How would you like to achieve balance between your work and home life? What if I told you that we have been going about achieving this balance all wrong? What if I could give you a simple technique for being just a little happier with your work and family life?
Would that be useful to you?
“I’m spending too much time at work.”
“I’m not spending enough time at home.”
“I want that promotion but it will mean more time travelling.”
Hands up if this sounds familiar?
I can’t see you right now but I’m assuming if you’re reading you’ve said something similar to yourself or someone you trust at some point in your life.
There is much discussion around work life balance these days. The Standards Australia Handbook for Coaching in Organisations lists work/life balance in the top four most common issues discussed in coaching behind Career/Business, Relationship/Interpersonal and Life Direction/Goal Setting issues.
In most cases, the discussion of work life balance would appear to be around the amount of time we are spending either at work or at home. The premise of my argument this time is this…
What if we were to shift the conversation to the quality of our time instead?
Take the example of ‘Maggie’. Maggie was the Chief Operating Officer of a not-for-profit, married and the mother of a ten-year old girl. Successful and driven, Maggie was being considered for promotion to CEO when the incumbent retired at the end of the following year. Maggie sought out coaching because she was unsure of taking on the increased responsibility. She was already travelling significantly; more often than not she would be on the road three to four days a week and sometimes only home on weekends. Becoming the CEO would place increased demands on her time.
Maggie always made sure she was home by Friday afternoon. That was when her daughter’s swimming training was on.
Maggie was torn. In discussion it was obvious she loved her job. It aligned with her values around giving back to the community and social justice. Maggie was aware, however, that her daughter would soon be going to high school and that, as the CEO, she would be absent physically from her daughter’s life.
Time to check in with you all. Have you ever experienced feelings like this? Take a moment to think about situations when you have?
Back to Maggie ….
Importantly, Maggie’s husband was supportive of her taking the promotion. Being self employed he had the flexibility to be the ‘stay at home dad’, a role he enjoyed. Maggie told me that it was nice to come home after a long week away and sit at the kitchen bench watching her husband cook dinner while she had a glass of wine and caught up on emails on her iPad or laptop.
On her iPad or laptop?
It occurred to me perhaps while she was physically home mentally Maggie was still at work.
“Maggie,” I asked “you said that you liked to make sure that you were at your daughter’s swimming training every Friday afternoon, yes?”
“Yes.” She replied. “After a week away I think it’s important to spend time with my daughter at something she loves and it’s important for her to see me there …. that I care.”
“Ok.” I went on. “When she completes a lap or achieves something significant in the pool and she looks over to you, what does she see?”
Maggie opened her mouth to speak, shut it again and then became quite emotional.
What do you think she said?
Fighting back tears, she said. “She sees me checking emails on my Blackberry.” Maggie was starting to realise that her lack of satisfaction with her work life balance was less about the quantity of time and more about the quality of time when she was at home.
In this age of connectedness where we are constantly ‘on’ it is too easy to become consumed by the next alert on our phone or be checking emails in case we miss something ‘important’. Much of the time we are doing this subconsciously.
How many times have you picked up the phone or become distracted by work at home without really thinking about it?
If you want to think about work life balance, start thinking about the quality of time that you are spending at home. Are you making the most of that time? What are your loved ones seeing and experiencing from you when you are at home? Do they see you engaged and interested in what they are doing or do they see you with your head buried in a laptop or some other device?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be working at home at all. There will be times when you have to. What I am advocating here is that we should make conscious decisions around when and how we do that and that we think about where our heads are at when our loved ones need us.
So, here’s what I would like you to do.
Take some time at home to notice your thoughts. If you notice that you are thinking about work when you are watching your child’s football match then just acknowledge those thoughts and gently bring yourself back to where you are. The more you practice this the more focussed you will become. Attention is like any muscle. It becomes stronger with training. For more on this I recommend Focus by Daniel Goleman.
As you start to pay more attention when you are at home you may find that the quality of that time is improved.
How have you achieved balance between your work and home life? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Do you know someone who needs balance in their life? Perhaps you could share these thoughts with them.
If you would like to discuss these ideas further then please feel free to get in contact with us here at Campbell Leadership Solutions.