Throughout my professional career, my varied list of responsibilities has included monitoring other people’s timetables. It became routine to make sure that individuals arrived and/or left when they were scheduled to, as well as monitoring their breaks, keeping my eyes focused on productivity, and I’m here to tell you that it can be stressful.
One of the reasons it was stressful for me is that I self-identify as a procrastinator, and while time management has never been a major struggle in the workplace, I can assure you that it is in my personal life. I understand what it’s like to try to organize my tasks in a specific window of time, trying to avoid losing focus, reassessing as I go. In fact, as I was readying to sit down and write this article, I first did three loads of laundry, baked a batch of brownies, and hand-washed dishes despite having a fully-functioning dishwasher. None of these things are especially helpful with regard to the process of writing, but they serve as a wonderful distraction to doing things which require real effort; especially the brownies. I am one of those people who believe that my surroundings have to be in perfect order before I can think clearly, and I am useless if I am surrounded by chaos. Of course, what defines chaos varies from situation to situation. Sometimes, it’s something as unobtrusive as a disheveled desk. Other times, it’s the gleaming beauty of a perfectly organized desk. It may not make sense, but it’s my truth, nonetheless.
However, despite my own wishy-washy approach to doing things at times, I fully appreciate the necessity in developing structure in my personal and professional life when it comes to getting things done. Most things in life require a commitment to self-discipline to work effectively, and without it things can lose shape. For many, there is a clear imbalance between their personal (life) needs and their professional (work/school) needs. Either they are so focused on a personal issue that they aren’t performing well in their job or at school, or the problem is converse, in that they are working too much and their personal life (and often, physical and emotional health) is suffering.
At work, most people understand that the focus must always be a professional one. There is a clear objective to each day, and in most cases, a group of people around us who we can rely upon for guidance and support. There is always someone who operates as a sort of collective conscience, who tells workers if they’re late with a deadline or if they’ve made an error that needs to be corrected immediately. The problem happens when they are left to make their own decisions about how to manage things, without a voice in their ear advising them of what to do. This is when the disconnect happens, where the focus on work lessens and intensifies on personal matters, or vice versa. The question is this: how do we find the balance?
The problems we encounter when trying to balance our work and personal lives are many, but let’s identify some of the more common ones and their possible solutions.
1. My personal life is interfering with my work life. First, it’s important to understand that most of us, especially as we get older, have “real life” problems. When we were younger, our major obstacles in going to school might have been balancing homework with a part-time job, dissatisfaction with our wardrobe, or parents who just didn’t understand. Now we find ourselves in the role of parent, with children whose needs we mostly put ahead of our own, or we have aging parents who also need our support. Others may be dealing with an unsupportive spouse or partner, or problems associated with health or finance. Some may have all of these problems at once which would feel massively overwhelming. The initial reaction might be to put professional or educational objectives aside because it may seem like the best way to handle things. But, is it?
Whenever you’re working toward a goal, whether big or small, there is a sense of purpose and accomplishment. In respect to education, attending required hours per day is more than feasible. You have a doctor’s appointment? Go to school afterward. Child is sick with an ear infection? Stay late on a different day or work on your course at home in order to stay on schedule. Your education is for you, and ultimately will positively impact your life and the lives of those around you. You made the choice to get your education and you need to follow through. If you are working, instead of viewing your job obligations as an obstacle, try to look at it as a helpful distraction from the problems you might be having at home. Focusing on something that feels productive can shed a new light on the problem at hand, give you a broader perspective and alleviate stress.
Whatever the situation, you need to stand back and observe the situation objectively: what is the best way to work with the problem? What would be the benefit in giving up on long-term goals? Chances are, there isn’t one.
Here are some tips to help get you on track:
a) Make deliberate choices about how you intend to spend your time. Create a schedule and stick to it. If something unavoidable comes up and disrupts your timeline, then adapt and make the necessary changes in order to regain your rhythm.
b) Communicate. This is absolutely key: you need to identify who is in your support system and talk to them whenever you feel overwhelmed. Be honest about what you feel is working and what isn’t. More often than not people want to help and will want to see you happy. You need to talk to them and tell them what you need. If you are working, you should inform your boss of any crisis immediately. You may be surprised at how sympathetic and supportive your employer will be, and often they are eager to help and may have resources available to assist you.
c) Avoid unnecessary distractions. Multi-tasking is sometimes necessary, but it’s largely a myth. If you think you can check-in with Facebook, text a friend and remain focused on the task at your hand, you are mistaken. You need to eliminate the needless from the necessary in order to get things done. In keeping with the first suggestion, you should also set aside some time to do the things you enjoy, but try to make these things activities which benefit you, like exercise, spending time outdoors, listening to music or reading. By giving yourself time solely focused on pleasurable activities, without trying to integrate them into your professional life, you will feel invigorated and more relaxed at the same time. By separating one from the other, each will receive the right amount of respect which will help you in the end.
d) Ensure that your daily goals are built into your professional goals. It’s perfectly acceptable to let the laundry go for a few days, or to leave the bed unmade if it means you can focus on things which are more important overall. If you want to do well at your job, you will occasionally need to shift your focus from domestic tasks to professional ones.
e) Be honest with yourself. This could be as simple as: Hi, my name is _________, and I am a procrastinator. It’s the first step in developing a different and more productive approach. Know who you are, what you want, and don’t blame others or an undesirable situation on your inability to achieve what you want to. If you want it, you have to work toward it and being aware of what your strengths and weaknesses are can be helpful in initiating positive change.
Now, let’s look at the flipside.
2. My work life is interfering with my personal life. We all know someone who we might call a “workaholic”. What is important to understand about a workaholic is that these individuals use work as a way to cope; it is an addiction which gives them a sense of control that they might not feel in their personal life. This addiction causes them to work long hours, often to the point of exhaustion, which causes them to feel irritated, depressed or anxious. This causes them to feel like no one else works as hard as they do, and they project that feeling as resentment, believing that no one else can do the job as well as they can. While their work ethic may impress their bosses, it also alienates them from their family, and can be detrimental to the health of their personal relationships. While this kind of worker may experience short-term success, the long-term effects can be harmful.
Click the link below to take a short quiz to see if you fit the criteria of a workaholic:
Here are some tips for those who have trouble prioritizing their personal lives:
a) Let go of perfectionism. It’s an illusion that we sometimes buy into, but it just isn’t possible to be 100% at all times. It is the unmistakable truth of being human. Allow yourself to accept this, and try to shrug off mistakes that have no real consequence.
b) Analyze your priorities and try to put them into perspective. If you imagine yourself in old age reflecting upon your accomplishments in life and what truly made you happy, do you really think work is the thing which will mean the most? More than likely it won’t be, so why are you letting it rule your life now? A good work ethic is admirable, but when it becomes the only thing you can identify with, it’s time to reevaluate.
c) Consider the roots of it. Did you have a parent who was more than a little attached to work? If so, did you love that about them, or did you wish you had more time to spend with them? If your answer is the latter, think about how your work is affecting those in your life.
d) Make sure your health comes first. We work in a culture which prizes a strong work ethic, but when there is a very strong imbalance between this ethic and a focus on relaxation, your health can be at risk. In Japanese culture, there is a phenomenon called karōshi which means “overwork death”. These deaths can manifest as heart attacks, stroke due to stress, and other sudden illnesses. How many times have people put off a doctor’s appointment because they didn’t want it to interfere with work, only to discover that whatever ailment they had should have been dealt with sooner? What if that appointment could have prevented a serious illness that resulted in extended time off work, or long-term health problems? And, let’s not forget that mental health is just as important as your physical health. Overwork can lead to emotional exhaustion which parades as depression and/or anxiety. Taking time to be present, to slow things down to find a sense of peace, will do wonders in helping you maintain a sense of stability.
Balance is everything in maintaining good health and a positive outlook in life. Procrastinating, shying away from responsibility and failing to meet the basic demands of your job and/or educational requirements can be just as detrimental to your success as overwork and the endless quest for perfectionism can be. In order to find your equilibrium, you need to break your priorities down and arrange them in a way which makes sense for you. It may take some juggling, but eventually you will find the rhythm which works best and keeps things even.
Click the link below to see how well you balance your work/student and personal life.
When it comes to balancing work, study and home, a slip is not a fall. You can always find your footing and start again. Take the time to build a workable schedule and stick to it, but also make sure that you include time to enjoy some brownies.