What is your approach to the work/life issue? Are you balancing, blending, juggling 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?
The challenge of meeting both work and personal needs is not new, but in recent years, new options have emerged. The modern digital revolution has given us the technology to attend to work and family across place and time.
This increased accessibility and flexibility can be beneficial, but it creates problems, too. Time that once was dedicated or limited to one domain is now porous and malleable. When we are with family and friends, we monitor e-mails from work. When we are at work, we monitor messages from family members.
Unfortunately, the expectation that we will always be available and able to do one more thing usually makes us less productive rather than more productive. We need new ways to think about the work we do and how we do it.
The first step, according to CCL’s Marian Ruderman, is to understand your patterns of blending work with the other areas of life. Ruderman and CCL colleagues Kelly Hannum and Phillip Braddy, along with Michigan State University Distinguished Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek, identified three factors that affect the boundaries between work and personal life:
- Behaviors: Do you separate your roles or allow constant interruptions?
- Identity: How do you see yourself? What level of intensity do you feel around the different roles you play?
- Control: How much say do you have over your work/life boundary?
Based on these factors, CCL developed the WorkLife Indicator. You can order a copy of the WorkLife Indicator from CCL, or ask if your HR department can offer it to employees. For an informal self-assessment, dedicate some time to think about and write down how your behaviors, sense of identity and level of control are affecting your personal work/life picture.
Once you have clarified your current situation, you can try different ways to be more effective and reduce stress. If you take five steps, you’ll probably find you have more control than you thought, says Ruderman.
Identify what is and is not working for you. One way to start sorting this out is to monitor your use of time for a week. 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?
Learn boundary management techniques. Good ideas are out there. Talk to co-workers and friends about what works for them. Are there changes you could make to your technology use, your work space or your schedule so they support your productivity rather than drain it? Can you delegate more? Once you decide on some changes you’d like to make, communicate your preferences and ideas to key people. Be open to ideas for creating solutions together with an understanding of each other’s priorities and expectations.
Clarify your goals for a better life. You will be able to weather stressful times more successfully if you are clear on your larger goals and priorities. For example, if you are taking on extra work because you have a goal to pay off debt or gain more experience, you and your family members will be more patient with long hours. If you are constantly connected via your smartphone because you like the security of knowing what’s up at work and at home, you probably won’t view messages as unnecessary interruptions.
Get support. 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 or empathy or political support to help you navigate the options at work. Help with improving your physical health may also be important for increasing energy and resilience.
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 and satisfaction in your various life roles.
This article is adapted from “Making Your Life Work: A New Approach to Increasing Your Effectiveness On and Off the Job,” a CCL white paper. Download it today or sign up for the Making Your Life Work Webinar. You can join the Webinar March 8, 2012, from 1-2 p.m. (ET) or watch it on your own time after that date.