In the span of one year, I exited the first company I’d founded eight years ago and co-founded an entirely new company with a new partner. It’s been a crazy journey, but as difficult as it’s been, it’s also been one of the most exciting and satisfying years of my life. That’s not just because of my work — I also had my third child this past February.
As you get older, your professional and personal responsibilities both grow — sometimes too quickly to manage. Maintaining strong work-life balance is critical to keeping yourself happy and productive, but it’s just as important to the well-being of those around you. The more people who rely on you — either in the office or at home — the more important it is that you keep both spheres balanced.
Being successful doesn’t just mean making a lot of money. It means achieving success in all aspects of life, whether it’s nabbing a big client or simply being there for the people most important to you.
Keeping the Scales Balanced
Keeping all aspects of your life in working order is always harder than you think it is, but here are some ways to make everything go more smoothly:
1. Stay on top of your schedule.
I schedule every single minute of my day — and it does wonders for me. While it might sound overly restrictive, detailed scheduling is actually liberating. Assigning specific tasks to specific time blocks ensures that I get done exactly what I need to when I need to.
A well-organized schedule isn’t just a schedule; it’s a promise to yourself that you’ll fulfill your most pressing obligations. Scheduling your day can help keep you from getting bogged down in trivial moment-to-moment work, letting you focus on the bigger tasks that matter.
2. Don’t let one creep too far into the other.
An unhealthy working schedule rarely starts that way. More often than not, what begins as a manageable workday slowly starts to seep into personal time. Innocent, one-off things like reading an email, checking on an account, or contacting a client have the potential to snowball into a much larger work-life balance issue.
That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with working outside the office — working from home can actually be the most efficient way to get things done. What’s important is knowing when you’re working and when you’re not. If you’re constantly on call or always ready to respond to an email, your time at home will start to feel like an extension of the office. Having designated hours of work and designated hours of rest increases your happiness and productivity across the board.
3. Know the schedules of those around you.
Figuring out your own schedule is only half the battle. To get the most out of both your personal time and your professional time, you need to know what those around you are doing. Designing your schedule in a vacuum ultimately means you’re going to have conflicts with the schedules of your co-workers, friends, and family.
Work-life balance isn’t just about putting the “appropriate” number of hours into each facet of your life. It’s also about being around for the key moments. Clocking in 50 hours a week at work doesn’t mean as much when your schedule forces you to miss a big meeting. Getting home early isn’t as valuable when it means missing an important birthday party or piano recital later on.
4. Analyze your time.
How do you really spend your time? What proportion of your day is spent working with clients? Entering data? Checking emails? Making the most of your time means spending that time in the most useful way possible, and it’s difficult to get the most out of your time if you don’t know how your time is being spent in the first place.
One way to combat this is through time analysis. Your time has value, both to you and your organization, so it’s important to spend it exactly how it’s most needed. Find a calendar app that keeps track of how you spend your time; after a couple weeks, set aside a few moments to look at the results. Make sure your schedule’s not being overrun by trivial tasks. If you’re spending too much time on work each week, see where you can cut back to focus more on your personal priorities.
5. Think about more than just time.
Tracking the hours you spend at work and home can lead you to think that balancing your professional and personal lives is merely a numbers game. The truth, however, is that just physically being somewhere is different from truly “being” there. We’ve all come home from a hard day at work in a daze, and we’ve all come to work hazy after an exhausting night. Striking the right balance means balancing your energy, as well as your time.
One strange solution to this equation is to simply care less about work. Professional responsibilities are a given — you need to accomplish certain tasks and goals in order to fulfill the requirements of your position. Personal responsibility, on the other hand, often seems more optional — there doesn’t seem to be as strong a requirement to see your friends and relax. If you accepted your professional responsibilities and achievements, but devoted more of your personal energy and care toward your personal responsibilities, you’d be surprised to see how much things might even out.
You’re never going to get your best work done if you’re not satisfied with all aspects of your life. Devoting too many hours to your job can actually reduce the quality of your work and bring other aspects of your life down as well. Managing your professional and personal lives is critical to making the most of everything you do, and thinking critically about how you spend your time and energy is necessary for balancing the scales.