Tips to Improve Your Work/Life Balance

There are plenty of get rich quick schemes out there, but the only ones who have gotten rich in that way are the con artists who run them. When talking about get happy quick schemes, you could make a similar point about drug dealers.

 

As far as real success, real wealth and true happiness is concerned, we can basically take it as a given that real work and true commitment form part of the deal. The dilemma is that very few people desire only one solitary thing. You might want your business to succeed, but not at the cost of your marriage failing. You might want to invest a large sum in a property, but doing so will mean giving up the chance to see Europe this year. Almost every choice we make is not between wanting or not wanting something, but about how much we want it relative to other things that will bring us joy.

 

Ancient myths abound to caution us about the dangers of obsession: Agamemnon literally sacrificed his daughter for a military victory, only to be killed by his wife in revenge. Midas was granted his wish that everything he touched would turn to gold, but he starved to death since all food turned to precious metal before he could eat it. The morals of these stories are not exactly that we should be careful what we wish for – instead, the lesson is that we shouldn’t ignore the other things that are also important to us.

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  1. Schedule Your Time

Numerous entrepreneurs and high performers have succeeded in their chosen path only to have their lives simultaneously fall apart without them noticing. Everyone who has seriously tried it will agree that planning meetings, sales calls and other tasks in advance and assigning a time block to each makes work much more efficient, but it isn’t immediately clear that the same thing applies to striking a balance between productive time, family, hobbies and all the other things a well-rounded, enjoyable life consists of.

 

One possible approach to this is to simply consider any time not allocated to a specific task as family or relaxation time. This could work, but there will always be that temptation to stay at the office just a little bit longer, or spend just a little more time studying while your spouse is already waiting at the dinner table. Birthdays and anniversaries should receive special attention in your personal calendar.

 

  1. Be More Productive

It’s simplistic and unhelpful to assume that having more free time necessarily means doing less work. The work/life balance is not about sacrificing one in favor of the other; the goal is to make room for them both in terms of time and energy. Working smarter instead of harder frees up both for the activities that mean most to your happiness.

How exactly a person can become more productive depends heavily on their individual circumstances. A good starting point would be to take an inventory of time spent on activities versus the actual outcomes that can be expected from them.

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  1. Health Always Comes First

No imaginable lifestyle is worth having if achieving it leaves you a physical wreck. Time spent on good nutrition, exercise and relaxation – mental health is also important – should be seen as an investment, not a waste. 

 

There are few hacks for this aspect of work/life balancing. If your job is causing you so much stress that you are showing physical symptoms such as muscle spasms or indigestion, it is time to either find new ways of dealing with tension, or rethink the value of having such a job.

 

  1. When Relaxing, Relax 

It can be extremely difficult to leave all thoughts of work behind after 8, 10 or more hours fixating on it, but this is an essential skill to learn. Any time spent worrying about work while at home not only spoils your enjoyment of “me” time, it does nothing to help you solve whatever problems are confronting you. Sleeping on them instead is much more likely to reveal an unexpected solution.

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The Difference Between Rich and Wealthy

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Some words are abstractions of a tangible thing, while others are abstractions of a state that is itself an abstraction. Forcing precise meaning through so many layers is bound to lead to some confusion. In the case of the words “happy”, “content” and “euphoric”, we can easily figure out some kind of progression where one is in some sense more desirable than another, but the difference between “rich” and “wealthy” is much more subtle.

 

The Connection Between Money and Happiness

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This is a secret to many people who are managing to get by without owning all that they desire: the poor care desperately about money every day, while the rich barely give it a thought. The difference is simply that the former are anxious about obtaining more money, while this isn’t really a concern once someone has reached their financial goals. There’s also a huge difference in attitudes toward spending: it’s a source of dread when your budget is very limited and the future uncertain, but a decision that can be weighed calmly when you have cash in the bank. In fact, more well-off people often end up spending less than those less fortunate. You don’t need cab fare when you own a car, nor have to bother with health insurance if you can be sure of paying any bills that arise out of pocket, nor pay income tax if you don’t have to work.

 

Having More by Wanting Less

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Obviously, it is far better to be one of the haves than one of the have-nots, but the distinction comes down to two main factors as far as real happiness is concerned: uncertainty about the future and the freedom to do what you choose.

 

If someone earns $50,000 per month but owes $1,000,000 to the bank, he may be rich but he is not wealthy. He might lose his job, or live through a real estate crash, and go bankrupt. If he decides to devote the next three months to learning oil painting or exploring East Asia, he will have to quit his job, give up much of his retirement fund and try to sell a house that’s probably bigger than he needs, anyway. Such a person is neither free nor secure, and if he prefers to spend his money on objects rather than experiences, chances are that he’s not very happy, either.

 

The same person can be wealthy if he has a secure, non-salary income of $5,000 per month and no debts or obligations. This is not enough to service the mortgage on a mansion, but nobody really needs a mansion if he’s happy with something less ostentatious. In addition, since he’s not tied to a job 240 days per year, there’s little stopping him from living wherever he finds most comfortable, or even travel around until this becomes boring. Caviar and champagne might be a little pricey on a fixed income, but some people see them more as fashion accessories than delicacies, and there are plenty of those that can be prepared on a budget, anyway. Most of all, he is free in terms of time. If he wants to supplement his income by taking a job or by other means, he can do so.

 

The Time Value of Money

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This term means something else in investment theory, but is often overlooked when it comes to personal financial planning. The wrong thing is always prone to happening at the wrong time: illness in the family, company layoffs or falling victim to some financial shenanigans. In this case, it will not be important how much someone used to earn or hoped to have, but a question of the difference between assets and liabilities, divided by expenses minus income. This gives a simple figure for the time value of money: how long you can afford to keep eating with a roof over your head.

 

This is one reason both notorious gangsters and famous investors have spent years in houses much cheaper than what they could afford: they preferred to maximize their income through investing their assets. Their expenses stayed constant while they paid off their liabilities, until one day they were magically, suddenly, very wealthy. There is no mystery to doing this; it’s just how math works.

 

Of course, there is one very important principle involved: don’t try to impress others with the things you own. If your happiness is dependent on what the neighbors think of your economic status, things can only go wrong in a number of ways. Buying houses and cars with assets you don’t have based on income you hope for will make you less wealthy, less free and secure, and less rich as well.

Schedule Your Day and Make Every Minute Count

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The hurrier I go, the behinder I get,” complains the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. This, usually expressed in different terms, is a lament most of us can relate to on Mondays through Fridays. Tasks seem to all take longer than expected, interruptions are constant, and just when you need to speak to a colleague before being able to continue, he’s disappeared.

 

Learning the principles of time management does not put an end to pressure or unexpected happenings, but doing so will often avoid these from turning into real problems. There are only so many hours in the day, but intelligent planning truly can make them seem much longer.

 

Before Trying to Control the Future, Analyze the Present

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One of the keys to successful scheduling is understanding the difference between time spent productively and time that is not. This does not mean that unproductive time can be eliminated completely or that it isn’t sometimes important – coffee and Facebook breaks come to mind. However, if you are struggling to shoulder your workload, you might well be surprised at the ratio between the two.

 

Recording all your activities at work for a week is a pain, but can reveal unexpected patterns. This means anything that lasts longer than five minutes: phone conversations, talks with co-workers, time spent thinking or walking from one point to another should all be included. Each can be marked as either contributing directly to your work goals, not doing so but being unavoidable, and those that are merely drains on the time available. At the end of the week, these can be tallied up – the results may just reveal how, exactly, someone can be perpetually busy and still never get things done.

 

How to Separate the Crucial from the Trivial

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There’s an analogy that applies to this aspect of time management: imagine you are about to go on holiday and packing your suitcase. One way to do this is to start tossing things in randomly: a lone sock here, a bottle of sun tan lotion that’s actually close to empty, a pair of shoes. However, following this approach probably means that the lid won’t close by the time you’re finished.

 

If, instead, you place the largest, heaviest, most necessary items where they will fit best and later add smaller stuff to the interstices left over, you can fit in a lot more with a little space left over. This is very much how scheduling works. It is recommended that you choose no more than three to five major, important items and decide that these simply have to get done, before adding extraneous chores wherever they’ll fit. If you plan to do three crucial things, you’ll find time to finish all of them; if your to-do list is ten items long, you might manage two.

 

Good Time Management Prevents Procrastination

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It seems to be an article of faith for most people that an unpleasant or intimidating task, if left alone for long enough, will cease to be of importance. Sadly, this just isn’t so. Whether it’s a leaking roof or an expense report, leaving a time-critical task to stew by itself tends not to make the situation better, but worse.

 

Planning a day or a week ahead allows a person to keep these tasks and their relative importance in mind. Since disagreeable or boring jobs rarely disappear, good scheduling lets a person do them when time is available, rather than having to complete them at the last minute. Staying on a schedule you’ve drafted yourself is not the easiest thing in the world, but acquiring this habit means a lot more free time in future.

 

Setting a Schedule Keeps Others on Time

 

It seems to be the natural law of meetings: if there are twenty minutes available for it, it takes 20 minutes; if there is no time limit, it can take ten times longer with much the same things being said. One trick that’s effective at preventing this kind of timewasting is to hold meetings standing up, but another is to announce a time limit beforehand. In this way, people will be forced to show up prepared to reach a conclusion within that timeframe, or have to schedule another meeting. Even better, it does not seem offensive to anyone involved; if someone needs to leave by three o’clock, no-one can reasonably complain when they do. A variation on this involves automatic email replies: since checking email twenty times a day is one of the great timewasters, someone who practices good time management will generally do so only once or twice a day and let clients and colleagues know these times. 

 

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Putting personal scheduling into practice requires honesty, assertiveness and more than a little self-discipline. Yet, it is one of those habits that separate those who get important things done without apparent effort from those living in Wonderland, who have to run as fast as they can just to stay in place.