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Create a work/life balance plan

By David Nelems

If you’ve seen the Apple TV show “Severance,” you’ve seen the extreme dystopian interpretation of a work/life balance. In this show the main characters agree to a surgical “severance” program in which their non-work memories are separated from their work memories. While they’re at home, they have no idea what they do at work. While they’re at work they have no idea who they are outside of work. 

Covid made work/life balance top of mind again. 

The challenge in our western culture to be successful is strong. It’s about “getting there,” “living the American Dream.” At some point you come to the realization that maybe you never “get there.” It is always “over the horizon.” Thus, you keep working; trying to achieve something that maybe you’ll never achieve. 

This is a powerful mentality that many of us have grown up with. It’s hard to shake. A friend told me: “It was always about the next thing, whether it was a promotion or another opportunity,” he says. “It’s difficult to see beyond that when you’re in that world.” 

Personally, I have been successful in different ventures but still felt I had not “succeeded. “ When I thought about it, I realized some people would look at me in a successful light, but I still thought I had not achieved enough. For so long it was all about work. I mean, I spent 60-80 hours a week doing it for decades. 

Many people are opting for more life and less work. More experiences and fewer things. Less money but more sunsets. 

Only recently did I figure out what worked for me and balanced it out. I was listening to society, to the work culture – not myself. 

How to achieve the balance? Here are some thoughts:

Set Limits. If you don’t set limits, work can just spread into your non-work life. We are always connected. It’s easy to pick up the phone at home for a two-minute work task and still be working 60 minutes later. Try to disconnect.

Manage your time. Give yourself enough time to get things done. Don’t overschedule yourself. More on that in a moment.

Learn to say “no.” Evaluate your priorities at work and at home. Cut or delegate activities you don’t enjoy. Another way to look at it: When you say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else. When you quit accepting tasks out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you’ll have more time for activities that are meaningful to you.

Detach from work. Working from home or frequently using technology to connect to work when you’re at home can cause you to feel like you’re always on the job. This can lead to
chronic stress.

Consider your options. Ask your employer about flex hours, a compressed work week, job sharing or other scheduling flexibility. The more control you have over your hours, the less stressed you’re likely to be.

When I was asked to write this article, I had recently come to my own epiphany. After 36 years of working, (and a pandemic), I thought that I should consider myself successful. Maybe I should enjoy experiences. And get off the treadmill because treadmills don’t get you anywhere — they just make you work.

What had really started working for me right as Covid hit was managing my time. I have a 25-minute talk available at www.donryancenter.com on various ways to do this, but for me it came down to managing my work calendar.

My calendar is my to-do list

I hate to-do lists. They just don’t work for me.

I had a daily planner in which I listed the things I needed to do, while I kept the places I needed to be in my calendar. While these may seem like two different ideas (doing things vs. being places), they are really just explanations for how I’m going to spend my time.

Many people have a calendar and they have a “To Do List.” Why not combine them? 

My calendar is my To Do List. Many of my tasks are repeated and are scheduled weeks in advance at the same day and time. Then I schedule other things around them. If you have things you do every week, schedule them at the same time on the same day — it gives you more structure, which creates more discipline, and that helps you get more things done.

What brings me balance is to leave work at work. Simple? Yes. Easy?
Not always.

Sometimes that’s not possible. But for 95 percent of the time, my work stays at the office. I don’t check email. I don’t answer work texts after 5 p.m. My colleagues know this about me. They know that when I go on vacation, I am completely gone. I’m a black hole. Work is not who I am. Work is one thing I do. I have found that the last thing I want to do when I go home is to keep working. Did I mention that it took me decades to figure this out and to be disciplined to do it? It is not a switch you flip. This may take time.

Now, depending on your job position/title, or where you are in your career path journey, you may not be able to completely turn it off after 5 o’clock or while you are on vacation. But do try to set boundaries for yourself so you can try to keep a good balance.

Beyond these thoughts, I can’t really tell you how to achieve your work/life balance. It’s up to you. It’s up to you to have that epiphany on your own. I hope you don’t wait as long as I did to have it, to become comfortable with your work life and your personal life and how much importance you give to each.

David Nelems is vice president of innovation for the Don Ryan Center for Innovation. Founded in 2012, the center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs succeed and innovative companies grow.

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