Achieving Work-Life Balance

Copyright © 2016, Liz Currin, Ph.D.

As adults, most of us need to work.  We need to handle the expenses of living, such as housing, food, transportation, etc.  Many of us also have families—children, a spouse or significant other, and perhaps other dependents, such as an elderly parent.  And, despite the sometimes tricky logistics of working—the commute, arranging child care, etc.--many of us derive a strong sense of personal satisfaction from working and having a professional identity.  But the challenge for us is to juggle our responsibilities and still maintain some amount of “self time”.

Let's talk about work/career first, and some strategies for managing your time:

  • Do you have a lengthy commute to the office?  If so, can you alter your driving route or the time you leave for the office in order to reduce it?
  • At work, can you reduce the length of your work day a bit?  Can you cut down on lunch or break time?  If so, you may be able to leave the office a bit earlier.
  • Think about limiting the number of times during the workday that you check your email, whether work-related or personal.  You might be surprised at how much time goes into checking and responding to email, texts and voicemail.
  • Also pay attention to how much time you spend chatting with others in the office about non-work-related topics.  We certainly all want to maintain good working relationships with our coworkers, but “water cooler” talk can easily eat up more of our work day than we're aware.
  • Are you in charge of running meetings in your office?  If so, go into the meeting prepared with a very focused and limited agenda.  Also have the minutes from the previous meeting for reference.  Set a time limit (for example, one hour) for the meeting, stay on course, and make note of items that need to be discussed at a future meeting.

Let's talk about home life:

*We can all benefit from occasionally looking at our level of organization—or disorganization-- at home.  For starters, is there a centrally located calendar on which family commitments and events are noted?  This would include sporting and other recreational events, volunteer activities, visits with friends and family members, etc.

  • What about meal preparation?  Is it hit or miss, a constant scramble each evening?  A little time spent on the weekend in making a rough menu and grocery list for the coming week can reduce that.  And a slow cooker or crock pot can enable you to prepare a couple of meals over the weekend that you can have available during the work week, giving you a bit more time in the evening.
  • After work, are you doing all the chores around the house?  Just as you would do in the office, the answer may be to delegate some chores to other family members.  Even young children can help with setting a table.  Older children can sometimes take over dish duty and some cooking (for example, making a simple salad).  Children can learn to sort and fold laundry at a fairly young age.  By delegating some of these tasks, you're also helping to prepare your children for independent living as young adults.
  • Can you become more efficient with routine tasks?  For example, can you reduce the number of laundry loads you do per week (saving time, money, and wear and tear on clothing)?  Can you buy some grocery items in bulk (for example, canned and frozen goods, paper and other household supplies), eliminating some shopping trips and saving on gas?  Can you combine errands, for example, dropping at child at dance class and stopping by the dry cleaners, drug store, or gas station during class time?
  • Do you and your partner need to revisit family priorities?  Do you really need to be in the gym five times a week, or would three visits suffice?  How about a home treadmill?  Are your children over-scheduled with extracurricular activities, for example, soccer, dance, baseball, gymnastics?  Would it be less stressful on the entire family—children included--to limit extracurriculars to one, no more than two, activities per semester?  Experience shows that we all, children and adults alike, benefit from some unstructured time.
  • An additional note for single parents.  Working, raising a family, and striving for some personal time are challenges for all of us.  For those who are doing this without a spouse or partner, it can feel overwhelming at times.  Setting priorities and streamlining routines (for example, having clothing and backpacks ready to go the night before school) are extremely important and can save valuable time and energy.

These are just a few of the areas in which all of us may be able to achieve a more satisfying degree of balance between work and home.  It's well worth the few minutes it takes for a brief “inventory” of how you and your family might benefit from some degree of rebalancing.