The history of the work-life balancing act
The idea of a work-life balance is relatively new, and has progressed somewhat over the years. Before the industrial revolution, it mainly consisted in getting “drunk for one penny, dead drunk for two”, as the adverts used to say. During the war, it meant fulfilling your role as a dutiful mother, housewife and volunteer as well as joining the effort in factories and forces, or seeing your family when you were on leave. In the seventies, it increasingly became the norm for both parents to be in paid employment, and the idea that it was important to balance your work and home lives really came into fashion for the first time.
Bring this forwards to the 21st century. Why is it, now that we have more freedom, choice and flexibility to carve out our career paths and niches than ever before, that stress levels are still rising?
Why are stress levels rising?
Two often-commented factors come to mind, which have become more prevalent than ever in recent years: 1) a chronic inability to say “no”, and 2) a paralysing fear of missing out.
Mobile and home technology makes it more difficult than ever to say “no”. Smartphones, for example, have become a constant centre of demands on our time. According to US company SOASTA, for 84% of the population, the first thing we do when we get up is check an app. And those cries for answers and attention are constantly carried with us throughout the day.
Secondly, we now have a lot more choice over our lives. With this choice comes judgment, and our harshest critics are often ourselves. Social media and magazines encourage us to compare: how many times have you taken a look at what everyone else is up to on Facebook, and found your own career and life choices wanting?
There is an answer. Attaining a work-life balance in the 21st century is as much about developing the confidence to turn down others’ demands and pursue the choices you want as going to the gym and scheduling in personal time. We present:
Maintaining a successful work-life balance in the Smartphone era
1. Say no (or stop answering altogether)
I have a friend who never replies to emails or text messages. “If it’s really important,” she tells me, “they’ll call”. As a result, her friends and family are now well-trained to telephone for important matters, and cut the crap when it’s not strictly necessary. And, although she might lose out on casual contact with people she never really sees anyway, those of us who truly love her haven’t stopped being friends because of it. What can we learn from her example?
- Now that we can carry email, Facebook and Whatsapp with us wherever we go, it’s tempting to blur the lines of work and home.
- Giving off clear expectations encourages people to adjust their behaviour accordingly. This allows you to do what you want with your time and live the life you want. If you are frequently sending work emails from home, or vice versa, you are mixing messages.
- Is work always ringing you up when you’re at home? There is a simple solution: stop answering. You’ll be surprised how quickly they adapt to getting the information they need within office hours.
- If you find you’re constantly checking your professional email account after hours or when on holiday, stop doing so. This can be scary at first, but you’ll soon see that the world does not end.
- Likewise, if you’re interested in advancing in your current position, you will need to learn to say “no” to the constant slurry of emails and Facebook/Whatsapp messages we receive on a daily basis. Don’t be afraid to say no to answering messages if it’s not convenient for you to do so.
- Allow yourself some flexibility: you might be happy to take the odd phone call from home, or send the occasional message from work (if this is allowed). There is no shame in doing so, but be clear about your motives – are you doing this because you genuinely think it’s something important and worthy of your attention, or because you’re afraid to say no?
- Changing your behavior can be scary, and you may meet with some resistance at first. Stick to your guns, and say, with a smile, that you felt that the extra contact was encroaching unnecessarily on your professional/personal life. Repeat as necessary.
- If you find it hard to say no, a good solution can be as simple as turning off your phone. Switching to “Flight mode” can be particularly useful for blocking out the internet, and don’t forget Whatsapp messages can be silenced. You can delete work email accounts from your phone as well if necessary.
2. Own your decisions
I have a love-hate relationship with my Facebook feed. Although it’s great to see what everyone’s up to, it can be all too easy to judge, compare and get an attack of the green-eyeds. When you see the fantastic parties, career opportunities, holidays and relationships that everyone else is (seemingly) enjoying, this can lead to overcommitting, spreading your efforts too thinly and investing your energies in activities that aren’t really right for you. Does the cry of “I’ve been so busy recently!” sound familiar? You might like to think about the following…
- What’s the minimum you need to do? Think about which of your commitments really are vitally important, and be empowered by the knowledge that anything else you choose is up to you.
- For example, you do have to earn a basic salary. But you don’t have to have become a multi-millionaire by the age of 23 (or even 63) if that’s not a priority for you. Nor do you have to go to every party, nor cook every meal from scratch if for you it’s more important to invest energy into your career.
- Your choices obviously have consequences, and not all of them will be positive. You can’t do everything, however, and you might like to consider how important activities and people really are to you before investing your valuable time and effort into them. If you forget that distant acquaintance’s birthday, or don’t spend all weekend working on your presentation, will the consequences really be so dire? What about the consequences of not having enough down-time, not spending time with your loved ones, or not being able to get up on Monday morning?
- We all have to do things we don’t want from time to time. But these things should be part of a considered long-term plan and should eventually bring recognisable positive benefits.
- With choice and flexibility comes extra pressure. Freelancers: you should be particularly wary of making commitments to projects you don’t really want to do. Be a bit ruthless: your time is your own.
- It’s common to have busy and fallow moments, or to experience periods of short-term stress while projects are getting underway. Don’t fret – there’s a moment for everything: work and play. But in average terms, you need to find a balance between the two.
- If you struggle to prioritise, ask yourself the following question: what would I do in an ideal day? What do I need to do to get there? You might also like to think about, looking back, which are the things that stand out as having been most important to you.
Please note that this article is based on personal experience only, and should – like so many other things – be taken with a pinch of salt. As ever, feel free to agree, disagree and write in to let us know what you like, and how you’d do things better.