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A Question of Balance

I took a short break this summer and promised myself no laptop, no mobile, no sneaky catch up on e-mails.  To connect with the world of work, I would have to take a ferry trip and head for the nearest internet café.  To my shame, halfway through my first day, I did just that.  At the only internet café for miles around I joined a queue of anxious executives, all waiting to see whether the workplace was managing without them.  I turned tail, took the next ferry back and vowed I would not so much as go near the place for the rest of the break.   I kept my vow but I did spend time thinking about my own work-life balance.

Organisations have started to recognise the business case for supporting work-life balance by introducing family-friendly policies and personal support services.  Benefits to an organisation can include greater flexibility in service provision, improved staff commitment and motivation, decrease in retention of staff and meeting legal requirements.

Helpful as such policies and support are it also requires an organisational culture where it is acceptable for staff to discuss, openly, issues of work-life balance and where leaders act as powerful role models sending positive messages about balance.

As individuals, we may also need to move away from thinking solely about “time” and move more towards thinking about “choice”.  How we get balance in our lives comes down to how we use our time.  How we use our time is a matter of choice. How we make our choices depends on what is important to us…our values.  

A useful way of checking whether we align our choices to our values is to keep a time log for a week or two, not only making a note of what we did, but also adding the reason why we did it and asking what value(s) underpinned that choice.  Some activities will be essential or beyond our control, but what about the rest?  This process can be very revealing.  We may find that we are acting totally in accordance with our values.  On the other hand, we may find that the values we hold are not actually the ones we live by.

The search for the holy grail of work-life balance – finding time for all we want to do in our lives – often seems frustrating.  It is challenging to discard old habits, change behaviours, and (self) consciously stop to ask questions such as “is this the best use of my time right now?” or “how does this activity fit with my values?”    

Nevertheless, it is rewarding.  When we make choices that align with our values we feel a sense of balance, less stressed and more fulfilled.  When we do not, well, perhaps we end up queuing at an internet café.

First Published in my coaching column in the Health Service Journal