizing everything on your plate, starting with what writer and educator Stephen Covey calls the “big rocks of life.” (For me, it’s family and work; for most of you, it’s probably family, work, and school.) Then plan your schedule accordingly and share it with the key “stakeholders” in your world—from your boss, to your spouse, to your best buddy.
Look for opportunities to “combine and conquer.” For example, you might take a vigorous walk with your kids, or listen to a class lecture as you travel to work. On the other hand, steer clear of activities that sap your time and energy – like volunteering to provide the snacks for weekly Little League practice (been there, done that, thought I’d lose my mind).
Know when to step away from work. Most jobs require at least some flexibility for dealing with unforeseen emergencies or last-minute requests. But there’s a difference between occasional overtime and being married to your work—which is why knowing when to step away from it is actually critical to your professional success.
In fact, keeping a regular work schedule inoculates you against job burnout—a chronic condition that wreaks havoc on your health and, in turn, your productivity. That isn’t to say you can’t check your office email before turning in for the night (a habit I’ll never been able to kick)—but just check. You can always respond once you’re back at your desk.
Optimize your work day. Of course, leaving on time means making the most of the hours you are at work. So my best advice is to begin each day by creating an action plan for tackling the things you must accomplish, along with a list of the tasks you can start if you finish the “must-dos.” Be sure to build in a lunch break away from your desk and a half-hour to tie up loose ends before heading home.
Avoid time-wasting distractions, such as breakroom gossip and meetings you don’t really need to attend. And if you can telecommute, do it. I’ve found that working remotely is a great way to power through large volumes of work without constant interruption.
Discover the wonders of “outsourcing.” For me, running a household is a lot like running a small corporation—which is why I have embraced outsourcing as a good business investment for freeing up the hours spent on those irksome, but necessary, tasks of daily living.
With thousands of virtual vendors at your fingertips, you can buy just about anything you need (including groceries) online. You can also hire someone to mow your lawn, clean your house, and run a few errands—or if you have a house full of able-bodied helpers, create a list of chores and divvy them up.
Make time for yourself. There’s nothing like a little quality “me-time” for maintaining your sanity. Block out at least an hour each day to spend however you choose, and add a few recurring, but fun, social activities to your schedule, such as a monthly book club or a weekly “date night.” Likewise, use your paid vacation time, even if it’s only for a long and rejuvenating weekend here and there with your family.
Build a mutual support system. As successful as I’ve been for the most part, I’ve also experienced a few major life crises that upended my world. Still, I’ve survived them all and regained my balance by relying on a solid support system of friends, family, and co-workers, who stepped in and stepped up. And I have never failed to return the kindness.
So my final (and perhaps most important) piece of advice is to cultivate your own mutual support team. Believe me, it’s an invaluable asset, through both good times and bad.