My previous company went on a great big campaign to encourage work-life balance among its employees but then again, the extremely stressful environment did not really help much. How can one achieve work-life balance when the work itself with its gazillion deadlines, back-to-back meetings, presentations, conferences, new product development and what-have-yous make extended work hours a compulsory part of your day – such that going home at the official close of business (with that I mean 5 or 6pm) would mean work piling up for you in the days moving forward? I personally used to come in at work by 7:30am just to get started early but, despite that, still go home at 8pm to even as late as 11pm. Yeah, come to think of it…it would have been better if I had just lived in the office. It would have saved me tons in gas expenses and travel time.
One very important thing to really understand here is that your world should not revolve around your work. It is enough that you work most days of your entire week..of your entire month…of your entire year and are just allowed 15 vacation days a year! Fifteen days only to go on vacation. F I F T E E N days out of T H R E E H U N D R E D S I X T Y F I V E days a year to slack off, drop your guard and let loose? While sometimes is fine, to develop a habit of consistently allowing yourself to work beyond work hours and much more work during weekends, to allow your work to eat up on what’s left of the measly time you have for yourself and your family is just plain foolish. It is pathetic martyrdom and voluntary slavery.
No no no…you should not put the blame on your company or the stressful work environment you are in. It is also not up to the company or your employer to come up with work-life balance campaigns or initiatives (that more often than not don’t really do anyone any good) for employees to actually start having a balance in their lives. That work-life balance has to start with you. It is up to you to set your limits as to how much time you must allow yourself to devote to your work. Parkinson’s Law says work expands to fill the time available for completion. It means that if you don’t give yourself a time limit to finish your work then, psychologically speaking, your work will expand in complexity to fill the time that you have for it. It may not even fill the extra time with more work but just stress and tension about having to get it done. So if you develop this notion that you are okay to stay in the office late each day so long as you can get going by 8pm, then even if you can get things done by, say, 5pm, it will really take you a longer time to finish. You see, setting a limit to the time you devote to get things done at work on a daily basis is of utmost importance. With that, your work will contract in complexity and you will be able to regain more personal time. Have you ever accomplished a task or a project so fast that it made you question yourself because nothing could be that easy – “What, that’s it? It couldn’t be. I must have missed something.” Well, people really do have a tendency to make things more complex than they should be and most of the time, it is in relation to the inflated idea of how much time you need to get something done. So now, you should really re-think those allowances or buffer time you would give a project or your work day. It just might be working to your disadvantage!
So set a limit for yourself. Say you will be done and off work by 6pm. Don’t keep extending your work hours because you want to get more and more and more done. If you could finish all your work in one day then your company would not have hired you for a regular position. Aim to work smarter and faster as it is way better than working harder and longer. As you work smarter and faster, ensure excellence and extreme quality in your work as well. As you develop this habit, you will find that your days will be longer with your personal time increasing significantly. Suddenly, you can do more stuff in one day than you could ever imagine…spend time with your family, have dinner and drinks with your friends, all the other simple pleasures you can insert in your everyday that before you could only do during the weekends.
I absolutely love people who are passionate about what they do, passionate about their careers. One must not overdo it, though. Work can definitely help you grow and can be so fulfilling but it is not all that your life is about. Your work should just be a means for you to have the fuel that will enable you to enjoy what life has to offer. So find time to explore the beauty of the world that surrounds you – travel as if this was the last year of your life, engage in exhilarating activities, go clubbing, wine and dine, explore cuisines other than what you have been used to your entire life. Work to live and not the other way around.
Cheers and good vibes!
© Karen Cornejo, September 2012