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Ask The Expert : How can I get the right work/life balance?

Question
I work long hours and even when I get home I can’t switch off.  I’m too tired to do any of the things I used to enjoy, even going out or seeing friends.  I feel that my family are being affected by this situation.  What can I do to get the work/life balance right?

Answer
This is a common problem where people feel that their life is work, perhaps more home-based tasks, some sleep and then back to work again.  It is important to get the balance right between work and other aspects of life.

It can be useful to look at some activities out-with work and assess how much time you are spending on these on a scale from “no time at all” to “a satisfactory amount of time”.  These activities will vary from person to person, but what you are looking for is a rounded lifestyle instead of one totally centred around work.  Some examples are:

Spending time with the family
Remember that working long hours can make this difficult, so you may need to challenge the norm and work late only when this is really necessary.

Exercise / sport
These will increase rather than deplete energy levels and can also lift the mood. There are many choices; not just going to the gym but various sports, dancing classes or fitness videos … and walking can be just as good.

Hobbies and interests
These can be absorbing and a contrast to work activities.  There may be something you enjoyed in the past that you might like to restart, or you could enjoy the challenge of something completely new. There is a wide range of classes available – all you need is the motivation to make a start.  For some people going with a friend can make this easier and more fun.

Time for myself
Many people feel that they are surrounded by people and noise at work and sometimes things are the same when they get home. It is possible to set aside time for yourself without feeling guilty as this is not time wasted, but time invested in your well-being.  You may need help with childcare but this can be a reciprocal arrangement.

Getting enough sleep / relaxing
There are techniques which you can learn from tapes or books on relaxation that can help you to relax and also help you get to sleep.  If you wake during the night it is better to get up if you can’t get back to sleep and read or write down some of the things that may be on your mind. For example, these may be a list of things to do the next day, or ideas you want to remember.  Just writing them down can have a calming affect and help you to get back to sleep.

Spending time with friends
You may find that you have lost contact with friends because you have felt too tired to make the effort to have them to your house or to make arrangements to go out.  This is one way to add fun, relaxation and, with a bit of luck, some laughter and enjoyment to your work /life balance. You could set yourself the challenge of inviting some friends over and hopefully then realising how easy and enjoyable your time together has been.

One important point is that you should not try to do too much at once, just introduce small changes when you are ready.  You have to plan your time at work and it may be that you also have to plan your time out-with your workplace.  You need to be motivated to “ring-fence” time for your planned changes and you may need to get support from the family to achieve this, but they will benefit as well as you.

I hope that you will have renewed energy and enjoyment of life once you have the work / life balance back. Having a rounded lifestyle will also help you to put into proportion the inevitable pressures that occur at work.

This article’s expert was Dr Anita Levinson

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