Forbes.com | by Helen Coster and Tara Weiss | 3/31/2010
For most people, juggling the demands of a career and a personal life is an ongoing challenge, especially at a time when many companies have slashed their ranks —and expect more from the survivors.
Achieving the elusive “work-life balance” can often feel like an impossible goal, especially for people who strive to give everything 100%. In today’s “do more with less” competitive reality, how can we manage careers and families, and feel satisfied with both?
People who study workplace culture emphasize that someone’s best individual work-life balance will vary over time. The right balance for you when you’re single will change when you marry or have children. Experts also say that a few small steps can go a long way toward staying sane at work and home.
First, prioritize. “If you want balance–and not everybody does–you have to force yourself to edit yourself personally and professionally,” says Jody Miller, founder of the executive staffing firm Business Talent Group.
Consider all the things that compete for your time, and decide what to keep and what to discard. If you volunteer with three nonprofit organizations, select the most meaningful one, focus on it, and stop giving your scattered attention to all three.
“Focus on the things that are important to you, and don’t do the extraneous stuff,” says Miller. “It’s a discipline that doesn’t come too naturally to most of us.”
If your firm allows staffers to telecommute, consider working from home a few days a week. When discussing this option with your boss, approach it from a position of strength. Describe how the flexibility could ultimately help your company. Consider saying: “I like my job, and feel that I’m an asset. I’d like to talk about ways I can make my work here as productive as possible. I’m in a not-so-unique situation of caring for my elderly parents (or whatever your situation may be), and working from home once or twice a week would give me much-needed extra time. I believe I’d be able to give you better work, since I’d be less distracted.”
You might be surprised to find your boss sympathetic–particularly if you’re a top performer–because he or she is in a similar situation. In this economy, employers that can’t give raises might be willing to offer other benefits. They want to treat their best employees well, so that when the economy does turn around those employees don’t flee to another company.
Technology is a good servant, but a bad master. Remember that BlackBerrys and other devices exist to make your life easier, not to rule it. Identify certain times, like dinner, when your household must remain tech-free. Mention this window to your manager and co-workers. “Set up your rules and adhere to them,” says Barbara Wankoff, director of workplace solutions for the professional services firm KPMG. “Be a model to your family.”
Loretta Penn, president of Spherion Staffing Services, takes it a step further: “You don’t have to respond to every e-mail or voice mail as soon as it comes in,” Penn says. “Just because someone else deems something a priority doesn’t mean you should, too.”