Finding the right balance in life is a big challenge. And as the year draws to a close, thoughts of a well-earned break – or maybe a bigger change – come thick and fast. This can be especially true when you’re running your own business while juggling the competing demands of your personal life, your family and the ever-changing needs of your business.
Today’s emerging technology adds to the complexity, too – it’s so easy to stay engaged with work every waking hour. But is this really effective? Is it efficient? It isn’t. A better work-life balance can lead to increased productivity with your work. And theoretically, it’s circular: if you’re more efficient with work, you should be able to take more time for you.
But often this isn’t the case. Instead of spending that time we save on ourselves, we might cram in more work on our business or careers, and this can lead to burnout. The good news is, with planning, we can avoid that path – and use that time we save by working efficiently to pause and recharge.
Here are my five tips to work smarter, not harder.
1. Plan a holiday every year
Make a holiday part of your year’s plan.
As a family, we go, “Right, okay, what’s the time that we’re having three weeks together and what are we going to do and how are we going to plan it?” And we plan it a year in advance. Then we all have that to look forward to for the year, because it’s awesome having a holiday to look forward to.
But the detail of time away is important. When you know you’ll be working hard throughout the year, make an effort to make holidays a time when nothing else is happening.
“It’s important to block out any noise from work, if you can. Make it so there are no other interruptions. We are getting on a plane, or we’re driving somewhere, and that’s what we’re doing.”
I find that it’s really important to know you’ve got a break ahead of you. When you’re stressed or tired or not feeling great, it’s something tangible to look forward to. In my family, we talk about it all year and sort of chip away at the planning each month – we’ll book a little bit of accommodation here, or research something there. It keeps you excited and future-focused.
And last, planning ahead is financially smart. When you know it’s happening, you can put money aside for it each month, making it less of a financial shock.
2. Schedule your free time
We fastidiously schedule our work obligations, but we rarely keep diary space for the opposite: free time. I am busy every day, but I try to make sure there is time to turn off.
You might schedule appointments or business meetings – do the same for free time for yourself or for time with family. It’s the simplest of time management skills but the benefits are great.
I write a lot of lists and I have a weekly planner for workflow management. In the planner I’ll fill in all my obligations and find the windows of time I can use for myself or time with my daughter.
And on weekends, we ensure we plan at least half a day to be together as a family. Half a day might not seem much but it’s an important time for us. We get excited when the three of us get together and ask, “Okay, so what are we going to do this weekend?”
3. Say no (when ‘yes’ means you’re over capacity)
It’s normal for us to want to please people by agreeing to their wishes or even thinking we can put in more time working on our businesses (saying ‘yes’ to your business’s demands). But sometimes, saying ‘no’ is actually the most productive thing we can do.
For me, saying ‘no’ has been really hard and something I’ve had to learn.
“When deciding between whether you should say yes or no, you need to really look at your schedule and think, ‘Can I actually do it?’”
How does saying ‘no’ help? It might seem counterintuitive, but in a business or career context it’s all about your own capacity. Sometimes there may be weeks where you literally have too many things to do and you’ve got to say ‘no’ to some of them otherwise you won’t get through it all.
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Saying ‘no’ stops you from being rushed and frazzled, and it gives you time to recuperate. More than that, it gives you the creative capacity to do your best work. Saying ‘yes’ to too much may reduce the quality of your output.
4. Find your own meditation
While the Oxford Dictionary defines meditation as “the practice of thinking deeply in silence, especially for religious reasons or in order to make your mind calm”, and meditation apps have taken this traditional practice and transformed it with tech, it’s possible to think about meditation differently.
While the traditional idea of meditation might not be for everyone, I believe that certain non-meditation activities can be very much like it. For me, horse riding is like meditation. I have an off-the-track thoroughbred and he is a handful. It’s meditative because I’ve really got to focus. I can’t lose track. I can’t think of anything else at the time.
So, it’s interesting to think about meditation in not just the traditional sense but as an activity you enjoy that requires total concentration. With all the noise and distractions in the world, taking time to have a singular focus on something you enjoy is meditative. And the benefits of meditation are reduced stress, increased focus and more compassion – all of which can benefit your work. So find your meditation and make time for it.
5. Turn your phone off
Like planning a holiday, this seems like a no-brainer. So simple. But as most of us know, it can be so hard to disconnect.
Putting our gadgets down allows something we’ve almost forgotten about: being in the present. No phone, no tablet, no laptop – being in the present is really valuable.
When I’m with my daughter and without a phone, I make a concerted effort to watch her. And it’s not just because life goes by so quickly, but truly paying attention helps with your relationships. When my phone is down, I’m watching you and paying attention, and I know my daughter will even look back at me to make sure that I’m watching.
That really helps with my daughter and my family relationships, but it’s something you can apply to the rest of your life. Think about how powerful increased attention could be in your work-life, whether it’s in a meeting or concentrating on a particular task.
And while multi-tasking used to be so lauded, there’s more and more focus on the benefits of monotasking. So put away the phone.
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