Thinking of your home life and your work life as a blend rather than two areas that are competing or conflicting conveys that there doesn’t need to be a perfect balance
In today’s workplace, we’re witnessing the rise of remote or flexible working, increased shift work to meet flexible customer needs and people employed to work on parts of projects based on skills or to reach a specific outcome rather than being expected to work the traditional nine-to-five. In short, the working world is more flexible and fluid than ever before. But what does this mean for the new work-life balance?
When it comes to this particular concept, I don’t believe the word balance fits. Balance implies there’s an easy balance, that the two parts should be equally weighted. But things aren’t always as simple as that, especially not when our lives have become increasingly blended due to the pandemic.
That’s why I prefer to talk about the work-life blend. Thinking of your home life and your work life as a blend rather than two areas that are competing or conflicting conveys that there doesn’t need to be a perfect balance, and helps us to understand that things have to be flexible. Sometimes we need or want to focus on one part of our life more than another, such as family responsibilities, a big work project, or something else going on that needs our attention – and that’s OK. It all depends on what our priorities are, which can shift depending on current circumstances. With our time not as pocketed as it used to be, the boundaries between different parts of our life and between the various roles we play – colleague, parent, friend – are less defined. We should consciously decide how we want to spend our time and energy, and spreading it evenly isn’t always what will work best. The perfect balance doesn’t exist and thinking it does puts more pressure on us.
Instead, we need to create the work-life blend that works for us at that given moment, making sure to nurture both so that the other can thrive. If things aren’t blended the right way, we can begin to feel overwhelmed, energy-depleted and might even lose confidence. For example, if we’re feeling overstretched at work, we may feel that we are neglecting other roles or not deriving enough enjoyment from our personal life. Similarly, if something in our personal lives is taking up too much time and energy, it might feel like our work performance is suffering. Rather than being too preoccupied with balance and needing to perform at our peak in all areas of our life, we should be clear about our priorities and think about what blend would serve us best.
So how do you create a work-life blend that works for you? Here are five key steps to consider:
1. Identify your priorities and whether you’re currently supporting them
Think about all the different roles you play in your life, at work and at home. Colleague, supervisor, salesperson. Parent, sibling, partner, friend. All of us will have numerous roles that we switch between. Also think about your various priorities, such as looking after your own wellbeing, spending quality time with your family, or making sure you have time to wind down and switch off. Maybe right now you really want to focus on doing a great job at work or giving back to your community, maybe your physical or mental health is something that you think needs extra attention.
Once you’ve identified these, look at where you are right now. Are you directing your energy towards the right things or is there a disconnect between your priorities and where you’re spending your time? Which roles and priorities are you supporting and which ones aren’t you – and how is that making you feel?
2. Map out where you’d like to be in an ideal world
If things are working for you right now and you’ve found a good work-life blend, make a plan to keep that going. If there’s anything you’d like to change, map it out – would you like to really focus on furthering your career or learning something new? Do you want to make more time for connecting with friends and loved ones? Be clear about what an ideal work-life blend looks like to you so you can start taking steps to get there.
This includes considering what you prefer in terms of boundaries between your work and your personal life. Are you someone who likes to keep them very separate so you can focus fully on each? Or do you prefer things a bit more blurred, dipping in and out of work and making time for other things in between? There is no right or wrong, but thinking about what works best for you will help you blend things in a way that helps you thrive.
3. Remember to be flexible
Once you have a really clear plan of what you want your work-life blend to look like and how you want it to work, it’s important to keep in mind that you won’t always have control over it. Sometimes your priorities will change unexpectedly, or you won’t be able to keep the boundaries between your roles as neat as you’d like them. Being flexible is par for the course and it’s all about finding ways to make things work. In fact flexibility, and in particular, mental agility is one of the top skills we need to thrive in 2022.
Let’s take COVID-19 for example. Maybe you’re someone who would much prefer to be in the office, but circumstances have made that impossible. Something that could work for you is having a separate location at home that signifies that you’re in work mode and aren’t to be disturbed. If you’re living on your own, maybe the pandemic has required you to prioritise time for connection with others, whether that’s in a social or work capacity. Either way, a great tip is to take a few moments to yourself before consciously switching into a different role – this could be as small as a few deep breaths or a ritual of closing down your laptop.
4. Communicate with others
Another thing to think about once you have an idea of the blend that could work for you is if it will work for others around you, such as your family, your boss, or your co-workers. Communicate with any relevant people how you’re planning to integrate the different parts of your life so that they’re aware and onboard – this will make it a thousand times easier to stick to.
5. Review regularly
Things change and our priorities will change over time too. Sometimes it will be a response to events happening around us and sometimes we might have more control over what we want to prioritise and what we want our work-life blend to look like. It’s therefore important to check in regularly. Periodically review your roles, priorities, and where you’re spending your time and energy to ensure you are blending work and life in a way that works for you.
Gemma Leigh Roberts is a chartered psychologist, the founder of coaching platform The Resilience Edge, and author of Mindset Matters: Developing Mental Agility and Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty, published by Kogan Page, priced at £12.99.