4 Ways to Achieve Work/Life Balance Without Feeling Guilt
May 9, 2017 | Business and Careers
I remember very clearly the first time work/life balance became a real issue for me. I was making a career move from my company’s law department (where, as a lawyer, I felt very comfortable) to corporate strategy—a world I didn’t fully understand. I was hard on myself—really stressed out—and it spilled over into my home life. I’d come home, have dinner, put the kids to bed and get back on the computer every night. It was a little overwhelming.
That’s the point at which my husband and I became very intentional about finding a way to achieve a healthier work/life balance—without feeling guilty. Here’s what we’ve learned:
1. Be clear about your priorities. We really want to avoid working on weekends so we can spend that time doing stuff with our two young boys. And I’m not talking about making time to run from one soccer game to another all day every Saturday. We want to have adventures as a family: camping, going to the lake or even woodworking as a family. To do that, we’ve not only said no to working on weekends; we’ve sometimes had to say no to participating in organized activities or taking the kids to birthday parties so we could say yes to our family plans.
One thing that allows us to be intentional about our family life is that we’re also very intentional about our work life. When I’m at work, I focus on work. That means I don’t do things like take a day off to chaperone the museum field trip with my son’s fifth grade class. And I don’t feel guilty about it because I know—and my boys have learned—that when we focus on our work during the week, we can do fun things together at night and on the weekends.
2. Have a shared view with your partner. It helps, of course, when both parents are on the same page about what should take priority. When it comes to our kids, my husband and I have talked a lot about what we want their strengths to be in the future: persistence, confidence, curiosity and humility. And while it’s possible to learn those things playing organized sports, for example, we’ve chosen to encourage those traits through shared family experiences in which we have the time and emotional capacity to foster those qualities. Having this shared view makes it easier for us to make (and live with) the decisions we make about how we spend our time.
3. Be ruthlessly efficient. At home and at work, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about maintaining balance is to set the bar at an appropriate height for whatever you’re doing. Do you really need to hand-decorate 36 cupcakes for your one-year-old’s first birthday party, or will bakery-bought treats suffice? At what point does tinkering with the font size on your presentation become an exercise in futility? We’re programmed to aim for perfection, but efficient people have mastered the art of knowing when good enough is good enough. There’s a real skill to feeling confident about saying, “This is fine; the most efficient thing I can do now is bring that to conclusion and get started on what’s next.” That’s what I mean by being ruthlessly efficient. Align the input to the output, and if you’re not sure how much effort to put forth at work, ask your manager for guidance: “Where do I need to deliver excellent work? Where do I need to just get something done?”
4. Be kind to yourself. Thinking back, I now know a lot of the stress I was feeling when I changed careers was stress that I brought on myself. And that’s been the biggest lesson for me. I’ve learned to be kinder to myself. I no longer have an expectation that I need to know everything. I no longer expect my voice to be the most important in the room (maybe it shouldn’t ever be). I am confident that if I do my best, the work and the team will succeed.
Bottom line? Achieving a healthier level of work/life balance boils down to having two things: clarity and focus. When you’re clear on what’s important, it’s easier to focus on the things that matter—and easier to forgive yourself for saying no to the things that don’t.