A Kenyan daily recently published a list of top 40 women under the age of 40 working in business, technology, science and social ventures. 74% of these women cited work-life balance as the major challenge that they experienced, followed closely by working in a male dominated field. Randi Zuckerberg, an entrepreneur, summarizes work life balance as a dilemma containing five things: building a great career; spending time with family; maintaining friendships; staying fit and getting sleep. Of the five, she states, pick three. This is a harsh statement of reality. Quick self-assessment will reveal the truth of these statements.
For women, work-life balance usually means balancing career progression and the family. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, the fact remains that one usually takes precedence over the other. While there are exceptions to the rule, this is the norm. Research on the issue blame the difficulty in work-life balance on longer working hours and increased responsibilities at the workplace. Added to the constant availability of the digital age, there seems to be a constant need to work, making it harder to shut off when at home.
Look at Randi Zuckerberg’s list realistically. Which three things have you picked? Are you effective in these three things? Do you feel guilty about the other two that are left out? All is not lost. Work-life balance should be based on your priorities and the meaning that you will eventually derive from your life. Based on this, the balance should be tailored to suit you and will change in different phases of your life.
Here are six suggestions that could make your life less of a juggle and more of a balance.
1. Goal Definition:
What goals do you want to achieve in your career, your family, or for personal growth? Are you undertaking activities that will help you to achieve these goals or not? Most of the time, we are engaged in activities that will not draw us closer to our end goals. While it is important to keep in touch with friends, one may fall behind on tasks if you chat with friends in the office. Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog proffers advice on this issue. Outline all the tasks and subtasks that will get you to your desired goals and work at each task every day. Doing so gives a clear direction and road map, at which you work with a destination in mind. This does not, however, mean intense rigidity. Adapting to the ever-changing dynamic workplace is important as well, but do not lose sight of your core goals. Brian Tracy recommends reviewing the tasks achieved at the end of every day, and planning for the tasks of the next day.
In the words of Confucius, Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is surety of failure. Preparation is key to making sure that you utilize the allotted time. This is applicable to all areas of our lives. What is your night time routine? Do you just collapse on the bed after a hard day and then fly around the house in the morning to get both yourself and the family ready on time? Preparing for the next day ensures that you progress through the day without significant stress. Packing meals and preparing outfits on the previous night makes the morning easier. Weekend preparation for the week ahead ensures that you are ahead of the curve with routine tasks such as cooking.
3. The quality of an hour
While reducing the number of hours that you sleep to squeeze in one more hour of work may seem effective, it will be useless if your mind is sluggish due to exhaustion, hence the hour will be considered low quality. Rest and Relaxation is important in order to focus and engage the mind to the task at hand, accomplishing much more work in a shorter period. Of course, there are certain aspects of a busy office such as phone calls, meetings and engagement with colleagues which will interrupt work tasks. While this engagement is, at times, critical, it is important to ensure that all your time is not sapped by them. Important questions to ask are: Do I really need to be involved in this? Could this be done at a later time? Am I ready for this meeting at this moment? Do I need to respond to email right now or should it wait to later? Can a certain task be broken to chunks and delegated?
4. Personal rhythm
The quality of work can be affected by our body’s circadian rhythm which determines when we are most or least alert, hence affecting work. The chirpy morning person (the lark) rises early and works best at the early hours of the day. Au contraire, the night owl works best at later hours of the day. While it is possible to adapt to work hours (even if they are different from our normal rhythm), research shows that obeying the circadian clock leads to higher efficiency at work. There are certain times of the day that are suitable for problem solving tasks, depending whether or not you are a morning person. For example, morning person can solve through problems in the evening when the mind is tired, hence able to broaden the focus and make necessary connections. On the other hand, night owls solve such problems in the morning, where the mind is not focused on a specific task and hence creativity is enhanced. Are you a morning person or an evening person? What times of the day are you most effective? Use your rhythm to improve the quality of your day.
5. You as a person
Personal growth is key; the person should not be lost in the foray of events that is life. It is important to have private time for self-development and/or self-pampering. Set aside time for an activity that you enjoy and look forward to. Some people swear by morning routines where personal reflection is done before kicking off the day. Arianna Huffington spends a few minutes in the morning for meditation before the beginning of the work day. For others, the personal activity is the last thing that they do at night. The activity may be reading, praying, exercise, learning a skill, whatever the case, finding time for a personal activity will give you something to look forward to, and/or take away from overwhelming activities of the day. Find out what works for you and make it a priority.
What if you have young children with the accompanying erratic sleeping schedules? As the adage goes ‘It takes a village.’ Whether the village is your partner, nanny, close relatives, it is important to recognize that doing it all alone may be overwhelming. This support system is crucial to establishing balance. This does not, however, mean neglect of the family to others. Spending time with family should also be prioritized, just like work activities. Caroline Mutoko of Radio Africa Kenya makes sure to spend time after work with her daughter without compromise. This means distractions from work are kept at bay and she is fully involved with her daughter up to bedtime. This family time is important to create connections, with the added bonus of being a time to relax from the pressures of the day.
Work-life balance is a science in personal development and evolving growth. Focusing on whatever task is being performed at the moment is important. Analyze what works, refine what doesn’t and repeat. The ultimate goal is to achieve your goal and enjoy all facets of your life.
About the Author:
Rehema Ndeda is an assistant lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya.