Stephanie Trattles is a WhiteHat Business Administration Coach.
The notion of work-life balance is not a new concept, however, implementing it effectively is more important now than ever. There are levels to work-life balance, and careful consideration of each aspect is an important part of cultivating a life worth living. This is one that contains professional challenge, hobbies, quality relationships, good health, moderation, contentment, enjoyment, and importantly, satisfaction in more than one area of life.
Part 1: Annual Leave
When it comes to taking a break, I have previously been a big believer of not using a day of holiday without going on holiday. However, the year is 2020: unpredictable, unprecedented. Nonetheless, for the most part, I have clung onto my annual leave for dear life, ploughing on through a pandemic without so much as a long weekend. It takes its toll!
The timing of this article, however, is particularly apt, as I finally bit the bullet and took a week off. I’d be lying if I said I feel refreshed - My boyfriend and I drove upwards of 800 miles around Scotland throughout a 7-day car rental period. However, one real advantage of the trip is that I finally have some photos to put on next year’s Moonpig anniversary card. But it’s more than that...it’s learning about a new culture (albeit geographically close), fond memories, some fresh air away from a screen and some quality time with my boyfriend. I switched off and I left my laptop and work phone firmly in my kitchen.
As I return from a blissful week away, I can’t help but reflect on some of my observations:
- Taking annual leave does not mean the work for that time period disappears. In my experience, it means doing 150% of the work the week before the annual leave, and 150% the week of the return. It also means returning to a lot of emails.
- A blessing and a curse of remote working is that on top of this inflated workload pre and post annual leave, meetings are now recorded and should be watched so as not to miss out on anything.
So are long periods annual leave worth it? Absolutely. Not only are you legally obliged to take a minimum number of days per year, it also does wonders for life satisfaction and work-life balance - just make sure you unplug completely, and don’t be tempted to check your emails during a moment of weakness.
Part 2: Home working
This leads me onto my next topic: home working...whereby my office is also my kitchen, my lounge, my yoga studio and my gym. Don’t get me wrong, as far as circumstances go, I can’t complain: I live alone, my internet connection is solid and I have a comfortable chair. However, when it comes to work-life balance, I am guilty of thinking about work late into the night. Sometimes I’ll even check my Slack after dinner ‘just to make sure nothing’s come up’. This occasional self-imposed breach of boundary eats into my evening, and I assume ultimately reduces my productivity over time - it’s not sustainable. The ironic thing is, some organisations have reverted to old ways of thinking: working from home is the equivalent of a day off. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Part 3: Taking Breaks
The final part of work-life balance that I will discuss in this article is the importance of taking breaks throughout the day. One effective way to implement frequent breaks is by using the ‘Pomodoro Technique’.
To do this, follow the steps below:
- Plan your to-do list. How many ‘pomodoros’ will you need overall?
- Set your timer for 25 minutes and get to work!
- After 25 minutes, take a short 5 minute break.
- Repeat 3 more times, so that you have completed 4 ‘pomodoros’ in total.
- Take a longer break of 45 minutes - 1 hour.
- Repeat the block again if necessary.
Now, taking a break is one thing...what you actually do with that time, is another. The 5 minute breaks are quite self-explanatory as far as I’m concerned: nip to the bathroom, put the kettle on, grab a refill of water. The longer breaks, however, contain a lot more autonomy. Admittedly, I occasionally find myself spending a lunch hour aimlessly clicking around my screen, refreshing my emails - not actually doing anything productive. I almost always end those days with a headache. Needless to say this is another unsustainable habit and should be avoided at all costs. Somehow, if I switch Netflix on or do a bit of Spanish over lunchtime (both include screen time), it does not have the same negative effect. Why? I don’t think screen time is the issue, it’s the lack of balance.
The most effective, yet simple strategy that I implement on an almost-daily basis is taking a brief walk in Regent’s Park or grabbing a coffee from Camden Town. The best days are the ones I’m able to meet my sister - there’s no convincing yourself you’re too busy when your accountability partner is on your doorstep, waving at you to come outside.
I’ll conclude the article by saying this:
Avoid the temptation to be a ‘corporate warrior’, even if you work in an industry where this is celebrated.
If you want to increase overall balance in your life, take a step back and reflect on what a life-well-lived looks like for you. Once you have done that, put steps in place to achieve it by setting realistic, achievable goals, and then measuring your progress.
Ultimately, your work-life balance is your responsibility - not the organisation where you work or your line manager.
Comment below with your thoughts on Stephanie's piece!