Leaders are the “strong ones” who “have it all together,” right? After all, they’re entrusted with guiding their team or organization to success. Surely they’ve perfected the art of work-life balance! This stereotype is inaccurate at best and, at worst, harmful. Plenty of leaders struggle to fulfill work, family and community responsibilities and still find time to recharge. Despite struggling, leaders often put on a brave face because they are afraid of losing the confidence of those they lead. It can be hard for anyone to admit when life feels like it’s falling out of balance.
Finding and maintaining work-life balance is essential for flourishing in a well-rounded life. This phrase often receives lip-service in organizations whose cultures promote the opposite, but that doesn’t reduce its importance. Falling out of balance has consequences not only for a leader and their family; those they lead suffer as well. And, when life loses proportion, the causes likely won’t resolve on their own. Restoring order in one’s life requires first restoring internal balance through honest self-appraisal, self-management and – sometimes – a little help. Read on to discover practical tips for restoring equilibrium in your life.
Seven Tips for Improving Work-Life Balance
Admit When There’s An Issue
Acknowledging that you feel out of balance can be difficult. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s synonymous with “failing.” But, the fact is that we live in high-stakes societies that expect individuals to:
- work and excel in a challenging job (or multiple jobs!) that may demand well over 40 hours a week
- develop and maintain healthy relationships and families
- raise well-rounded, capable and successful children
- contribute meaningfully to community organizations
- display material proof of one’s success (nice house, cars, clothes, vacations)
- sacrifice personal health and wellness to sustain the above
This is a lot to juggle, especially when a person is in a leadership position. It’s unreasonable to expect to maintain perfection in all areas. In fact, we’re much more likely to show compassion to others who are struggling, while still holding ourselves to impossible standards.
While you may be able to maintain a flawless façade for a while, imbalances will only get worse. It’s far better to recognize when things are starting to fall apart and make small course corrections, rather than waiting until bigger problems force you to deal with them. Admitting there is a problem is the first step in figuring out how to solve it.
Redefine “Having It All”
You may be able to work 80 hours a week and still maintain healthy relationships with your family, engage with your community, pay all your bills and have leisure time left over, but for how long? Is this true work-life balance, or is it a house of cards waiting to fall when something gets off track? Consider your true priorities. Is it worth having professional status at the cost of your health or your relationships? It is possible to “have it all,” but that “all” may look different than what you originally expected. Be willing to take a hard look and determine what actually matters to you. If you realize that you’re trying to do too much, you may not be able to immediately cut something out. But, you will be able to start implementing smaller changes that move you toward better balance.
Establish Boundaries Based On Your Priorities, and Start Small
Deciding that you want to rebalance your life based on your true priorities is an important first step. However, you may have responsibilities that aren’t easily dropped, or that have to be resolved before you can take a larger step back. You can still make small changes to start moving in the right direction. A change may be as small as not answering work emails after a certain time at night. Or, it might mean not working through your lunch break (or, at least, your entire lunch break). These may seem too minor to be worthwhile, but small adjustments build momentum that helps you make bigger changes later on. This approach also helps others adjust gradually to the changes you’re making, especially if you’ve created expectations that you’re always available.
Create a Little Space
When caught up in the busyness of the day, it is difficult to reflect on how busy you are! You may not be able to depend on natural breaks in your day to consider your priorities or plan how to implement changes – life has a way of filling in the gaps. Instead, schedule short reflection times. By making space to pause, breathe mindfully and realign yourself, you’ll be better able to harness your natural creativity to identify problem areas and imagine potential solutions. Even 10 minutes once a day, or a few times a week, is a good way to start. Reserve that small block of time in your calendar to avoid conflicts. When it’s time to begin your session, start with a few deep breaths and extended exhales. This method of breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which counters stress by activating the body’s “rest and digest” functions. Use the remainder of your time to listen deeply for what is most important to you as you reflect on your priorities and plan changes that will help bring more balance to your life. (Or, just keep breathing if that’s what you need at the moment.)
Reassess and Readjust
If you’ve been out of balance for a while, overcorrecting can create its own set of problems. Start with small changes like those suggested earlier, and see if they make a positive impact. You might be surprised to discover that being a little less available, for example, doesn’t affect your team as much as you thought it would. Or, you might find that it has a negative impact, which means you’ll have to try a different tactic. It would be nice to know in advance the outcome of all our decisions, but circumstances are ever-evolving. Once you accept this, you may find yourself more open to trying new things. It may take a little while to restore work-life balance, but persistence will get you there. If you establish the habit of scheduling in time to pause, breathe and reflect, you’ll be better able to assess the impact of what you try and make adjustments if needed.
Remember, It’s Not Just About You
To find motivation to make positive changes and restore your own work-life balance, think of those you work with. As a leader, you are a model for the rest of your team. Imbalanced, exhausted people are going to be less motivated and less productive over the long term. Burnout will increase, and ultimately everyone will suffer. When a leader sets the right example and pace, then the rest of the team will be more efficient, resilient and better able to find creative solutions to problems. And, if a team member is struggling, they may be more likely to approach you for support if they see that you prioritize and encourage well-being and balance. Wise leadership means taking care of your team, which also means taking care of yourself.
Coaching Helps Restore Balance
Restoring work-life balance can take time and effort, but it’s well worth it. When we are balanced, we can integrate and utilize our three intelligence centers . These are the head (thinking center), heart (feeling center) and body (doing center). Operating in a balanced state enables us to respond to challenges with wisdom, consciousness and compassion.
Even if you desire to make positive changes, it can feel overwhelming to figure out where to begin. More and more leaders are turning to executive coaches to help them find strategies for restoring work-life balance. Thalia’s experienced leadership coaches help clients find workable solutions to these and other challenges.
And, you don’t have to be in a leadership position to benefit from coaching. In addition to their extensive professional experience, Thalia’s coaches have undergone in-depth coaching training and personal development work that enables them to offer creative, insightful and compassionate support. They skillfully blend coaching strategies, tools, observations, feedback and teaching to support your unique needs. Most importantly, Thalia’s coaches are committed to helping you reach your deepest understanding of self so that you can live and work in ways that serve both you and others.
Kickstart your progress toward finding better work-life balance by getting in touch with Thalia’s coaches today. Fill out our contact form, or call us at 204.470.6460, to arrange an initial consultation.