I don’t have mixed feelings about the B word -- not that B word… balance. I hate it. There are some days when I feel like I do a good job at home. There are others when I do a good job at work. There are very few when I do a good job at both. If I can get it all done in the course of a week and not get overly cranky with my family, I feel like I’m doing okay and try to cut myself some slack.
And yet balance is one of those things we want. Particularly we women -- although more men are aiming for it these days too. And in recessionary times like these (I know we’re officially out of the recession, but until it starts to feel that way I think we’re still in recessionary times) it’s tougher to come by.
In a survey released in September by consulting firm StrategyOne, 38 percent of those polled said that their work-life balance has gotten worse since the recession. Eighty-nine percent said that maintaining balance is a problem; 54 percent said it is a significant problem. Why? Because when you can’t find that happier ground between work and play (or decide to divide and conquer as I do) both suffer. You don’t perform well at work, because you’re stressed out and spread thin. You’re probably moody and irritable when you’re at home. And when you’re a small business owner on who others rely on for their support, the situation is even worse.
So how do we make it better? I turned to Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and a blogger at www.fourhourblog.com for a few suggestions.
- Make a not-to-do list. You probably have an endless stream of to-do lists, but have you ever made a not-to-do list? If distractions like stalking sample sale websites, reading the news online, and getting caught up in social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are sucking up your time, this is for you. “What are the 20 percent of activities, distractions and interruptions that consume 80 percent of your time?” asks Ferriss. Take a typical day to figure it out, making a note each time you get off track. Then write them down and review them each morning. Slowly, you’ll learn to stop doing them, which will make you more productive over time. If you’re struggling, try a program like my new fave RescueTime, which allows you to block out distracting Internet sites for the amount of time you specify.
- Don’t be a slave to your email. If you stop what you’re doing each time an email comes in, you’ll never get anything done. Instead, turn off the dinging sound that lets you know you have a new email, and set designated hours to check in with your inbox. Ferriss suggests waiting to check email until after 11 a.m., and using the first few hours of your day to accomplish the most dreaded item on your to-do list. You’ll be happy to get it out of the way, and the momentum you feel from crossing that off your list will propel you through the rest of your tasks.
- Draw a line. At least a portion of our problems with work life balance can be attributed to the invention of PDAs, which keep us mentally on the clock even when we’re at home – or worse, when we’re driving, watching our kids soccer games, or at the dinner table. Admittedly, it can be hard to ignore a buzzing Blackberry, but try to remember one thing: If there is truly an emergency at work, something you need to be aware of immediately, the information will be delivered by phone, not email. Try to think of your PDA as a tool you use when you’re away from the computer during work hours, not on evenings and weekends when your time should be spent with family and friends.
- Loosen up a little. In order to get big, important tasks done, less important things might fall by the wayside a bit. That’s okay, says Ferriss. “Accept and make peace with letting little bad things happen. For example, return a phone call late and apologize, pay a small late fee, lose an unreasonable customer to get the big, important things done. The answer is not spinning more plates – or doing more – it’s defining the few things that can really fundamentally change your business and life.” In short, that means prioritizing.
- Get help. If you’re constantly stretched too thin, it might be time to hire out. I know what you’re thinking: Your balance sheet doesn’t allow for that. But if you turn your focus away from mundane administrative tasks, you open your schedule up to revenue producing activities, like pulling in more clients. If you’re still unsure, consider a virtual assistant, says Ferriss. It’s not a big commitment, and with most services, you can hire for just a few hours a month. He suggests www.asksunday.com or www.elance.com.
Jean Chatzky, award-winning journalist and best-selling author, is the financial editor for NBC's "Today," a contributing editor for More magazine, and a columnist for The New York Daily News. She is the author of six books, including her newest, Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved. Check out Jean's blog at JeanChatzky.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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