The Fairytale of the Work-Life Balance

I was supposed to write this blog post last week. Last week became a complete and utter train wreck for me. My work-life balance was completely off kilter. Well, everything felt off kilter. So, I decided to sit down and write it today on a day when I am home with two kids who have no school for President’s Day and while I try to maintain any of my own sanity because why not keep it real?

Per usual, what follows is really just a list of my thoughts and things I do to try and keep perspective. I’m not an expert, just someone who rambles on the Internet from time to time 🙂

1. Demand Balance. The only way to have any work-life balance is to take it. By that, I mean in order to maintain balance you have to absolutely know when to say No and know when things are starting to feel off balance and need to be realigned. Only you know those things. I’m pretty sure most bosses will let you work yourself into a tizzy and are busy enough that they may not even know until it’s too late. Because I’ve had very serious health concerns happen to me that were related to stress in a previous job, I try to be really aware of all of my people and check in with them (especially the most eager beavers) to make sure they are not overdoing it.

2. Try not to bring your work or your work feelings home. Or, if you have to, set a timer and get the feelings out or get the work done. For example, Saturday morning I needed to catch up on things and so I set a time for an hour. Then, I was done with it for the rest of the weekend. Some days, or maybe most days,  you need to come home and vent to someone about the crap that happens at work. My suggestion is to do this with a friend or your partner and take turns doing it. Really take the time to ask each other how the other person’s day was but then focus on the listening after you’ve blurted all of your stuff out. Then, forget it for the night. (I am the world’s worst when it comes to letting things stew, but I’m working on it.)

3. Flexible work hours. If you are the boss of people, I implore you to try and have some flexibility in schedules and hours. Of course, we automatically think of the people with children who need to juggle after school activities, doctors, sick kids, etc. But, also, I’d encourage us all to be more flexible with all people in terms of their time to come in later and stay later or come in early if they are the weird morning person type and leave earlier (I kid). Whatever it is that makes people feel that they have balance between their job and their lives. If my librarians need to, they know they can work from home anytime. Sometimes we all need to be able to focus and not be distracted. I think that makes them happier people and then better librarians. And if you feel like you’d be a better employee with a little flexibility in your time, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

4. Let go of perfection in both work and life. Trust me, this struggle is real. I’ve got an idea now in my head of the bare minimum of where I need the state of the Floopbrarian house to be by Sunday night so that I can get through the work week and not go insane. (I am letting go of the idea that the house needs to be clean, perfect, and put away and all of the meals planned for the week. I dream big.) I also have come to realize that very few people at my place of work expect pure perfection from me and that my own expectations are way higher than the people I work with. We do a great job and get a lot done. There will always be more to do or ways to do it better and we will get there, eventually.

5. Triage your life. Make lists. What needs to be done today, this week, and sometime soon. Make them for both life and work. (Or personal if you feel like work is part of your life). For me, these need to be physical lists or in an app where I can cross things off. I need the crossing off part. It’s soothing. You may also benefit from a Planner or an App to guide you in this journey. Do what works for you.

6. Carve out catch up time. This January when I went back to work after break, I took all of my standing Monday meetings off my schedule. Same for Friday afternoons. Otherwise, I’m in meetings from Monday through Friday with tiny pockets of break time in between and getting nothing completed. I realized I needed more solid time, without distractions, to really work on longer term plans that needed thinking. Then I can also feel ready for the week and I mentally know that I’m probably not getting much else done for the rest of the week because I’m in meetings. On Friday afternoons, I wrap up the week, think about the next, and make sure I get to Inbox Zero.

For home, I need to get up before everyone else. Even if it’s only 30 minutes. I can make coffee, deal with pets, make lunches, check my schedule for the day. That quiet time in the morning feels crucial so that I don’t feel overwhelmed the whole day.

Figure out the things you absolutely need to have ready and done for your day and do those, whether they are weekly or daily. I also try and take about 20-30 minutes in the middle of the day to step away from the computer and work and just reflect on how the day or week is going and make mental notes, especially, of what is going well.

7. Take care of you. I know that I’m often taking care of every one else and I forget to take care of me. I’m trying to get better at this. Like, I need sleep. I mean, we all need sleep but it’s crucial for me or I eventually break down. I need to get to the gym and do something physical to keep myself sane too. (This struggle is also very real. Especially in the winter.) And we try to eat healthy and model that behavior for the small humans, even though on a really stressful day I just want to eat wine for dinner.

8. Appreciate your partner. I cannot tell you how much easier life is when you and your partner have dialogue and talk about how things are making you feel and spend some time telling each other and showing each other how much you are appreciated. Appreciation makes everything easier. If you’re partnerless, find someone at work who you can develop a mutual appreciation with and just tell each other you’re doing a good job.

9. Tell your boss when things aren’t working. We aren’t mind readers (mostly). If things feel out of whack to you or someone isn’t doing their fair share, we need to know to either help you figure out the path to correct it or correct it ourselves. Sometimes, you need to come and tell us when things are out of whack so that we can help you prioritize your work. I think that’s kind of what I’m there for. And, if your boss said they’d take care of something and they haven’t, maybe a gentle reminder would help. 🙂

10. Cut Yourself Some Slack. When you know things have gotten out of whack, take a step back, and try your best to realign your goals, life priorities. But, first just cut yourself some slack. Take a mental health day. Get a pedicure (guys too!). Get a massage. Read a trashy novel. Don’t clean your house.

There’s my two cents. I’m going to go back now and make sure nothing is burning down because the house has been quiet for like 30 minutes.

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