Work-life balance – it’s a phrase that’s easy to say, but for many of us it’s significantly harder to put this elusive idea into practice. For a start you have to define what that exactly means, and I think it means different things to different people – and at different times of their lives.
In my life there was a time when I worked significantly longer hours than I do now, and the majority of my time was weighted toward work. I was younger, starting out and I felt I needed to do it at the time – and indeed when you are setting up businesses I do think you need to put inordinate amounts of time and energy in to get things off the ground.
But as life moves on, you raise a family, you get older (and hopefully wiser!) and things mellow a bit you realise that living such a narrowly focused life means missing out on all the richness of being alive in its entirety. And if you’re really wise you start to make time to enjoy and value the experiences that you can only get from other parts of your life – before you get to the point of burnout.
Ironically, when you get your work-life balance to a level that feels right for you – the chances are (I’ve found) that you will be more effective in your work too. Without having the time to say yes to everything, perhaps you’ll focus better on the things you actually want to do – that fire you up – rather than going for opportunities that are less than your ideal. In truth you’ll do less – but you’ll achieve more in a very real sense.
These days I don’t invest in any companies that really don’t get me excited, and I don’t do any work that I really don’t want to. Which is something that I actually believe everyone should ideally put into practice at any age and stage of their career.
Saying no to all the things that don’t set my mind on fire gives me an interesting and invigorating business life – and importantly also gives me the balance of time that I can spend with my wife Lorna and our children, on my boat, doing charity challenges or all the other things in life that I love to do.
I think you know when you’ve got your work-life balance right because you feel at one with the universe, generally – you don’t feel like you are pushing yourself unduly to achieve one definition of success. Instead, the success feels like the sum of the parts.
It’s quite an intangible thing, and we can never just sit back and pat ourselves on the back for achieving it – work-life balance is an ongoing challenge. It needs regular monitoring to make sure we are meeting all our needs, or trying to, at any given time and life stage.
Practically speaking though there are things you can do at every stage to nudge things in the right direction…here are some of my top tips for bringing balance in 2016….
- Prioritise. Consider all the things that compete for your time, and decide what to keep and what to discard. Focus on the things that are important to you, and don’t do the extraneous stuff. It’s a discipline that you’ll have to practice – it doesn’t come naturally to most of us.
- Use technology wisely. Devices are meant to make your life easier, not to rule it. Decide on certain times; whether that’s a time (for example I do my business before 4pm every day), a day or two (or five!) of the week, dinnertime or a holiday, to be totally tech-free. And, really concentrate on what you are doing, be mindful, rather than trying to divide your time between the experience you’re having and checking work emails on your smartphone.
- Take care of yourself. This is vital. Pushing yourself so hard that you forget to keep yourself heathy is short-termism of the worst kind. Find an exercise you like to do – and do it often. I love to play tennis, and ski – and I make time to do both with Lorna, which is even more enjoyable. Also, prioritise eating good food and avoid eating on the run. This understanding of the importance of stopping to enjoy a meal fully is one of the things I love about French culture. There it is an accepted part of everyday life – and I think we could learn a lot from that over here.
- Schedule in fun. If you are really finding balance tricky – then schedule it in. Put it in the diary. If you want to stop work at a certain time to go for a swim or meet friends, for example, then put in the diary and make it happen! If it’s in there, it’s part of your schedule.
How do you find balance in your life? Tweet me or find me on Facebook and share your tips for the new year.