What’s your approach to the work-life juggle? Are you balancing, blending, or just getting by? Have you found the strategies that (mostly) work for you? Or are you struggling, unsure if you’ll ever find effective and satisfying solutions?
How productive are you? Are you energized and focused, or overloaded? Are your stress levels taking a toll at work and at home?
When you’re feeling the strain of the work/life juggle, consider how best to handle your work-life boundaries and some different types of support that could help.
The First Step to Untangling the Work-Life Juggle
The key to making a change and gaining control over your work-life juggle is to first understand how you manage the boundaries between work and family and identify the types of support you need. This is one way to boost your focus and productivity as you navigate your many commitments and responsibilities.
Our researchers have identified 3 factors that affect the boundaries between work and personal life and are tied to finding the work-life balance that is right for you:
- Behaviors: Do you let work interrupt family? Do you let family interrupt work? Both? Neither? How do you separate your roles, or do you allow constant interruptions?
- Identity: How do you see yourself? Are you primarily work-focused, family-focused, or equally focused on work and family? Is your primary identity tied to other interests, such as recreation, athletics, volunteering, or religious activities? How strongly do you feel about the different roles you play?
- Control: How much say do you have over your work/life juggle? To what degree do you feel you have control over how you manage transitions between work and family?
You can better understand how you approach these 3 factors by understanding your boundary management style for work-life “balance” (and aiming for work-life integration) instead.
Different Types of Support to Help You Manage the Work/Life Juggle
When you’re feeling the strain of the work-life juggle and need to make a change, it’s time to enlist a team of supporters.
Just as you need sounding boards, mentors, friends, or advisors to help you meet a career goal or strategize a project, a variety of supporters can also help you find the best work-life fit for you.
Some people may be helpful as you’re trying to figure out what isn’t working and how to change it. Others may have great ideas about specific actions or tips to try — they might even be able to take some tasks off your plate.
For example, one type of supporter may be someone to hold you accountable — when some tough talk or clear thinking may be just what you need. Another may offer emotional support — someone who will listen, commiserate, or just give you a break. Your work-life support team will also be invaluable if you have a crisis at work or home.
You probably have a few people you consider your supporters, but take some time to consider the different roles people might play. Is there a type of support you could use, but don’t have? Or a person who could help, but you haven’t asked?
The authors of our guidebook Managing Your Whole Life, say that getting the type of support you need is critical to making any change.
Whether you’re looking at small adjustments or seeking significant changes in how you manage your boundaries between work and life, consider these 4 different types of support:
- Emotional Support: Who can encourage you? Who can listen and help you push through a tough spot or a setback? Who will share your enthusiasm when you’ve made progress or tried something new? A spouse, a family member, a friend in a similar situation, or a coworker may play this type of support role.
- Cognitive Support: Who can help you learn about and rethink ways to manage boundaries between work and family? A coach or mentor could provide you with guidance or resources and help you figure out new ways to approach your particular challenges and needs. You can also find cognitive support through online communities, podcasts, and apps. The key here is that another type of support you need is new perspectives and information to break out of your routine or mindset.
- Political Support: Who knows your work and career realities and can help you see options for managing your job? A mentor, your boss, or peers could help you gain access to resources or opportunities that would meet your goals for a better work-life fit.
- Self-Support: How can you give yourself better care and support? Exercise, diet, and sleep can all help you minimize stress and boost resiliency. Meditation and yoga are also helpful types of support and self-care. It’s essential you make time for wellness to reach your full potential and manage your stress.
Once you’ve identified some types of support, on your own — or with a trusted friend, family member, or group — consider your own preferences and current work/life juggle. How do you currently manage the boundaries between your work and personal life? What could you change?
If you aren’t sure what work-life changes you want to make, spend some time thinking. Get some clarity about what is and is not working for you and what you’d like to change.
Steps for Managing Your Whole Life More Effectively
Is it time to make a few tweaks to improve your work-life juggle, or do you need a complete overhaul?
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:
Step 1: Identify what is and isn’t working for you. This sounds easy, but it can be difficult to identify the core issues. We often don’t take the time to stop and reflect, especially when things are hectic. Sometimes one key problem will trigger other challenges or frustrations, creating the sense that nothing is working right, or that the problems are too complex to fix without making a dramatic change.
As you think about what works well and what doesn’t, consider 4 key areas:
- Boundary control: Consider whether and when you would prefer stronger boundaries and in what situations you would do better if you could blur the lines. Could you be more effective if you scheduled larger blocks of time to focus on one thing or another?
- Time management: Are you paying attention to how you spend your time, being realistic about what you can accomplish, and making conscious choices to address what is most important?
- Expectations: Unrealistic expectations create unnecessary stress. Do you need to adjust the expectations you have of yourself, or have a conversation about the expectations others have of you?
- Transitions: Not having enough time to switch from one role to another can leave you feeling rushed, frustrated, or ineffective. Do you need to change how you move into or out of a role to make the transition more smoothly?
Write down how you spend your time, when interruptions occur, what gets accomplished, and what doesn’t. Just as important, jot down your reactions. Is the text from your teenager reassuring or frustrating? Does the flood of pre-dawn e-mails from your boss energize you, or create anxiety as you start your day? At the end of the workday, do you feel satisfied or disappointed about how much you accomplished?
Step 2: Get your priorities in order. Stop assuming that everything is equally important. Consider your values and priorities in both your work and your personal life. What do you value most? What are your leadership values? What’s the big picture? What strategies or efforts will have the most impact? What can be postponed or discarded?
Your ability to focus will bring clarity to chaos. If you’re not focused on key priorities, others won’t be either. Communicate the priorities and enlist the types of support you need to make them happen.
At work, help employees reevaluate where they put their time and talent and, as a group, ensure that most of the workday is spent on high-priority needs.
Figure out what you can delegate or shift, both at work and home. Could you get help so you have more time to focus on priorities? That may mean hiring help, or asking someone to do something for you in exchange for doing something for them, or perhaps as a development opportunity.
Remember, today’s priorities may change next week or next month. What feels like work-life “balance” now may be overwhelming later. Accept that work and personal demands, desires, and expectations will change over time, but don’t get pulled off course by every new issue, drama, or interruption that comes your way.
When you are clear on your larger goals and priorities, and the types of support you have access to, it helps you focus on what matters most. It also helps you put setbacks and bad days in context.
Step 3: Learn boundary management techniques. Good ideas are out there. Read articles about how to address the issues frustrating to you. Talk to coworkers and friends about what works for their work/life juggle, bearing in mind that different tactics work for different people.
Challenge yourself to change something you assume you can’t — maybe change how you use technology (do you really have to respond to every message, right away?) or find someone else to take on a task that has always been “yours” (at home or at work).
For example, look for someone at work who would benefit from taking on a task that you’d like to get off your plate. Be open to ideas for creating solutions together.
Once you decide which changes you’d like to make, communicate your preferences and ideas to key people. Look for solutions that benefit others as well as yourself.
Step 4: Leverage technology to help you control those boundaries. The challenge of meeting both work and personal needs is not new, but technology has brought a new element to it.
The accessibility and flexibility our smartphones bring can be highly beneficial, but it can also create problems. Time that once was dedicated or limited to one domain is now porous and malleable. When we are with family and friends, we monitor emails from work. When we are working, we monitor texts from family members.
Unfortunately, the expectation that we are always available to do more actually makes us less productive, rather than more productive. We need new ways to think about the work we do and how we do it.
Use technology to help you manage your life, but don’t let technology manage you. You may want to schedule blocks of time when you turn off all devices, or create rules such as no screen time after a certain hour.
Figure out how to make your mobile device work best for you: to stay in touch with work and home — or to help you separate work and home.
Step 5: Practice focus. Remember, focus equals balance. To limit distractions and fragmented thinking, learn to mentally change channels. Instead of doing several things at once, give each person, activity, or challenge your full attention and commitment, then change over to another “channel,” again giving it full attention.
If you are a chronic worrier or overthinker, learn to let the small things go. What little things are distracting you or eating into your productive time? What low-priority tasks are taking high-priority effort? What can you eliminate, delegate, divide, or ignore? Eliminate or shorten routine meetings, discontinue outdated practices and, as they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Working in focused chunks of time is more effective and generally more satisfying. This is especially important if your non-work time is getting squeezed. Learning to live with intention at work and at home can help you be present where needed at that time. If you have one hour with your kids before bedtime, or one night a week for time with friends, commit to it, leave work behind, and then move on.
Step 6: Seek out the types of support you need. Everyone needs support to achieve goals, especially complicated work and family goals. Different types of support may be available at work or home.
Friends, family, and colleagues might help you figure out how to best manage your time and energy, or agree to take some tasks off your plate. Others can provide encouragement, empathy, or political support to help you manage the work-life juggle.
For example, a business coach or mentor can help you navigate the options at work. Your emotional support network is also invaluable when dealing with a crisis such as helping a chronically ill family member.
Don’t forget about self-support. Setting aside a little time for self-care allows you to focus on you. Healthy habits are important for relieving stress, preventing illness, and increasing energy and resilience. And good health is directly connected to leadership effectiveness.
To find the types of support that are most helpful for you, you may need to experiment with creating connections between your work and family roles. Consider discussing a work situation with your spouse or another friend or family member. The person you talk to may have creative ideas that could help you — and may feel closer to you as a result. Similarly, colleagues may appreciate connecting around non-work roles.
Step 7: Track your progress. Change requires focus and commitment. Turning your intentions into reality isn’t easy, so make a plan and track your progress. This keeps you accountable to yourself and your work-life stakeholders. It allows you to see what is working and where the pitfalls lie. With this information, you’ll have a better handle on what else you can do to find greater productivity, satisfaction, and fulfillment in your various life roles.
The Work-Life Juggle: Closing Thoughts
All in all, finding greater focus is not a magical cure for the daily pressures of managing the work-life juggle, along with other commitments and interests, but it can make a huge difference.
It’s important to keep in mind that there is no single “right” solution that works for everyone; you must decide what’s best for you.
Once you find the right path for yourself, consider what types of support you need to get there, and take action. Even small changes can have a big impact.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
Support your team in increasing their focus and identifying types of support they have access to, to help them manage their work/life juggle. Our online resilience program, The Resilience Advantage, offers a practical, scientific approach that will allow your leaders to build their resilience and burn bright, instead of burning out.