Too much to do and not enough time to do it? If so, you might be one of the 58% of Canadians who report “role-overload.”
Busy lives are made up of the many and varied roles that each of us play, such as parent, spouse, employee, volunteer, care-giver, friend, coach, family member and so on. Role-overload can happen in two ways. First, we may have a lack of time to invest in the many roles that we play, which can result in a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” cycle, a coping pattern that tends to worsen over time. Second, roles may become increasingly demanding and diverse, often leading us to feel overwhelmed, incompetent, or just plain burned-out.
Signs that you may be living a life that is out-of-balance include the following:
Feeling over-tired despite weekends or time off
Difficulty facing work
Cutting out activities which you previously enjoyed
Avoiding time with family and friends
Feelings of hopelessness or despair
Too much overtime
Too much time off
Sense of loss of control over life
Difficulty concentrating on the task at hand; making more errors and mistakes than is usual
Nagging guilt that you are failing to do everything you should
Work-life balance starts with a clear-eyed evaluation of your many roles. Begin by writing them down. You may be surprised by how many there are and what you are trying to juggle! Beside each, answer the following: Why are you doing this? When did it begin? Did you intend to continue this role when you started it? Do you want to continue it now? Which of these roles are most important to you? Which of them do you least value? Imagine a milestone birthday in the future. What would you like your friends to say about you? Set priorities which help you to determine where best to spend your time and energy. Give yourself permission to let go of, or change roles which demand too much and give too little satisfaction. The following tips might help you to get your work/life balance right.
Do a one-week time study. Track where your time goes and then prioritize. Cut, rearrange, delegate tasks where possible and speak to your employer about getting further support.
Do tasks in advance, both at home and at work. Prepare weekly menus, and plan around after-hour obligations. First thing on the job, review the tasks for the day and plan how you will manage them.
Investigate options in your workplace for flexing hours, job sharing, telecommuting, etc.
Review finances and spending to make sure you are not over- working to make money when simply saving it, or managing it differently, would be less of a strain.
Identify your back-up people for work and for home. Your back-up person might be a neighbour who can provide emergency after-school care for your children, or a fellow-worker who can step into your job if a family emergency comes up. Make sure to provide your back-ups with the necessary resources such as contact information, keys, and procedural information.
If it’s work, leave it at work. After hours, keep time spent on work emails and phone calls to minutes not hours, and then turn your devices off.
When at work, ask family members to limit contact with you to specified times, unless there is a crisis. Learn to say “this can wait.”
Manage your tasks. Be as efficient as possible, whether at work or at home. Put family events on a calendar and then review each week. Make to-do lists and be sure to delegate home tasks where possible. “Doing it all” or “doing it my way” is a mindset that can leave you burdened and resentful. You might need to relax your expectations and let others help.
Limit the number of activities your children are involved in on weekends and during evening hours.
Develop a support system. Share driving duties and child-care with other parents, organize work bees with neighbours around lawn work, and house repairs. Set up a barter system; perhaps you have a skill you can offer in return for a service you need.
Learn to say “no” if you are routinely saying “yes” out of guilt, or because you are afraid of displeasing or offending others.
Take care of yourself. This includes getting enough sleep, and paying attention to good nutrition. Build exercise into your day. Wear a pedometer to encourage you to walk more. (Remember that thirty minutes of walking a day is the minimum you require to maintain good health.)
Use your leisure time to renew your energy and maintain a view on what really matters to you.
Make room for your relationships. Share your challenges and take help when offered.
Schedule in time for fun. Remember that laughter is as essential as air.
Some people are particularly at risk for having a life that is out of balance. Shift workers, for example, may find it more challenging to take care of their sleep, nutrition and exercise needs, and they may feel they have limited time to connect with family and friends. Single parents may feel that they do not have the social supports to help with taking care of a family. Care-givers for elderly or ill family members may feel over-burdened with little time left over for good self-care. If you think you don’t have time to consider whether or not your life is in balance, you probably are someone whose life needs re-balancing! Many situations in life are uniquely difficult. Sometimes, fine-tuning priorities proves to be very hard. If you experience long-lasting feelings of being over-whelmed, exhausted, hopeless or anxious, speaking to a mental-health professional can be helpful. Don’t hesitate to use your EAP. Remember, life is a work in progress. Balance is a continuing process rather than an achievement.
Written by: Valerie Mills-Milde, MSW, RSW