As some of you may know, Lil Helper is actually (mostly) run by Moms.
Some of us are “stay-at-home” moms who fight to get work done with a squirmy pre-schooler on our lap and a baby on our boob. Some of us have full-time day gigs. We attempt to get work done somewhere in the dance of supper, bedtime routines, and passing out on the couch that makes up our evenings. But regardless of the details of our circumstances, we are all parents who struggle to find a good balance between working and raising tiny humans.
And can I just say: It. Is. Rough.
Juggling the responsibilities of work and family is a struggle, whether you have kids or not. And I am going to put a disclaimer right here, saying that I am most certainly not an expert.
I have two kids, work a full-time job, and write for Lil Helper. Most days I feel like I’m not doing much more than being fantastically mediocre at all three of those things. Other days, I hit it out of the park with one but drop the ball on the others. And some days I feel like I am failing abjectly in every way.
But if School House Rock taught me anything, it’s that “knowledge is power.”
So let’s break the problem of finding a good work-life balance down and see if we can figure out how it can be tackled.
What is Work-Life Balance?
Those of us struggling with work-life balance do so, in part, because we’ve never been taught what it looks like.
For a long time, our society has put a lot more emphasis on the “work” part of work-life balance. Working, grinding, hustling, getting ahead. That was what our parents were told to focus on and, to a certain extent, that focus hasn’t changed.
A hyper-competitive society has left a lot of us feeling like balance is out of reach.
But, slowly a lot of people are beginning to realize that maintaining some level of self-care is just as important (if not more so) than hustling to get ahead. And the concept of work-life balance goes hand-in-hand with this shift.
According to this cool article by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, work-life balance is “the extent to which an individual is equally engaged in and satisfied with his or her work role and family role.”
So finding work-life balance doesn’t just mean spreading your time out equally between work and home. It is also about feeling satisfied with both roles and having them conflict as little as possible.
In fact, the article further breaks down work-life balance into three main components:
- Time balance: finding a good division of your hours between work and home.
- Involvement balance: making sure you feel psychologically involved and invested in both roles.
- Satisfaction balance: feeling good about both roles and the way you are handling them.
When you take these three components into account, you quickly come to realize that work-life balance is probably going to look different for each person.
They also give you a good place to start looking for ways to make a change, if you are trying to maintain your sanity but struggling with balance.
Five Tips For a Better Work-Life Balance
Now since a good balance is going to look different for everyone, there are no hard and fast rules on how to get to where you want to be. But there are some general things that may help.
And re-prioritize often. In order to address both involvement and satisfaction balance, you need to make sure you are putting focus and resources into the things that are truly important. Evaluate your goals and your values and decide which ones take precedence. Then you can put your focus into things that are aligned with what you have deemed a priority.
You also need to make sure that you are re-evaluating your priorities as things in your life change. Your priorities as a twenty-something single person are going to look different than when you are a thirty-something parent. And that is okay, you just need to make sure that your priorities shift as you do so that they stay relevant and aligned with what is most important to you.
When it comes to time balance, prioritization is also helpful. While your supervisor or your mother-in-law may try to convince you differently, not everything is equally important.
Time is the part of work-life balance that people struggle with the most. Usually, it’s because we don’t put enough thought into what is most important and what actually must be done now. So do fewer things at once and do them well. Focus on stuff that must be done or going to get you disproportionate results and backburner other things. And make sure that you are putting your time into things that only you can do and delegating where you can.
2. Get Organized
I know this one seems a little out of place but as we just discussed, time is one of the hardest things to manage when dealing with work-life balance. And while I may not know much about actually achieving balance, I do know that making the most of my time is about 1000% harder when either my desk, my house, or both are a disaster.
So set up easy-to-maintain organizational systems for yourself, that make it easy for you to get right to work or right to play and spend as little time as possible farting around with mess or clutter. This could mean getting your kids’ toy situation figured out. It could mean using reusable snack bags to make your lunch an easy grab-and-go affair. It could mean using some smaller bags to get your work tote or desk drawers under control.
Basically, anything that is going to save you time and stress. This will make it way quicker to do the stuff you have to do so you can focus on the things you want to do.
3. Set Work-Life Balance Boundaries
This is another one that can also seem daunting. Especially these days, because we all have about 867 ways that people can get in touch with us. This means that we get pressured by people in both our work and personal lives to be constantly available.
My full-time gig is teaching. So this means that I have administrators, parents, and students coming at me at all hours of the day. I literally had a student email me at midnight last week. And get mad because I didn’t answer until the next morning (which was a Saturday, for the record).
When I was younger, I felt a lot more pressure to bring work home. As do a lot of people who are just starting out in their career. Now that I am a bit older, that has changed. Mostly because my priorities have changed (see the “thirty-something parent” comment above). But also because I have just realized that drawing a line between work and home is important and valid. So even if you are still early in your career, find where that line goes and draw it.
4. Be Consistent
This is the secret to getting people to respect where you draw your work-life balance line-in-the-sand.
There will be people (like my student) who try to push you on this. And while there are always legitimate emergencies and exceptions, if you cater to people who cross your line they will learn to expect it. Not because they are mean, but because you didn’t keep the line consistent and they didn’t know they were crossing it.
So if the work-life boundary is breached, use it as an opportunity to re-establish what you are comfortable with (respectfully, obvs).
5. Be Present
Yes, I know, this sounds very hippie-dippy. But, 1) What did you expect? You are on a blog run by a bunch of tree-hugging cloth diaper lovers and 2) Hear me out.
Like we said earlier, involvement and satisfaction are two-thirds of the holy work-life balance trinity. And how likely are you to be fully involved or satisfied with things at work or at home if your mind is always on your other role?
So, even though it can be easier said than done, try to keep things compartmentalized. When you are at your desk, focus on the grind. When you hit your front door, leave it behind. You will probably find that you get more done and are happier with the results.
See, I’m a wise hippie.
Now, I know what you are thinking: “I am already overwhelmed, so finding a good work-life balance just feels like something else to add to my never-ending to-do list.” And, girl, same.
But I really think that is because, when you look at it as a whole, the concept of work-life balance is so big and so foreign that it can feel overwhelming. So my last tip is to take it slow. You didn’t get out of balance overnight, and you are unlikely to get it all together that fast either.
BUT, if you focus on one tip or even one component of your current work-life balance and work to make some changes, you’ll have everything in better balance before you know it.
Or, ya know, mostly.
About the Author
Amanda is a teacher and mom of two from small-town Ontario. When she isn’t struggling to keep up with her boys, you can find her reading, crocheting, or writing poop-jokes for Lil Helper’s website, emails, and blog.
What do you think? Will these tips help you find a better work-life balance? Is there something else you do to keep things in your life balanced? Let me know in the comments!