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A 2015 survey of Australian students conducted by the Australian Association of Social Workers and James Cook University, revealed "a precarious balancing act of study, family, financial hardship and paid work that was impacting their daily lives, study success and mental health".
When students complain about feeling too busy or overwhelmed, a common response often involves suggesting they "strike a healthy work-life balance" - but what does this actually mean? And what does balance look like for a university student, or recent graduate?
Ashley Phillips CA and Manager Private & Family Business at HLB Mann Judd Sydney, is well-versed in juggling competing deadlines and responsibilities. In her spare time, she manages to regularly exercise, enjoy quality family time, and write her wellbeing blog, The Soul Searching Movement. By her own admission, she enjoys a healthy work-life. balance, and is passionate about inspiring others to achieve the same.
Managing competing priorities like a boss
Ashley started her blog when she was a time-poor undergraduate student managing full-time study and a corporate cadetship. With little time and energy to spare, Ashley found her social life taking a back seat.
"I just thought, 'Is this my life? Just work and university?'," she recalls.
She originally intended for the blog to be an outlet, a place to express her feelings and release stress. However, Ashley soon discovered that others felt connected to her story and were experiencing similar problems.
"After my first post and the amazing response it received, I kept writing because I knew there were other people in my situation and not everyone is open about how they're feeling. It's about people knowing they're not alone, because everyone feels down sometimes," Ashley says.
Ashley hopes her blog inspires busy professionals and students to pursue a healthy work-life balance and find time for things they enjoy outside of work.
"Finding balance is really important, not just for your own wellbeing, but for others around you, too. It's important to remember your value isn't measured by how many hours you work. It's about challenging the status quo and showing you add value in more ways than one," Ashley explains.
Time management is key
Ashley says it was when she was completing the CA Program that she learnt the importance of time management and discipline in finding time for all the different facets of life - work, study, family, friends, exercise, hobbies - that seemingly elusive "healthy work-life balance".
Through scheduling time to both work and relax, Ashley was able to make the balance a reality, and ultimately, be her best self both at work and home.
"I would leave CA Program study for weekends, and make time for socialising, family or exercise after work during the week. It really taught me to focus and be disciplined, and to use the time I'd allotted for a task to get it done, and then let myself rest without distraction," Ashley says.
Ashley recommends students and young professionals to do the same and take note of what works best for them, especially if they feel the stresses of being time-poor.
"You need to plan out your time and then stick to your schedule. I could easily work until 8'o'clock every night, but if I plan to leave at half past four to go to the gym, then I get in early and make sure I leave on time. Knowing when in the day you're at your most productive certainly helps, too. I work best in the morning, but for others it's the opposite," Ashley says.
"Finding balance is really important, not just for your own wellbeing, but for others around you too. It's important to remember your value isn't measured by how many hours you work."
Being a difference maker
The CA Program equips finance and accounting professionals with sound technical skills, but also valuable soft skills. For Ashley, the CA Program gave her the confidence to speak up about her mental health and how her belief in maintaining work-life balance helps her to be healthy, both mentally and physically. Throughout her journey, Ashley says she's been able to connect with her colleagues in a unique but equally important way.
"The skills I learned during the CA Program really helped me make a difference at work. For R U OK? Day at work, I was able to stand up in front of everyone and speak about my mental journey and my previous struggles with finding balance. The response I got from my colleagues was next level, similar to that of my first blog post. I couldn't believe it and I think it definitely had an impact," Ashley says.
Ultimately, achieving work-life balance is about building a life where your personal and professional life complement and strengthen each other, and not exist in competition.
"When you strike that balance, you perform better at work, you become a better family member and friend, you look after yourself more, and all in-all you become the best version of yourself."