Is there such a thing? There might be.
I met with a good friend years ago who told me to end my work days at 5 pm and make sure to have a life after that. He had a good point and talked about doing things for myself after work and on the weekends. Early in my career, I worked on following his advice; however, over time, it became harder to end work at exactly 5 pm. Being in higher ed. and working directly with students, every crisis that they had ended up being my crisis. If a student was in need at 7 pm on Wednesdays or 1 pm on Saturday, my email and phone went off. I have constantly been in positions or apart of a team that dealt with student crises. As a result, the good advice given to me by my friend faded slowly and my work life and personal life merged.
I’m a strong advocate of time management, calendar planning, and hour counting. I mean, it’s important to know how many hours in your week are actually left to sleep, breathe, and relax. However, I was finding that I was going years (yes YEARS) without a vacation (aka time off). Even my weekends became work weekends. It wasn’t until I had children that this way of work affected my health. Before children, my husband and I would take weekend vacations. We had no problem working long hours and bringing that work home. Working with your spouse in the living room with pizza and a movie in the background was no different for me than all night study sessions in college. A weekend away at the beach was a nice refresher and back to work we went, but kids changed things … a lot. In order to be present for them, I needed to be healthier: better sleep, time to engage with them and their activities, and saying no to work after a certain time. That’s when I paid attention to a colleague of mine who put my good friend’s words into action.
This woman was just as busy, if not more, than me and she became my example of work life balance. She was an effective leader, a productive employee, and literally made the most out of the time she had at work (and sometimes on the weekends). She purposefully left work at 5pm twice per week to workout. She had elderly parents to care for and never put off doctor’s appointments. During her work day, every hour was filled with something. This person also took a vacation every few months. You read that right. Every few months, my former colleague would wave goodbye to us and leave the state (sometimes country) for a week or two. When she returned, she was raring to go and she looked so happy. Watching her, I began to understand what work/life balance actually meant. It truly meant being your best at work and in the rest of your personal life, and I started taking notes from her. This is what I learned.
- Plan out your day and week. You have eight hours for work per day, so make sure that you’re getting as much as you can done (don’t stress about this). Work will always be there.
- If you have to work past your daily eight hours or on the weekends, give yourself a cut off time. Believe or not, you do not have to be a part of every phone call or email. Your colleagues will catch you up.
- Plan vacations. These do not need to be expensive (staycation anyone?), but they are necessary to maintain your health and keep you going.
- When you are taking time off, do not work! This is a hard one, but do it anyway.
- Make time for family and friends. At the end of your life, your family and friends will be the ones comforting you, not your job. This one hit home for me.
Now, do I implement these suggestions into my life regularly? No, I’m still working on it, but they serve as reminders when I get off track. If you need to review and readjust your work/life balance, I suggest taking these pieces of advice and working them into your life. In the midst of COVID restrictions and children going to school online (if this is the case), finding some sort of balance is even more important to your health, sanity, and simple enjoyment of life.
Keep leading and stay safe,