Is Work Taking Over Your Life?
By Jenny Ungless
How’s your work-life balance? Is work a rewarding and fulfilling part of your life, or is it something that has grown to take up so much of your time and energy that you resent, rather than enjoy it?
The pace of our lives today, and the fact that modern technology means we’re always contactable, can make it very difficult for us to “switch off” from work. Of course we all have times when we’re especially busy, and need to put in extra hours. But, for a healthy work-life balance, that situation needs to be the exception rather than the norm. In this article, we help you to identify the warning signs that work is taking over, and give you some practical tips to help you get your life back.
The Warning Signs
First, the warning signs! You really need to re-evaluate your situation if more than 2 or 3 of the following apply:
- You are regularly working more than 10 hours a day.
- However hard you work, you never, ever get to the bottom of your in tray.
- You can’t remember the last time you had a really good laugh in the office.
- You routinely suffer from “Sunday-night blues”.
- When you get home from work, you feel physically and emotionally drained.
- You can’t get through the working day without regular fixes of caffeine/chocolate/nicotine.
- You’ve got a reputation among your friends for always cancelling at the last minute.
- You take work home with you in the evening or at weekends.
If these statements describe you and your situation, you’re getting to the point where work is taking over your life. That’s no way to live. Work should be something that adds to, not detracts from, the quality of your life. Your work should interest you, energize you, and give you a buzz. But it should also leave you time to enjoy the other aspects of your life – your friends and family, your hobbies, and other interests. We work best when our lives are in balance.
So if you’ve allowed yourself to get into the situation where work is ruling your life and your nearest and dearest have almost forgotten what you look like, how do you get out of the rut? Here are our top tips:
You don’t have to be the first person in or the last person out every day to be effective: in fact, people who work ridiculously long hours are simply demonstrating that they aren’t able to cope with the job! Make an effort to leave on time at least 3 nights a week – your colleagues will thank you for it. A good way of making yourself stick to this is to put a specific appointment in your diary so that you have a reason to leave on time.
Learn to say “no”. Every time you say “yes” to a task, you are saying “no” to something else, so make sure that you choose the right things to say “no” to. Make a list of priorities and make decisions accordingly. Obviously this is more difficult in a situation where your boss has asked you to do 3 things at once – but don’t let them get away with passing their own inability to prioritize onto you: ask them which task is more important or needs to be completed first.
Remember the 80-20 rule: 80% of a task is completed with 20% of the overall effort, but getting that last 20% perfect takes a disproportionate amount of time. Use your judgement to decide when “good enough” is a better use of your time than ensuring that something is perfect in every detail. This is NOT an excuse for sloppy work, but it is important to be able to distinguish between situations where perfection is required and where it isn’t.
Eliminate “time-stealers”. For example, email is one of the biggest causes of inefficiency – we just can’t resist checking it, especially if our PC goes “ping” every time a new email arrives. Restrict yourself to checking email no more than 3 times a day. And apply the “once past the desk” rule with paperwork: read it once, then either bin it, deal with it then and there or decide when you are going to deal with it and put it away until then.
Just get started. Procrastination is one of the biggest time-wasters. Particularly if we are facing a large or daunting task, it’s tempting to keep putting off getting started on it. Use the “salami” technique: divide big tasks or projects up into smaller chunks and tackle these one by one. Once you’ve actually made a start, it’s much easier to maintain the momentum.
Finally, recognize that you will work much better if you regularly build in some time off for yourself. None of us can survive for long if we are running in top gear all the time. Give yourself some regular “space” – have an evening to yourself, pour a glass of wine, chill out with some mellow music – whatever it takes for you to get things back into perspective and focus on the bigger picture. If you regularly take time to recharge your batteries, you’ll cope much better when things are unavoidably busy or stressful at work. An important part of good time management is to take some time off now and then!
With a bit of thought, planning, and practice, you can free up hours every week to spend on the things that matter to you. And the irony is that spending less time at work will make you perform much better when you are there!