Tipping the balance: How to stop work taking over your life

There’s always more work to do, but there’s also more life to be enjoyed outside of work.

Tipping the balance: How to stop work taking over your life
There’s always more work to do, but there’s also more life to be enjoyed outside of work.

One of the key barriers to achieving a healthy worklife balance is the feeling of guilt when you stop working, something that is especially difficult for perfectionist or A-type personalities, says business coach Jon Dale.

“Work grows to fill the space you give it, so it’s never all done. If you’re a bit of a perfectionist and you like that completion, you might think you’ll stop when it’s all finished – but that never happens."

“There’s that sense of obligation you feel to yourself, to the business and to your staff because it’s always incomplete and there is always work to do.”

Overcoming this and achieving a healthy balance comes starts with “playing little tricks on yourself” says Dale. He offers five tips to make it work:

1. Make a contract

“If at 6pm you’ve got a stack of stuff in front of you that you’re supposed to do or you feel like you should do, you’re not going to go home,” says Dale. “You’re not going to say ‘I feel like I’ve done enough for today, I think I’ll go’, so you have to make those decisions at a different time.”

Decide, for your own personal circumstances, what are reasonable hours for you to be working, and set aside days or times when you will not work, says Dale.

Whether you physically write a contract regarding your commitment to these hours and sign it, or you make a verbal contract with a partner, friend or business coach isn’t important, says Dale. The point is that you’ve made a commitment to yourself and others which will mean you’re more likely to stick with that when the pressure builds up – and are less likely to feel guilty about it.

"If you decide when the pressure is not on then when it comes to 5.30 and you say 'That’s right, I go home at 5.30 don’t I?'... you still may not always leave on the dot or anything but certainly by 6pm you're feeling pretty bad that you hadn’t gone home and you're certainly not going to be there at 7."

2. Log your time

As your business grows, it’s important to take stock of what activities are taking up the majority of your time, and how essential these are in helping you achieve your business goals.

“If you really feel like you can’t possibly get through all the work then saying you’re going to work fewer hours isn’t going to help. Especially if you’re faced with perfectionist tendencies you need to understand the importance of the things you do; look at some of the things you’re doing and don’t do them, or do them differently or delegate them to someone else.”

Dale suggests using tools such as detailed time log worksheets to help put things in perspective. It’s also important to review this on a regular basis as your business, your role and your staff all grow and change.

“When you first start out you’ve got nothing to do and you’ve got loads of time, then when you finally get busy you’re so bloody grateful to be busy you don’t mind doing loads of work for a while – and then it becomes a habit. So it’s about breaking the habit - first realising what those bad habits are and then stepping back and dealing with them.”

3.    Reward yourself

If you’re a proactive person, simply saying ‘I will not work’ isn’t always effective.

Rewarding yourself with a positive experience, something you enjoy doing, when you manage to stick to your commitment can help to motivate you.

“I had one client who agreed he would stop work on Fridays at midday and go and do something nice with his wife and then go and pick up the children from school... Rather than just reducing his hours he made a specific arrangement and a promise to his wife and kids and made it quite a lovely experience.

“If you’re feeling this obligation and guilt to always be doing stuff replacing some of your work with something else that you also think is important and valid – whether that be exercise or family or whatever – will help reduce that feeling of guilt.”

Schedule this into your diary if need be, says Dale, and stick with it until it becomes part of your routine.

The hardest part is making the first commitment to changing, says Dale, and overcoming the fear that taking time for yourself will impact negatively on your business.

“If people force themselves to do something and make a small change they see all the benefits and they discover the business doesn’t actually get any worse; you get more efficient, you work a bit more effectively and do the important, urgent things because you’re short of time and you don’t fill your day with the things that aren’t really helping anyway.”

Do you struggle with work/life balance? What are some strategies that you've found work well? Share your thoughts below.