Feature Article: The Work-Life Balance Conundrum

by Alyssa Fox

Alyssa FoxI’m not a fan of the term “work-life balance,” because work is part of life. I know people are really talking about balancing your professional and personal time and obligations, but it’s still a funny thought. Regardless of the phrasing, it’s still a struggle for all of us to figure out the best way to handle our responsibilities in a way that satisfies the people involved and keeps us from getting burned out.

Know Your Priorities

Before you can determine the best way to juggle your obligations, you must know your priorities. What are the things most important to you in your life? What people come before others? Keep in mind that what works for you might not work for someone else, and vice versa. Once you’ve determined your priorities, discuss them with the people important to you and who have large roles in your life—your spouse/partner/significant other, your manager at work, and your family.

Strive for order, not balance. Some people prefer to let their professional and personal lives blend together, and some don’t. However you choose to approach this is fine. Just realize that sometimes you’ll need to be flexible. There will times you’ll have to take a call from your kid’s school at work, and sometimes you’ll have to send a work email from home. If you’re prepared for this to happen occasionally, it’s less disruptive when it does occur.

Use a Calendar. Relentlessly.

A calendar can be your best friend in managing your various commitments, responsibilities, and down time. If you don’t schedule things on your calendar, especially in the personal arena, they will fall off your radar. Time with friends and family, me-time, exercise…all of this has to be written down. Everyday life sneaks up on you sometimes, and if you don’t have the visual reminder of coffee with a friend, a picnic with your kids, or dedicated time to your hobby, before you know it, weeks will go by and you’ll realize you’ve done all the things you had to do, but none of the things you wanted to do.

I prefer to keep all of my personal, professional, and volunteer events on a single calendar so I don’t double-book myself without realizing it (it’s happened). Even if you maintain separate calendars for each of these areas, find a way to view all of the calendars at once so you can see everything you have scheduled for a particular day. You can also color-code your calendar if that helps you organize yourself.

Dedicate Time

Technology can be a great thing that binds people across the world but can also pressure us into feeling like we have to be responsive at all hours. Choose some time each day that you unplug and deliberately focus on your family, your personal errands, or yourself, and resolve not to check email or do work during those hours. For example, once you arrive home from work, perhaps you don’t check your phone or laptop from 6:00 to 9:30 PM to spend time with your family.

On the flip side, consider setting aside specific time in which you do work if you find it necessary due to the nature of your job, company, or current projects. Remember that flexibility is important – you might have to make an exception to the rule during peak busy times or special projects, or when you have an out-of-the-ordinary family need.

Rethink Errands and Chores

What can you do to minimize or even eliminate the time and energy for your errands? Can you do your errands every couple of weeks instead of every week? Order things online? Can you spend a little more money for convenience’s sake? For example, I despise grocery shopping. For a slight mark-up on grocery items, I can order my groceries online and have them delivered to my house. Yes, it’s costing me a bit more money, but my time (and sanity) is worth it to me. Finally, get help from your family or a paid service on chores – spreading around the work makes things easier and takes less time on each person’s part.

Recharge – Properly

Don’t neglect self-care. Exercise and recharge time are essential—they help relieve your stress and clear your mind, allowing you to plan better and deal with difficult situations more easily. Try to have a few minutes of alone time every day also – even if you think you don’t need it, the quiet can be calming. Additionally, take 15 minutes EVERY day to do something you enjoy, for example, reading, lying down listening to music, or taking a hot bath. These brief respites get you through until you have extended time off. Consider taking a multiple-day vacation at least once a year. One-off vacation days are useful, but don’t allow you to fully reset.

Pause Before Saying Yes

We are all bombarded with requests from others: to volunteer, for our money, for our thoughts or time. Practice pausing before you say yes to any of these requests and ask yourself:

    • What is the time commitment required? Is it a one-time thing? Recurring? Ongoing and for how long?
    • Is this an area of interest for me?
    • Does this help me achieve my personal or professional goals?

Set Expectations

Your life is yours to lead. The percentages of professional and personal in your overall “balance” are up to you. Just be clear when communicating to others so they know what to expect from you. If you’re clear with your manager that you must leave the office at 5 PM every other Tuesday evening to be at a class, they’re less likely to keep you late all the time. If you’re clear with your family that you have a monthly meeting of your professional organization on the third Wednesday and everyone will be on their own that night for dinner, or rides, or whatever, they’re more likely to fend for themselves.

Achieving work-life balance isn’t a matter of splitting the two areas 50-50. It’s about finding the intersection of those areas that’s right for you, how you communicate to others, and continually assessing and adjusting as needed. Find what works for you, and you’ll then find the sense of achievement and enjoyment flowing across all areas of your life.

This article follows the webinar by Alyssa Fox, “Prioritizing the Pressure through Better Time Management,” presented on February 15, 2018 for the STC Women in Technical Communication SIG.

Alyssa Fox is the current STC President. She is a content strategy leader who thrives on improving customer experience through brand consistency. She believes high-value content is one of your most important business assets and builds frameworks and processes that treat it as such. She’s a champion for cultures that position content to drive leads, revenue, and customer retention. Alyssa has vast management experience across global content teams, and has worked on numerous cross-functional initiatives to improve processes and communication across organizations. Her management philosophy is that if you take care of the people, the rest falls into place. Learn more about Alyssa in her profile on the STC website.