It can be tempting to stay back in the office at night or pull out the laptop after dinner at the expense of family and social time. I’ve heard many stories from professionals about how much of their children’s’ formative years they missed because they were working so hard.
In your twilight years, will it be your professional success or your relationships and experiences with family and friends that you look back on fondly? If you say professional success, it may be time to re-think your priorities. Are your working to live or living to work?
There are a few simple strategies that can make all the difference to your professional efficiency and work life balance while avoiding the guilt that you are letting business obligations and client service slip.
1. Work smarter, not harder
At the core of working smarter is time management – determining the three to five tasks of the day that are the highest priority and focusing your energies on those. This doesn’t mean that you should just forget the other projects that are on the go; it’s about minimising the number of balls that you are juggling at any one time so you can work more efficiently on the job at hand.
It is practically impossible to remain focused on a task while you are constantly responding to emails. Some strategies for managing emails include setting aside a few minutes every hour for email responses and turning off the automatic email alerts that pop up on your screen.
Delegation of responsibilities is also a critical part of working smarter, not harder but it is one that many practice principals struggle with. They’ve often spent years building up their business and developed a personal attachment, so find it difficult to allow other staff to assume some responsibility. But, by delegating certain management responsibilities to senior staff, you will find that they bring fresh ideas to the business and will be more motivated and engaged.
2. Do we really need a meeting for that?
Before scheduling a meeting, think about whether a simple phone call or email exchange could achieve the same objective. If a meeting is absolutely necessary, draw up a quick agenda ahead of time, particularly if a large number of people are involved. That will help keep the meeting on track and minimise time being wasted on non-critical issues.
3. Take that lunch break you are entitled to
It can be very tempting to eat lunch at your desk while you continue to work. But there are a number of health benefits from getting out of office at lunchtime and raising the heart rate. You don’t have to do a gym class; a simple walk around the block is enough.
A recent study from Bristol University found that workers who exercised during their lunch break experienced a 41 per cent increase in motivation and 21 per cent increase in concentration in the afternoon, this will undoubtedly result in increased productivity which will more than compensate for the time spent. You’ll also burn a few calories and decrease your susceptibility to diabetes and heart disease.
4. Don’t be such a perfectionist
Many people let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of doing a good job. I’m certainly not suggesting that you should be content with mediocrity, however you need to prioritise. If you agonise over perfecting every single task, especially those you have delegated, you’ll never be efficient. Placing the expectation of perfection on yourself, creates unnecessary pressure and is actually quite illogical as you probably don’t have a clear idea of what that perfection looks like anyway.
People who always aim for the absolute ideal outcome in everything they do can also experience ‘perfection paralysis’ – the inability to function efficiently due to the fear of not achieving perfection. It’s kind of ironic that always aiming for perfection can actually result in the achievement of perfection becoming less likely.
5. Take control of technology and put the phone down!
I would argue that nothing has done more to disrupt the work/life balance than the introduction of the smartphone. Of course, it is also responsible for enormous gains in productivity, but it is absolutely necessary to control its use and not let it take control of your life.
A recent study by research firm, Reventure, found that 73 per cent of Australian workers feel they are constantly connected to work because of technology, up from 46 per cent in 2016.
So, what can be done to detach from technology without feeling that your dedication to clients is suffering?
Getting into a habit of consciously switching off your phone after a certain time of the evening is a good start. Get all of the critical email responses out of the way and put it down. Besides making it easier to relax, you avoid exposure to the blue light that is emitted by smartphones which studies have shown can suppress the production of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.
Did you know there are certain tricks that app developers use to keep us hooked on our phones, or winning our ‘displaced time’ as they call it?
The most common is ‘variable ratio schedule’, a technique borrowed from the gambling industry. Each time you open an app you might receive a small reward, a large reward, or no reward at all. The human brain is excited by that small degree of anticipation, just as it is with poker machines. In some people it can become an addiction. This strategy is used by all the common social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. By switching off your phone, you avoid falling into the trap.
6. Take your private time seriously
This sounds obvious but many people don’t do it. The ‘quality time’ you spend with family and friends is greatly diminished in value if you are checking emails or taking calls related to work. When you’re with your family and friends, be there and nowhere else. Just like you are when you’re at work.
Allow yourself to relax and completely switch off from work without guilt. Being ‘in the moment’ is the only way to truly appreciate it and show those around you that this time is important to you. Never switching off is also much more likely to result in professional burn-out.
We all want to go that extra mile for our clients, however if you don’t look after yourself first you will be no good to your clients or your business.
Eugene Ardino is the CEO of Lifespan Financial Planning.