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Numerous times we hear life, business and / or executive coaches speak about maintaining Work-Life Balance. I often ask myself, "What is this balance? Can a balance be struck between two critical spheres of our lives?"
For many years, I used to lament, "There is no work life balance because work is life and life is work for entrepreneurs."
Work–life balance is a concept that advocates to prioritize between "work" (career and ambition) and "lifestyle" (health, leisure, family / friends and spirituality). Term it work-life balance, coexistence, or healthy living, but balancing responsibilities can be stressful in an increasingly “switched on” world. Phones and connected devices make it easier (and cumbersome for life) to stay absorbed after-work hours.
Several executives have varying views on what it takes to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and many don’t agree that the term “balance” is applicable. Occasionally, I feel I am still at work despite the day coming to an end at 6pm or 7pm. It is difficult. I have experienced the challenges of “switching-off” and “equalizing” these spheres.
A working mum once said, “You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life.”
This does not mean that one shouldn’t strive for balance or what I call ‘optimum alignment’ towards work and life. Over time, I have inculcated a few mechanisms to manage these two “monsters”:
- Keep Your Passion in Check
Don’t make yourself miserable to be successful. Let go off perfectionism. As we grow older, life gets complicated with mushrooming responsibilities. We all are aware of long working hours, late night espresso’s and power banks. Do what you love otherwise you’ll feel demotivated, frustrated and devoid of energy when arriving home. Quite often, a plethora of issues left me frustrated and hence, zero life activity. The lesson I learnt here was to let go off fear and the perfectionist cap! I cannot be doing “everything work” and expect a taste of life!
- Schedule “Life”
It is tongue-in-cheek how we all refer to our calendars whilst scheduling personal engagements. But if it were work, we’d create time and slot it in just fine! As Hilary Clinton states, “Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.” When you plan your week, make it a point to schedule time with your family and friends, and activities that help you recharge. Schedule your life, not just work! Over time, I have rekindled and nurtured interest in other things related to life and not only work that gives me an energizing boost. This can be hobbies or interests.
- Eating and Living Healthy
With a jet-set life and bountiful travel time under your belt, one can easily fall into the trap of eating unhealthy. You are what you eat. One of the foremost principles of work-life balance revolves around sleeping and physical fitness; but for around-the-clock entrepreneurs, the conversation needs to begin with what we’re using for fueling our adrenaline. I discovered the hard way when falling energy levels led to poor fitness and sleep patterns. Hence, I try stock up healthy snacks (keep it in the office, computer bag or car) that will reduce cravings for less healthy offerings and keep me going. Avoid coffee at least eight hours before bedtime to guarantee you good sleep! Exercise and meditation also act as support systems.
- Owning Your Time
“If I only had more than 24 hours in a day” – how many times have you heard yourself or a colleague lament? If you’re truly going to act on your priorities, you need to dedicate time. One of the tools to create more time out of my schedule is through delegation – ensuring the right people have the abilities to carry out their duties without intervention. This is an off-shoot of nurturing the right team at your workplace, for you to better focus on the “least flexible responsibilities,” Stephen Covey is a good advocate of this concept. At times, we also require “deep thinking” – related to life or work – and having a meeting free day is imperative, I prefer Friday’s. Furthermore, we can create more time by getting up early – say 5am – to get the most important things done at that hour without distraction of emails or calls.
Subsequently, it’s important to remember that free time doesn't have to be available time. Just because a slot is empty on your calendar, doesn't mean you have to say "yes" to an invite. It’s important to remind yourself that you can turn invitations down for no other reason but that your free time can be just that - free.
Similarly, when I have a good chunk of time to myself, I feel obligated to use it to get other things done, like errands or phone calls - but I’ve learned that the only way to use that time to truly reduce my stress level is to do something for myself. I prefer playing football, read biographies or pick a hobby.
Equally important is staying away from our devices (phones, tablets and TV) late in the evenings – that emit blue light. This throws the body’s biological clock off course. Sleep suffers. However, blue light is beneficial during daylight hours because it boosts attention, reaction times, and mood, but seems to be the most disruptive at night. The panacea? Dim the brightness of your devices or use different settings, such as reversing the print so the page is dark and the text is light, which may reduce the amount of emitted light. But the best and least popular answer would be to simply avoid your devices before going to sleep!
Food for Thought
- Don’t only schedule ‘everything work’ but ‘everything life’ - as the emphasis need to be fair.
- Create, manage and own your timings – be disciplined.
- Engage into activities that you love to do and learn to say NO – to refuel you.
- Make lifestyle an important factor in business from the beginning, and grow with that principle in mind.
- You can’t have everything you want, but you can have the things that matter to you.
A former COO of a Fortune 500 once remarked, “You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health, friends, and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered.”
Nabeel Hassanali is the Managing Partner of Genesis Consult – a management advisory and consulting firm based in East Africa (@AfricanGenesis)