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Expert advice for parents on how to balance work and home life

If you are feeling stressed, exhausted, or disillusioned by the many competing demands you face as a working parent, you are not alone. Workforce studies report that enhanced work-life balance represents an important opportunity for increasing employee job satisfaction and well-being. While employers are working on finding ways to increase work-life balance, there are also things you can do to help improve your work-life balance.


Do think like a manager

Successful businesses create and prominently display a mission statement that serves as a reminder of the organization’s shared core values and overarching purpose. The mission statement also acts as a starting point for setting goals, making plans, and developing strategies that enable the organization to achieve those goals. A family mission statement can serve the same function. Meet with your family to discuss and create your own family mission statement. Once it is written, post your family mission statement in a central spot so it is a visible and constant reminder to the entire family of what makes you special, and what you collectively value most. This will make it easier to come up with work-life balance goals that support your family mission statement. Once goals are in place, strategies can be devised to help you reach those goals.

Do make time management a priority

No matter how hard you try, you can’t squeeze more hours into your day. That is a given. What you can do though, is make more efficient use of your time. Good time management won’t just happen on its own. It takes purposeful planning to get a time management system started. It can be as low or high-tech as suits your particular style. In the beginning, keep a record of how much time you spend doing particular activities. Keeping a time diary helps you to become more aware of where your time is being spent. Armed with this information, you can consciously set about creating purposeful, more efficient use of your time.

A system that tends to work well is a weekly block schedule coupled with a daily to-do list. The block schedule should be a fairly permanent, regular weekly plan that allows adequate time for necessary, recurring activities such as cooking, exercising, homework, grocery shopping, work, etc. A critical element to include in the block schedule is “flexible time”. Flexible time is free time that is purposely built into your schedule, perhaps an hour or two several times each week. Scheduling flexible time is a way to account for unexpected, but inevitable events to be worked into your life with minimal disruption to your regular routine. In effect, you plan for the unexpected. After a feasible block schedule is in place, you can develop the habit of starting each day by jotting down a to-do list that is much more specific and detailed than the block schedule. This system lends a general feeling of consistency and control to your time management efforts while allowing customizability on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, there is a sense of satisfaction that can be enjoyed every time you get to check off an accomplished task on your daily to do list.

Do make technology work for you

Technology has the potential to improve the quality and efficiency of our daily lives. It also has the potential to encroach on work-life balance efforts. To maximize potential technology benefits while minimizing the potential drawbacks, try setting technology boundaries for yourself and your family. Set boundaries for when you will accept work calls, texts, or emails and when you won’t. Develop a set of boundaries with your family regarding technology too. Make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of what acceptable technology use is, and what crosses the line into technology abuse. Technology doesn’t have to be eliminated in order to experience quality together time, but its use does need to be purposefully managed and monitored.

Do build a support system

Having a good support system is extremely beneficial for maintaining a sense of work-life balance. This support can be cultivated in both your personal and work domains. For example, many employers recognize that their employees’ well-being and happiness is good for business. Many organizations have work-life benefits such as flexible work schedules, telecommuting, job-sharing, paid-time for volunteering, and wellness initiatives. Talk with your manager or HR representative to learn more about your organization’s policies. Even if there aren’t any official work-life policies in your workplace, it is worth talking with your manager to discuss your work-life balance support needs.

Seek support from family members too. Daily routine chores can be discussed and delegated. Even young children can help, with a little planning, oversight, and creativity. Meal preparations can be a family affair, so can yard work, house cleaning, or laundry. Household chores represent a variety of opportunities for improving work-life balance, finding family time to spend together, and modeling the idea that work can be fun and rewarding.

Do prioritize “me time”

Ever notice that the safety advice on an airplane directs us to secure our own safety first and then tend to any children we might be traveling with? This sound logic applies equally well to work-life balance efforts. When considered through this lens, scheduling adequate time to tend to your personal well-being needs is an essential building block for a sustained work-life balance initiative. Well spent, regularly scheduled ‘you’ time can actually save more time than it costs.


Do not underestimate the power of attitude

If you are already struggling with an out of balance life, you are probably all too familiar with frustration and stress. With consistent application, the do’s noted above will help. Along the way, try to keep your attitude positive. A positive attitude can make a big difference in your energy, your focus, and your pace towards achieving balance. You can’t always change your circumstances, but you certainly can change how you react to them.

Do not skimp on sleep

Resist the temptation to find more time in your day by cutting back on your sleep time. It doesn’t take long before your losses in productivity, ability to focus, and general feelings of well-being offset those few gained hours of stolen sleep time. Consider setting a ‘get ready for bed’ alarm on one of your technology gadgets and stick to it.

Do not live to other’s expectations

Work-life balance is a very personal matter. If you seek to find your own balance by emulating the ideals, priorities, and expectations of others, you are doomed to miss the mark. It can require some courage to honestly seek to live by your own values and ideals rather than what seems to be the prevailing social norm, but the payoff is worth taking that venture out of your normative comfort zone. This is an important truth to keep in mind while contemplating your family mission statement discussed in Do #1.

Do not overdo it

The quest for balance will require compromise. That’s okay. Trying to be all things to all people all the time is a recipe for disaster. By staying focused on your life-balance values, ideals, and goals, you can make better decisions about what activities to engage in and which ones to pass on or remove. This is especially good advice when considering extra-curricular activities for children. There are a lot of possible reasons that families tend to overextend on the extra-curricular. Whatever your reasons, you can reign in an out-of-control extra-curricular calendar. Have a discussion with your family about which extra-curricular activities are most important, most enjoyed, and most in alignment with your family mission statement. Make a commitment to focus in on only the top one or two. If desired, you can rotate extra-curricular activities as interests change.

Do not give up

Work-life balance is a moving target. What worked last year might not still fit your family priorities today and probably won’t be the right mix at some point in the future. It is important to embrace this fluid nature of work-life balance and adopt a committed, but flexible attitude towards your work life balance pursuits. Plan to revisit your balance goals and strategies every six months to evaluate how well it is working. If your evaluations suggest areas for improvement, then be open to new strategies or new goals or modifications to your block schedule. Whatever you do, don’t give up! Work-life balance is possible and sustainable with good management and perseverance.

Jumping cartoon

Work-life balance is achievable and represents a very real opportunity for you to decrease your stress levels and increase your life enjoyment. Better balance doesn’t just magically happen. It requires that you invest careful thinking and attention towards understanding what is most important to you and your family in order to actively managing your time, schedules, attitude, technology, and decisions.

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Nancy Aragon, Ph.DProfessor, Industrial/Organizational Psychology

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