A busy accountant asked me today about work life balance. He wanted to know what I told people like him who loved work - he was sick of hearing the work less, balance more message. He loves his work and working less would not bring him happiness!
Balance is not always about giving up work. Often it is about becoming more efficient so you can achieve even more, while doing less. Work should be an enjoyable and passionate experience. Where this becomes a problem is when the responsibilities overwhelm your ability to manage them and yourself. It is not about cutting back, it is about doing things better.
Routines are a simple and powerful way of doing things better. Inefficiencies (and stressors) arise when we constantly have to choose from a growing list of priorities, without really knowing if you can handle all the tasks before you. Every day is thus an exercise of guesswork. Routines eliminate the guesswork and provide you with a clear framework to tackle your workload.
Take Action: Fine-tune your routines to work better for you. Here is a simple process to get a handle on your routines.
1. Examine your existing routines. Begin with your start to the day at the office. What do you do? Turn lights on, start computer, talk to staff, look at mail, make a cup of tea - what is it that you do to kick off your day. Also look at your end of day routine - close down computer, tidy desk, review and plan tasks for the next day, etc.
2. Write your existing routines down. Write out your routines and place them in a folder to refer to. Yes - this does sound pedantic but what it does is allow you to empty your brain of having to remember what to do every day when you go to and finish work. So simple and yet it is a huge stress reliever.
3. Examine each and fine-tune each of these routines. What can you do at the end of the day to make it easier for the following day? How about plan your next day's tasks, tidy the desk, arrange the files you will need, and empty bins. Typically we are more relaxed at the end of the day and we can manage the clean up jobs better then than at the beginning of the day when we just want to get stuck in to work.
4. Write down all the other jobs you have to do on a daily basis. This may include things like answer emails, make calls, meet with staff, read mail.
5. Allocate a regular time of day for each daily task so it maximises your flow of work. For example, maybe you check the mail directly after lunch when you are feeling a little sluggish and in need of a change of focus. Examine when you do your best work and allocate your most important work to that time of day. Less demanding tasks can be allocated to times when you are lower in energy.
6. Write your daily task plan down! Leave room for things that come up - they always do - like dealing with staff issues, meeting with your boss, or dealing with a client inquiry.
By having regular routines, you can ensure that the start and end of the day is exactly how you need it to be to ensure you are well organised and focussed.
You can also use this strategy for your home responsibilities - write all your weekly and daily tasks down and allocate them a regular spot. Write up your daily/weekly routines. Trust me, this takes the pressure of having to remember what to do - it is all written down, you just check the list at the beginning and end of each day.
It doesn't have to be perfect -things change all the time. Having a plan actually allows you to be more flexible.
Cancer survivor Zoe Routh is the Head Coach at Inner Compass, a personal development organisation that helps busy professionals work less and achieve more. Inner Compass offers practical strategies and solutions to improve personal effectiveness and live an inspired life. http://www.innercompass.com.au