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The Need for Work/Life Balance

The Need for Work/Life Balance


    Do you work over 40 hours a week and still feel like you can’t get everything done? We have all been there. You are sitting at your desk saying…

    “If I just could work 3 more hours today, or 10 more hours this week I could get all this work done.”

    Then you sit there hour after hour, day after day and the work is still there, but you are more stressed out because your productivity has gotten even worse. Why, you wonder, is this happening?

    We all think the solution is to just work more hours. While this sometimes works in the short term, it can have dire consequences in the long run. The problem with such long hours of focused concentration is the burnout that we have all experienced at one time or another. Especially if you are a freelancer, you have to be extra conscious of how you spend your time and you can’t afford to make these mistakes. You don’t have the security of a regular job – if you are not putting in the time, you are not getting paid. However, at the same time you don’t want overwork yourself up to the point where you are burned out.

    Balance of uptime and downtime

    We all need to strike a balance between our work lives and our personal lives. It is far better to have eight hours of productive, focused work than 16 hours of unfocused staring at the screen. As much as we would like to think that we can work 24/7 if we just put our minds to it – we can’t. Balance in your life means you are well rested, you don’t feel the need for coffee or stimulants to keep you going and you are able to focus on your own. You will generally feel everything is doable and you don’t have any excessive stress.

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    When we talk about balance in our lives we are talking about the proportions of uptime and downtime in our daily routine. Uptime is anything that requires you to think. This is what we all do when we are “working.” These are traditionally “left brain” activities such as processing emails, taking notes and analyzing information.

    Downtime is anything you consider “fun” and does not require a lot of conscious thought. However, this need for balance can be a subjective idea. One person’s downtime could be another’s work drudgery and vice versa.

    Switch it up

    It is important to actively schedule breaks into our work day. Make sure they are short periods of true mental disengagement. Professional athletes call this performing “dissociative activities.” They know they need to balance periods of extreme concentration with a completely different activity. If you could see the locker rooms of many pro athletes during breaks on practice days, you would see them playing video games or watching movies. Even though their bodies are still clad in their uniforms their brains are completely removed from the previous tasks and are completely focused on something else.

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    These activities may seem to us to be mindless and without real purpose. You may think playing a short computer game on your computer during work hours when you have a 10 minute break is not a good use of your time, but it is the changing of thought patterns that is exactly what your neural pathways need.

    When we are trying to insert these types of activities into our daily personal lives we can do things in our off hours such as getting a massage, catching up with friends, shopping or learning a new skill. Using the right side of the brain in creative pursuits such as art can be tremendously relaxing for this very reason.

    The need for balance varies from person to person and depends on your attention span. Find out how much balance you need. During the work day, experiment on small breaks at different times and find what works best for you. Most people need 15 minutes of rest every 90 minutes of work in a day, and at least one day a week, and one week a quarter off. When you discover the pattern of breaks and rest that allows you to remain focused and productive you will have reduced your stress level and you will have more consistency in your daily routines. This self-management tip is key for your personal success and I hope that you will incorporate this into your life.

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    (Photo credit: Scales with Work and Life via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on December 2, 2018

    How to Flow Your Way to a More Productive Life

    How to Flow Your Way to a More Productive Life

    Ebb and flow. Contraction and expansion. Highs and lows. It’s all about the cycles of life.

    The entire course of our life follows this up and down pattern of more and then less. Our days flow this way, each following a pattern of more energy, then less energy, more creativity and periods of greater focus bookended by moments of low energy when we cringe at the thought of one more meeting, one more call, one more sentence.

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    The key is in understanding how to use the cycles of ebb and flow to our advantage. The ability to harness these fluctuations, understand how they affect our productivity and mood and then apply that knowledge as a tool to improve our lives is a valuable strategy that few individuals or corporations have mastered.

    Here are a few simple steps to start using this strategy today:

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    Review Your Past Flow

    Take just a few minutes to look back at how your days and weeks have been unfolding. What time of the day are you the most focused? Do you prefer to be more social at certain times of the day? Do you have difficulty concentrating after lunch or are you energized? Are there days when you can’t seem to sit still at your desk and others when you could work on the same project for hours?

    Do you see a pattern starting to emerge? Eventually you will discover a sort of map or schedule that charts your individual productivity levels during a given day or week.  That’s the first step. You’ll use this information to plan your days going forward.

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    Schedule According to Your Flow Pattern

    Look at the types of things you do each day…each week. What can you move around so that it’s a better fit for you? Can you suggest to your team that you schedule meetings for late morning if you can’t stand to be social first thing? Can you schedule detailed project work or highly creative tasks, like writing or designing when you are best able to focus? How about making sales calls or client meetings on days when you are the most social and leaving billing or reports until another time when you are able to close your door and do repetitive tasks.

    Keep in mind that everyone is different and some things are out of our control. Do what you can. You might be surprised at just how flexible clients and managers can be when they understand that improving your productivity will result in better outcomes for them.

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    Account for Big Picture Fluctuations

    Look at the bigger picture. Consider what happens during different months or times during the year. Think about what is going on in the other parts of your life. When is the best time for you to take on a new project, role or responsibility? Take into account other commitments that zap your energy. Do you have a sick parent, a spouse who travels all the time or young children who demand all of your available time and energy?

    We all know people who ignore all of this advice and yet seem to prosper and achieve wonderful success anyway, but they are usually the exception, not the rule. For most of us, this habitual tendency to force our bodies and our brains into patterns of working that undermine our productivity result in achieving less than desired results and adding more stress to our already overburdened lives.

    Why not follow the ebb and flow of your life instead of fighting against it?

      Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

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