It’s Time to Take Action
“This strange disease of modern life, With its sick hurry, its divided aims” ~ Matthew Arnold
Now that we’ve discussed the reasons work/life balance is important in 'Take control of your life - Part 1' , and you know that others feel as you do, what do you do about the problem?
You may hate what has happened to your life. But, you probably don’t know how to change the landscape. You will be happy to know that you CAN change your life.
Whether you make this decision for health reasons, relationship reasons or simply out of the need to get control over your own life, you have more than enough justification and motivation to make the move.
However, you need to make a firm commitment to this change. Be realistic about how fast and how far you can go with this plan.
But, let’s be clear about something! What we are talking about here is not quitting your job and hoping that someone will donate money to the cause.
There is a real difference between achieving balance in your work and family life and the idea that you don’t have to work at all.
Work is part of life, and it is healthy and constructive. It pays the bills; it gives us the reward of real accomplishment and feeling of useful participation in the community and in society.
What we are talking about here is the rational balance of your work and social life – a balance that is all too rare in today’s society, and one whose absence has caused sky-high healthcare costs and a dramatic increase in stress, psychological and relationship problems.
Now that we are clear on the goals and reasons for work/life balance, let’s continue!
If you’ve decided to jump off the merry-go-round and seek some occasional solace with your family and friends, you must have a plan for your escape.
First, and foremost, you must set goals! Involve your boss, co-workers, friends and family in the process and keep the lines of communication open, and you’ll end up where you want to be.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Depending on your age and how long you have run the rat race, you may find it harder than you thought it would be but with perseverance and the right support network, you can succeed.
Are you ready? Good!
Then, without further ado, let’s proceed!
‘The Career’ Versus ‘The Job’
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” ~ C. Northcote Parkinson
Before you decide to tell your boss that you simply must have more time off to spend with the family, you’ll need to consider a few things.
First, most large companies now support balanced life plans – in other words, they recognize the need for their employees to take vacations, take time off to go to the doctor with a sick child, and get home for dinner at a reasonable hour.
But, in some companies, that commitment is lip service only. In other words, what the human resource policies say is one thing. The reality is quite something else.
In smaller companies, all bets are off!
Some companies are so small that they are not subject to government regulations regarding hours but it is important for you to understand that in today’s world, no company in the U.S. can abuse an employee by working them 24 hours a day.
Remember, there are labour laws to protect you.
The first thing you need to do is to understand your rights. If you live in a country other than the U.S., you will have to look at the labour laws there to determine what you can expect when you go to talk to your boss.
Remember, the better prepared you are, the better chance you will have at getting what you need. If your boss does not know the law, you’ll need to be prepared to educate her.
Before you begin to execute your plan to balance your life, you’ll want to think carefully about your job, and your career goals.
You’ll find some thought-provoking considerations below.
Think carefully about each of these things, and add your own considerations to the list, if you have some that are specific to your own job.
If you really want balance and change in your life, you have to plan for it and then carefully execute the plan with dedication and persistence.
Here are some things to consider:
Are you a member of a union? If so, there are rules regarding your work hours and these must be enforced. You can talk to a union steward to get help with this.
Do you have a contract that requires you to work certain hours? If you do, you may have to change jobs to get the balance you want in your life.
If you are in a position that is critical to the company – in other words, no one else can do what you do – then you may out of luck when it comes to getting reduced hours.
Are you making a ridiculous amount of money in your job? If you are, your hours are probably not negotiable.
The company you work for certainly expects you to earn the money they pay you and the generous compensation is meant to reward you for the hours and stress.
Again, you may have to change jobs and, at the same time, change your salary expectation.
Does everyone in your company and/or department work crazy hours? There are some jobs - like technical support in a company with critical data stored on servers, or networks – where you will not have the option to negotiate your departure time on certain days.
Perhaps, on other days when things are quiet and slow, you can ask your boss to let you leave early and/or get compensatory time to reward you for the crazy hours you are expected to work during an emergency.
Don’t despair if you are a trauma nurse, or you work in the operating room or in other jobs where you have to work really tough shifts.
Many hospitals, fire departments and other such companies are now using a 4-day on, 3-day off schedule or other schedules that let these critical workers spend more time with their families.
These flexible schedules also allow employees to schedule daytime appointments, and to decompress from the sometimes-stressful experiences and events that occur while they are on the job.
If your employer does not participate in these schedules, perhaps you want to take your skills elsewhere.
Seasonal jobs may give you the opportunity to negotiate hours, as well. Put your nose to the grindstone during Christmas hours in a retail store, or summer hours
In a surf shop, and ask for extra time off to reward your dedication during the off-season.
Look carefully at your position and determine if you have a ‘job’ or a ‘career’. If you are in it for the long haul and hope to continue the climb to upper management, you can expect to work much longer hours and endure a lot more stress.
Can you take another job in a lower stress environment, perhaps a company that prides itself on being ‘family friendly’ and still get into management?
If you want to stay in the company you are in, and continue to climb, and if your company is not dedicated to a balanced life for their employees, you may find it very difficult, if not impossible, to balance your life.
If you are in a position to do so, and your company does not recognize the need for and value of a balanced work and family approach, consider going to your human resource department or to your manager and starting a grass roots movement to look at this issue.
Of course, management may immediately think you simply want to do less work than they want you to accomplish. To counter this, you’ll need to arm yourself with information.
There are all kinds of studies on increased productivity, employee retention and performance that support the decision to create a balanced work and family environment.
Companies like DuPont, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Marriott International, Eddie Bauer Inc. and many others have instituted these programs and your employer may look to these leaders to get some ideas.
There are resources available online for you and for your company. These resources include seminars for company employees, and documents that teach managers and employees how to better manage time and workload so that the employee can accomplish more work, and produce excellent output – all in less time.
Look at sites like these:
You’ll notice that many of these sites are sponsored and they are meant to help promote execute a work/life balance strategy.
You will also notice that they may have online courses, or self-paced courses to walk management and/or employees through the process of planning for and executing a balanced work/life program.
If the reason you are working really long hours, under tremendous stress is that your boss is a lunatic, then you need to change jobs. Before you do that, you have to honest with yourself.
Be sure that you aren’t contributing to the problem and that you have honestly tried to improve your relationship. Be sure that you don’t make things worse by offering to work longer hours or take someone else’s shift because you feel guilty.
If your attitude and feelings of obligation about work are contributing to your long hours and burying you work you can never finish, you have to make some changes in your work habits. This may sound easy, but it isn’t necessarily so.
Many people function from guilt and take on more than they should because they want their bosses and co-workers to like them or they think they will get a promotion or raise, when they actually aren’t required to do more than perform well in order to be recognized.
If you have emotional issues about what is enough, or how to be well liked on the job, you have to address those.
Some companies offer job coaches, or life coaches to help you through these obstacles. If not, consider getting a life coach on your own time or go to a counselor and work through your issues.
Remember, it is important to do a good job and even, many times, to go the extra mile, but you should never put yourself in a position where you do all the work while other people get paid the same amount or more and get promotions or time off when you do not.
If you get to this point in your reading and you have become convinced that you would have to change companies and jobs in order to achieve the balance you desire, don’t be discouraged.
While you may think there are no companies out there that stress work/life balance, you would be surprised at the number of companies – small and large – that are embracing this philosophy as a way to attract and retain good employees.
Companies as diverse as Chubb, J.C. Penney, PrintingForLess, and RSM McLadrey have programs in place, and report that their employees and managers have enthusiastically embraced the work/life balance.
Employees are working together in teams, better than ever before, to ensure that the work flow continues when they are away at attending a daughter or son’s kindergarten graduation or taking advantage of a four day work week to catch up on their golf game.
As this trend continues, and more companies are forced to consider this balanced environment to attract and keep valuable employees and skills, your search for the perfect company will become much easier.
In the meantime, look around.
These companies are much easier to find than they used to be and it is more acceptable today to say that you want this balance – whether you are male or female, young or experienced, or working as an executive or a retail clerk.
The last area we need to discuss in the work half of the work/life balance is Time Management.
This may not apply to everyone, but it certainly applies to many people.
In surveys done across many job categories, including construction, service industries like hotels and restaurants, small business owners and corporate moguls, a large percentage of those surveyed said that they felt they needed to improve their time management skills so that they didn’t need to spend as much time at work.
Many wanted to reduce the time they had to spend reworking tasks they had already performed because they had done it wrong the first time.
You will find a few simple tips below, to get your time under control.
If you do these things, you will find that, even in the most stressful and time-consuming jobs, you can reduce the hours you spend at work, and arrive home in a less stressed, more family-friendly frame of mind!
Make a ‘To Do’ List – Then put these items in order, starting with the most critical. If you could only get one thing done today, what would be the most important?
Cross the items off the list as you complete them, and don’t be distracted. Stay focused!
Since we all have interruptions, be sure that, if you don’t accomplish the items toward the bottom of you list on that day, you add them to your list the next day so you don’t drop them.
Use a daily planner if that makes things easier.
Don’t Waste Time – Use your spare minutes well. Take the train to work instead of driving and use that time to read critical reports you may have to review, or read your new equipment training manual on the bus on the way home.
If you are going to take a break during the day and there is someone you have to see, stop by their office and grab them to go for coffee, then talk about the issue and resolve it while you are walking out in the sunshine and enjoying your java.
You’ll feel like you took a break AND got something accomplished at the same time.
Just Say ‘No’ - If your boss wants you to work late and you have a family engagement, but you could work late the next night or come early in the morning, suggest alternatives and see if those will work.
Don’t be so quick to accept the command without probing to find out if there is another way to handle it.
If a co-worker asks you to lunch and you MUST finish a report by 3:00, politely decline the invitation and suggest dinner or coffee later instead, and get the report done.
That way you don’t have to give up the pleasurable experience, but you won’t be stressed out and working until 9:00 p.m. with your boss standing over your shoulder bemoaning the delay.
If the project your boss dumps on your desk is a ‘rush’ but she already gave you something that must be completed today, ask for clarification on priorities and give your boss a reasonable projection of how long it will take to do both projects and whether you can do both.
Don’t just take the project on and then not finish the other task she gave you, or you will both be unhappy. Speak up!
Know Your Brain – Do you know what the Circadian Clock is? It’s that little clock in your brain that controls when you feel the most wide awake and when you want to go to sleep.
If you are a morning person, attack the most difficult problems in the morning when your brain is the sharpest. That way you won’t have to rework the problem the next day when you discover that the ‘afternoon you’ made the wrong decision about the budget.
Get Enough Sleep – Your brain can operate on a short nap for a day, but if you are not sleeping enough, you will not think well or process information and you’ll make mistakes and end up staying late to fix them.
Advertise Your Schedule - If you hate getting phone calls first thing in the morning, before you get your day organized and have your first cup of coffee, then let your calls go to voicemail until you feel ready to take the calls.
You will be more focused and get more accomplished, instead of having to say, “I’ll have to get back to you on that” after hearing a ten minute explanation of the latest crisis.
Be Your Own Master – Sit down with a pencil and paper or a calendar and figure out how much free time you have.
Schedule and plan your activities at work and get your personal and family obligations on the calendar. Treat these personal obligations with the same respect you would treat a business meeting.
Don’t cancel personal appointments unless it is a real work emergency and, in the case where you MUST cancel, reschedule immediately and apologize to your friend or family member.
Explain what is happening so they don’t think they are unimportant to you. And be sure to keep the appointment you make with them the next time!
Don’t Procrastinate or Agonize – Don’t spend time during a family dinner worrying about the presentation tomorrow. Put your mind back where it belongs. Worrying never helped anyone accomplish a goal.
If you are prepared for the presentation, just do it. If you aren’t prepared, it is doubtful that you will be prepared by the morning.
So don’t worry about it.
Don’t procrastinate because you don’t like a particular activity.
FIRST do those things you dislike the most, and then reward yourself by doing the things you most like to do.
Put things on the calendar and stick to the dates – don’t talk yourself into waiting or you will just have more to do tomorrow!
Train and Delegate – Don’t tell yourself you don’t have the time to show someone else how to do that job that you REALLY don’t have to do.
Take the time to teach them and soon you will have a well-oiled team machine going, with everyone doing what they are capable of doing.
Don’t worry that the employee will take your job.
If you create a functioning team with everyone performing well, your reputation as a manager, mentor and coach will give you a shot at that promotion you want.
And, when you don’t have to do ALL the work yourself, you will find a lot more time to get those other tasks done and still get out of the office, shop or store on time and get home for Mom’s birthday dinner.
The other benefit to this time management technique is that, when you go on vacation or take that long-awaited three day weekend to go skiing, you will not have to call the office every hour to be sure there isn’t some problem you have to solve.
Your family will greatly appreciate having your attention on a dedicated basis for a few days of much-needed bonding.
And don’t overlook job-sharing programs, and cross-training as concepts that will nicely cover responsibilities and ensure that the company keeps running when you are not there.
Get Organized – It is impossible to manage your schedule if you can’t find things or if you have to recreate work or reinvent something because you lost it.
Take that Action List to heart and, starting today, put a task at the top of the list to organize files, or to rearrange the store or inventory so it is easier to stock or to find things.
Once you have things organized, don’t let them get out of control again.
The only way to justify the work involved in that reorganization is if you KNOW you will never have to go through it again!
Keep a Realistic Perspective - Setting unrealistic goals is a mistake – whether it is the completion date of a software project, or the time you think you can deliver that report to your manager, if you underestimate the time required to get the work done, you will end up working late and you’ll look bad to your boss.
Be realistic about when you plan to complete tasks and do your homework to be sure that you can accomplish the task in this timeframe.
Consider other ways to get the job done if you think these considerations will help you meet the deadline faster, but don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
It is good to set goals that challenge you, but if you can never reach the goal, you will not do yourself any favors.
We’ll talk about your goals and what you really want in a little while, but for right now, you need to think realistically about your dedication to a balanced life.
It will come with some sacrifices in certain areas, but it will reap many benefits in your life – health, relationships and happiness to name a few.
Is balancing your work and your family life important enough for you to make some tough choices? If it isn’t, you may not get the balance you want.
Decide NOW! Start TODAY!
Abraham A L
10th April 2016
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Take control of your life - Part 2