Self management

Self management - Creating a balance between work and private life

Time flies. Are you the pilot or the passenger?

Ingrid Kuhlman

Near the end of their lives all of a sudden many people appear to have the need and time to reflect on what really matters. Often people in their seventies or eighties, thinking over their lives, wish that they had made different choices about the way they lived. They think not so much of the things they did, but more about the things they didn´t do and that they would have wanted to accomplish. Many people follow the path to regret with regard to their personal lives. It seems that in order to succeed in their professional lives they have to trade their family and life for this success. Work consumes them and they cannot seem to find the time to take part in many of the actions outside of work that are truly important to them, such as take the time to enjoy a game of golf, watch their children perform at the school play or simply read a novel. Work often takes priority over family time as we rationalize "Someday I´ll...", postponing what we really ought to be doing. We have a tendency to believe that there is plenty of time left to do the important, but in fact many people when they look back realize that was not the case. The sad thing is that when reflecting on their lives there are few people who wish that they´d spent more time at the office. Most funeral directors have yet to meet the widow who complains that her husband spent too little time at the job.

Succeeding at two jobs
Recent research shows that the second greatest cause of workplace stress is trying to balance work and private life. Employees lead hectic lives and wear many hats. Many are trying to reconcile career ambitions with family values and other responsibilities and interests outside paid work, thus spreading their time over a range of activities. They are managing multiple commitments, trying to live up to all the demands that society, employers and family place on them. Many feel compelled to make trade-offs between work and family. They worry about work when spending time with their family and feel guilty when spending too much time at the office. They often describe their lives as "just struggling for survival, juggling a range of demands" rather than living the life they choose to live.

Changing desires and beliefs
The struggle with time and multiple demands is maybe not a new problem, but with the demise of the male breadwinner and the rise of female participation in the labour market we see a shift in values with respect to work and home. Women expect employment to be part of their current and future lives, while men expect to share family work. It seems also that a new psychological contract is emerging between young people and employers. Young workers don´t want to reproduce the same stress that they experienced growing up with working parents. They don´t agree to working long hours with no time for family and other responsibilities. Jobs have to respond to their needs as people rather than just as workers. Illustrative of that is an international student survey that PriceWaterhouseCoopers conducted in May 1999 among 2500 students in 11 countries. The survey showed that 57% consider achieving a balanced lifestyle and having a rewarding life outside work as their top priority in their future career. Young workers expect flexible working hours that leave time for interests and demands outside work. A recent study by Gemini Consulting found that work-life balance is increasingly important to employees world-wide. The global workforce puts the balance between their work and personal/family lives as one of the top three most important things about their working life. Both organizations and employees benefit from these new values. When employees are able to balance work with the other dimensions of their lives, they are more satisfied both in their jobs and with their personal growth and development. They feel better about their performance at home, are more focused when they are at work and therefore more productive and co-operative. Furthermore, their self-esteem, health, concentration and confidence improves.

All the time in the world
Time is a strange concept. It is the great equalizer for all of us. The thing that we all have in common is that we all have the same amount of time: 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week - no more, no less. We all have too much to do, we all could use more time. Time is a very precious resource, because it cannot be replaced. It is definitely much more valuable than money, because we can always earn more money, but we can never relive the past. Once spent, it is gone forever. We cannot create time and we cannot save it, it can only be spent. We cannot even decide TO spent time, only HOW. Time is life. Therefore it is essential that we check in on our values and connect with our core beliefs, the things that really matter, both at work and in our personal lives. We have to stay consistent with our overall life purpose, with what we want out of life. We can only manage ourselves, not our time.

Don´t wait for that "wake-up call"
Many of us seem to spend more time planning their next vacation than planning their lives. We live life by accident, by chance instead of living it on purpose. The problem is that if we fail to plan, we plan to fail. By planning and deciding what we really want out of life, both at work and in our home and personal lives, we will feel a lot of satisfaction. The feeling of being in reasonable control over our own life is very essential for our personal well-being. Sometimes it takes the death of a loved one, a divorce or a serious illness to get people to do what they know provides their life with meaning. Then they all of a sudden see what could have been, but wasn´t, because they were too busy running around making a living. But at least they were lucky enough to be brought to an awareness. Unluckily enough many of us never get that "wake-up call".

Begin with the end in mind
Stephen Covey, author of the bestseller Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, recommends that we begin our journey of self-discovery with the end in mind i.e. we have to ask ourselves where we want to wind up on the last day of our life at work, at home, in our social life etc. The answer to that question helps us focus on what our lifetime goals are. Then we look at where we are standing today and how we can get to where we want to go in life.

Another question that can bring people to an awareness of whether there´s a match between what they´re doing with their time and what they feel is deeply important, is to ask them what they would do in the face of a crisis. When people are asked to describe what they would do differently in their lives today if they knew that they had only six more months to live, the responses are usually: spend more time with my friends, travel, developing deeper relationships with my children or spouse, read the books I have always wanted to read etc. This then brings us to the next question: What are you waiting for? Why postpone? Why aren´t you putting first things first? Why can´t you spend more time with your loved ones now or read those books? The fact of the matter is that there will never be enough time for everything, but there will always be time to do the things that matter most. And the only way to get the time to do the things we want to do is to take it. We have a choice.

Birtist í Impetus-drifkrafti í maí 2002.


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