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Trying to fit all of your commitments - family, work, study, social - and extracurricular activities into each week can be a tricky feat.
'Work-life balance' is a buzzword that gets a lot of airtime in the context of university studies and employment.
According to leadership and executive coaching expert, Martin Moore, the idea that we can all find a perfect and even balance between work and all the other parts of our lives is misleading1.
"There is no such thing as work-life balance… There's just life and in life, we all have to make choices. You have to work out where to focus your energy at any given point," says Martin.
"It's the metaphor of the spinning plates. The guy in the circus who gets those long poles and at the end of each pole, he starts a plate spinning. And by the time he's put a number of plates up there, he might have 10, 12, 15 plates spinning, and he runs from pole to pole giving it momentum so that the plate doesn't fall off and break."
Ben Washington CA, an accountant based in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and father to two young boys, is a well-versed work-life plate spinner. Ben has worked in professional services for 15 years, and recently made the move to work in an industry role. Ben has always enjoyed taking time out of his day no matter his role to get him out into the fresh air to gain clarity and balance amongst his many duties.
Ben recently took up a new role as the Group Financial Controller at Kathmandu, a move motivated by his desire to achieve a better balance between his work, sporting and family commitments. The ethos at Kathmandu for work-life balance combined with their strong culture and passion for the outdoors align strongly with Ben's own values.
Ben found that working long hours in the professional services environment meant he wasn't always able to keep the right balance between work and his sporting and family commitments. Establishing a better balance was a priority for him.
Ben notes that your idea of work-life balance may also change over time as your personal and professional responsibilities change and grow.
"Adding two children to our family meant that once again, the balance needed to be reworked to ensure I still had time for my passion for triathlon and sport, as well as holding down my career and dedicating time to spend with my kids. It's just a matter of understanding what's important, what needs to be done, and where your priorities are. Discover what makes you happy and make sure you do more of it," Ben says.
"Work-life balance doesn't mean not working hard, but it does mean when you are working hard you make time and prioritise the other things in life that matter to you."
Getting your balance right early on
"The sooner you can grasp what work-life balance means for you, the better. Everyone's journey is different and it can take time to learn what works best for you. It took me a long time to learn it," Ben says
For Ben, this meant sacrificing some sport during university so that he could focus on his coursework and exams. In hindsight I had that balance wrong as I did not get out and do enough sport at university.
The bad habits that he built up in his day-to-day life as a uni student, followed him into his career when he found himself sitting all day at work.
"I then realised quite quickly that if you cut out some of those bad habits, and you eat better, and you go for a run, and you exercise your mind and body, and you sleep well, you feel better, you work better. Everything just started to click for me," Ben says.
Ben says - from his personal experience - the workplace can be quite demanding and has realised that it is important to build boundaries, know when it's okay to 'say no' and recognise when you need to take a break, whatever that means for you, whether it's 5 minutes, a run or reading a book. The sooner you can recognise when the balance is off the easier it is to correct.
"Discover what makes you happy and make sure you do more of it."
Ben also notes that it is important not to get your sense of balance confused or your priorities around the wrong way.
"I remember when I was a teenager, and I played a lot of sport, and probably didn't do enough study, to be honest. And so I had my sense of balance out of sync. It was too much of one thing and not enough of another. Then at university I dropped all my sport and went too far the other way. So, it can go both ways," Ben says.
Ben's six easy tips for improving your work-life balance:
1. Work out what's important to you and what makes you happy
Prioritising your health and interests is a good place to start when working out what is important to you and where you should focus your time.
2. Identify and schedule realistic goals for yourself
Create goals and a plan for how you will achieve them to help keep yourself on track.
3. Eat well, make healthy choices and get enough sleep
Cooking at home can help to save you money and give you the opportunity to create more nutritious meals for yourself. Going to bed at the same time each night helps to set you into a good routine.
4. Enjoy yourself and have fun at work
Make sure to work in a job that you enjoy. It will make it easier to show up and do your best each day.
5. Learn to say no when you need to
Know your own limits. This doesn't mean turning down core aspects of your job but be clear on your priorities, boundaries and personal needs and communicate these. It will make it easier for you to ensure you don't overcommit yourself.
6. Write down what your ideal work-life balance looks like and check yourself against it to see how you are going
Regularly review your ideals, evaluate how you are going at bringing your desired work-life balance to life, and make changes to your plan as your life and commitments change.
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