Work-Life Balance - Tips for Staying Focused and Productive


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Twenty four hours. That’s all we get. No amount of wishing, complaining, or creative time management will ever change that. Each day contains only so many hours, each week just so many days. Yet the amount of work we must try to squeeze into those hours can be mind-boggling. Not to mention the family responsibilities, household maintenance, social commitments, and life in general.

We sometimes comfort ourselves with the notion that it will get easier as we become more established. Once we’ve landed that corner office or taken our business to the next level. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. Yes, the work demands change. But it is rarely the case that they become less intense or time consuming.

We must be aware that there are significant risks posed by our over-scheduled, chronically demanding, not-enough-hours-in-the-day lives. When life is imbalanced, relationships suffer, work performance deteriorates, and parenting skills go down the tubes. Potential emotional effects include feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, irritability, and hopelessness.

What can be done to protect ourselves from burnout in the midst of what sometimes feels like life run amok? The following tried-and-true techniques can help:

  • Prioritize. Not everything is urgent or even necessary. Focus on what’s most important and set other things on the back burner. Some things can be taken off your plate altogether.

  • Ask for help. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do it all on your own. Hire help where appropriate. Call upon a friend, family member, or colleague. People are often glad to lend a helping hand. (Wouldn’t you do the same for them?)

  • Take a break. In 30 minutes or less, you can de-stress, refocus, and re-energize yourself. Why not read a book, take a walk, or ride your bike? You can play with your pet, listen to music, or flip through a magazine. You can work in your garden or simply take a catnap. When time’s up, get back to work. Your improved effectiveness and productivity will more than make up for the 30 minutes of “down time. ”

  • Say no! You don’t have to agree to every request that comes your way. Both at work and at home, it’s perfectly appropriate, healthy (and necessary) to set limits on which tasks and activities you will add to your already full schedule.

  • Stop trying to be perfect. There’s very little in life that has to be done to the point of perfection. Few people notice the difference between a job well done and a job perfectly done. Do it well and then move on.

    The reality is that it will never be easy to balance the demands of work, family, and life itself. Make the most of your time by following the above techniques, and remember to appreciate the good stuff. Find gratification in your work, enjoy your family and friends, take pride in your accomplishments. With the proper balance and perspective, life can be more than simply manageable. It can and should be rewarding, engaging, and at times simply magnificent.

    Liz Bywater, PhD, is president of Bywater Consulting Group, an organizational consulting firm based in the Philadelphia area. Dr. Bywater helps her clients dramatically improve individual and organizational performance, resulting in enhanced job satisfaction, maximized productivity, and heightened profitability for the organization.

    Dr. Bywater is a specialist in human behavior and behavioral change. She brings her sophisticated understanding of people, relationships, and communication to the corporate environment to help her clients effect meaningful and lasting improvements in job effectiveness. Dr. Bywater writes and speaks on a variety of workplace topics, including the power of collaboration, effective workplace communication, and outstanding leadership. She has been published and has been quoted in the NY Times, Executive Decisions, on Yahoo! Hot Jobs, and more.

    Dr. Bywater earned her PhD at the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies and her AB at Cornell University. She is one of only 100 worldwide graduates of Alan Weiss's Million Dollar Consulting College.

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