Here’s an interesting exercise to try.
- Do a Google search on ‘Why is work/life balance important? Then,
- Do a second search on ‘Is work/life balance a myth?’
In the first search (group A), you’ll find countless articles stating that spending equal time on your work responsibilities and your personal life is essential for your mental and physical health plus it boosts your productivity. Yet, the similarly convincing articles in the second search (group B) deny all the arguments in the first search. Or do they?
If you look a little closer, you’ll discover that most of the articles in the second search are really about debunking the myth that the time spent between work and home needs to be perfectly compartmentalised. Trying to have a diary like that is a recipe for disaster for most people and causes us a lot of undue stress.
Long weekends and short working weeks often make us reflect on these apparently conflicting needs. On the days off, you might have a great time, yet, at the back of your mind, there’s that nagging guilt about the work piling up on your desk. Then, when you are trying to cram 5 days-worth of work into 3 or 4, you might find it hard to focus while your mind is still in weekend mode. It’s that sense of guilt that you are not doing what you ‘should’ be doing that leads to all the stress.
While it seems no one in group A is advocating that you must be either all work or all play, the message coming across from the group B articles is that it is ok for the boundaries between work and everything else to keep shifting, depending on your needs at the time.
For example, you might have a big project on at work that needs you to put in extra hours for a few weeks (or more). And, that’s ok! Then, sometimes, you might really want to take time off to do some enjoyable things for yourself or with family and friends. And, that’s ok, too. The thing is, once you have prioritised the thing that you are going to give your attention to, allow yourself to accept it and to set some boundaries that tell all those other nagging thoughts that you’ll give them their due time, too. Whether that allocated time is ‘balanced’ or not doesn’t really matter as long as the situation works for you.
Setting boundaries in your diary
There are many time management resources out there that you can use to help you get the most out of each day. A decade or so ago, they were full of tips to help you multi-task effectively. These days, they are more about how you can minimise distractions and focus on what’s in front of you.
Say you’re working at home and you’ve got kids around. Depending on their age, you might be able to work while they are asleep or doing other activities, or you might arrange for someone else to look after them at certain times. Then, when you are free to be with them, be with them! Consider using an app to block your incoming notifications or (dare I say it), turn your phone off for a while. You don’t have to be accessible to everyone 24 hours a day.
Learn to say no or ask for help
Sometimes, like in short weeks, the tasks you need to do far outweigh the time you have available. You are not a superhuman that can work a million miles an hour non-stop. Something has to give. When that happens, have a good look at your task list and decide if there are things on it that aren’t really that important or urgent. If they don’t represent a valuable use of your time right now, decide if they need to be done at all – at least not by you. Here are a few things to consider:
- Can someone else do them equally as well or better?
- Can you set aside another time to do them?
- Can you break the task down into smaller chunks and do a bit at a time?
So, going back to the work/life balance ‘yes or no’ debate, do you need to have a fixed structure that you adhere to relentlessly? No. Do you need to have a blended mix of work and life activities that suits your current needs? Yes. You still need to have some sort of plan to help you make the best use of your time, but, rather than being fixed, it can be flexible. The key is to know what the best use of your time is and to manage your time in a way that works for you and all the important people around you.
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Many of the themes in this article came from Episode 52 How to manage a short work week presented by Paul Meissner and David Boyer. Paul & David are passionate CA's who care deeply about the accounting industry.
Paul quit his accounting day job seven years ago and now owns and runs the Melbourne-based firm, 5ways Group Chartered Accountants, and his online Freedom Accounting System firm which allows him to travel and work from anywhere.
For the last 4 years, David has worked as a Virtual CFO. At the start of 2016 he co-founded the Virtual CFO Association and in December 2016 his company, Sequel VCFO began franchising to mobilise the experienced work force of accountants in industry and bring their expertise to SMEs.
Together with their impressive list of guest presenters, Paul and David are the brave souls needed to fight through the noise and give accountants in practice the support and information they deserve.
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