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  • Tanya Goddard

Want more work-life balance?  Then it’s time to cultivate new habits.

I can't deny, I'm pretty blessed with what you might call a good work-life balance. But there are plenty of people out there for whom work dominates the majority of their time.

There are some pretty compelling statistics that reveal that unhealthy working patterns are having a detrimental effect on not only people’s health, but also on their mental well-being.

Potential health issues

Scientists at University College London conducted a study published in the Lancet medical journal last August that found that if you work more than 55 hours a week, you have a 33% increased risk of stroke, compared with those who work a 35-40 hour week. They also suggested that there was a 13% increase of coronary heart disease.

Not surprisingly, physical inactivity, increased alcohol consumption and other factors such as ignoring warning signs, which could lead to delay in treatment, are all likely to link to longer working hours, and therefore an increased risk of health problems.

And what about our mental health?

According to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, a dramatic rise in Britain’s working hours is having an impact. Some of their recent key survey findings of an unhealthy work-life balance suggested that:

  • more than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems;

  • when working long hours, more than a quarter of employees feel depressed (27%), one third feels anxious (35%) and more than half feel irritable (58%);

  • many more women report unhappiness than men (42% compared with 29% of men), which is probably a consequence of competing life roles and more pressure to ‘juggle’

  • nearly two thirds of employees have experienced a negative effect on their personal life, including lack of personal development, physical and mental health problems, and poor relationships and poor home life.

Not surprisingly, most of us intuitively understand that long, often stressful working hours aren’t good for us. And as ever-advancing technology has facilitated our availability even outside the workplace, our time free from the associated stress is becoming more elusive.

How do we create more work-life balance?

Despite these realities, some people do manage to cultivate significant and rewarding lives outside work, creating more balance so they can better enjoy their ‘free time’ and be more productive in the workplace.

Here are some tips you can practice to achieve more balance.

* Decide the kind of life you want

You can either let life ‘happen to you’ or you can start making more deliberate, focused choices about the kind of life you want and how you want to spend your time. Talk to the people in your life – partners, spouses, those people who you value, and listen to what’s important to them and to you. How do you really want to spend your time? What are you passionate about? What potential road map could you come up with to set you in the right direction?

* Know who you are

Developing a good understanding of your needs and values can help guide you and shape the direction you want to go. As you get a strong sense of what’s important to you, you can determine your own measures for success. Really get to know what brings you feelings of happiness and well-

being, and focus on bringing more of that into your life. Know what works for you.

* Decide what’s important right now

Not everything is equally important, so focus on the things that deliver you the greatest return. What can you do now? What are you able to delegate? What can you dump? And what are the jobs you can defer, and do at a later date? Some work commitments may be urgent, but spending time with the loved ones you’ve been neglecting is probably more important and urgent. And that family and friend time doesn’t have to be manifested in huge gestures of generosity – like a big holiday, or an expensive toy – it’s often the small stuff that matters like quality time, just hanging out together, giving your full attention on the people you’re with.

* Keep your commitments and stay open in your communication

Stay focused and committed to your work-life balance plan and pay attention to when things start de-railing. Keep talking to the important people in your life; invite feedback – what’s working, what isn’t? Tweak the plan if it’s not working to avoid drifting – stay in action.

* It’s not about finding the time, it’s about making the time

Outside your work, what interests and hobbies do you enjoy? How much time do you want to spend with your family and friends? “I just need to find the time…” doesn’t cut it; you need to commit to making the time for the external pursuits that are important to you, that nourish you. Ring-fence time in your schedule, and remain committed to that time. It can help to find a rhythm with these interests – a certain time of day, or an evening in the week, and soon you’re cultivating new, more supportive habits.

“Take care of yourself: When you don’t sleep, eat crap, don’t exercise, and are living off adrenaline for too long, your performance suffers. Your decisions suffer. Your company suffers. Love those close to you: Failure of your company is not failure in life. Failure in your relationship is.”

— Ev Williams, co-founder of Medium and Twitter

* Be aware of distractions

When was the last time you switched your phone off? When did you last have a whole day or more without delving into your social media world? You may think you’re multi-tasking as you check email, and keep the 5 other tabs or screens open, but achieving what you want requires focus. By compartmentalizing your time, you can better enjoy and savour the special times you’ve carved out for yourself. Practices such as yoga, meditation, taking long walks, reading for pleasure, listening to music with intention and so on, are all great ways to switch off and allow you some downtime.

* Nurture your friendships, family and network

Stay curious and interested in those around you. Give them quality time, not the distracted un-attentive you. By developing strong friendships and solid relationships, you have wonderful resources to turn to when you need a bit of help.

Work-life balance isn’t out of your reach. You have to determine the quality of the life you want to lead, and then commit to the change. So what are you going to do this week to make a change that improves the quality of your life?

“It’s up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the types of lives that we want to lead. If you don’t design your life, then someone else may just design it for you, and you may not like their idea of balance.”

— Nigel Marsh, author of Fat, Forty, and Fired

Further information:

For a great talk on finding balance in your life, check out this TED talk by Nigel Marsh.


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