Work-life Balance

by Barbara Buffton

Six steps to balance

No less important is the emotional anorexia that a life of hard work entails. Relationships are squeezed around the periphery of a life dedicated to the benefit of your employer and your bank account.

Madeleine Bunting, journalist

Before looking at this section, you might first want to think about What’s stopping you (getting balance), if you haven’t already done so.

A good work-life balance doesn’t have to be elusive, but what works for someone else might not suit you or your organisation. Successful strategies for achieving the ideal work-life balance are likely to be different for each individual.

However, below are some practical steps for you to consider – steps which will start you on the road to getting more balance in your life:

Step 1 – Take responsibility

Step 2 – Consider what’s happening right now

Step 3 – Get resourceful

Step 4 – Decide what you want

Step 5 – Take action

Step 6 – Build new habits.

Step 1 – Take responsibility

In previous pages (The business case and The personal case) we have seen how getting the work-life balance right is hugely important to both employers and employees. It’s an activity that demands cooperation from both parties.

The individual

It’s your choice how you spend your time! You might think your employer or someone at home decides this for you, but you can choose to

Accept your current state of affairs with good or bad grace – again, it’s your choice, but research has shown that our attitude affects our stress levels


Change your situation, in other words do something about it – what exactly is within your control? You might want to check out Flexible working patterns to see if there are any that would make your life easier and that you could convince your employer to adopt.

The employer

There is also an onus on the company to provide an environment that makes it easier for employees to achieve a balance. Check out the section Flexible working patterns for some ideas.

Step 2 – Consider what’s happening right now

Doing a life audit, in the sense of reviewing the current state of your work-life balance, is a very good starting point from which to make changes.

  • What is the current state of affairs?
  • How do you feel about your work life and personal life?
  • Where do you spend your time now – typically?
  • How do you feel about that?

You might want to also check the page on How balanced are you right now?

Step 3 – Get resourceful

In order to get more balance in your life, you need to be thinking creatively. This requires you to be in a good frame of mind. However, if you’re feeling stressed or out of control, it can be hard to be in a good mood! So here are some ways to get your brain working for you again.

  1. Think about all the things that are right in your life now: for example, write down ten things you’re grateful for.
  2. Think of a time when everything was going right for you: for example, think about times when you were happy, or didn’t have a care in the world, or thought the world was your oyster.
  3. Act as if everything were in perfect balance right now:
  • What would you notice?
  • What would be different in your life?
  • Where would you be spending your time?
  • How would you be spending it?
  • Who with?
  • For how long?
  • What kind of mood would you be in?

If you start thinking about good times, better times or even ideal times, you automatically feel happier. Once you’re in this kind of mood, it is easier to think how you can change things for the better in your life.

Step 4 – Decide what you want to have happen

What would be your ideal situation? What exactly has to change in your life to get more work-life balance? If you don’t know, ask someone close to you. They just might know better than you. You may end up changing some habits (see step 6).

Step 5 – Take action

Write down all the actions necessary to get the balance you want. Remember why you want and need it.

Chunk down any big, daunting actions into smaller ones – what is the smallest step you can take right now to change things for the better? Just do one step at a time – that’s the key to successful change.

For example:

  • Too little time spent on what you want?

Start small – spend 10 to 15 minutes less on those activities where you’re spending too much time, then use the time saved for the other commitments/activities you want to spend time on.

You could also bank any time saved in this way and use it in a lump sum on something you would prefer to do if you had the time.

  • Too much time spent on some activities?

Consider what isn’t getting done. Have you got a bad feeling about it? If so, that’s your motivation to allocate more of your time to the activities you have been neglecting. You could also start by shaving 10-15 minutes away from each time-consuming activity and use the time for what you do want to do.


Tell someone else about your plans, so that you build up your own commitment and get support from others.

Notice what results you get from your actions. If they are not what you want, do something different! You might also want to check out What’s stopping you.

Having greater control over your time is an effective way to reduce stress.


Habitual long hours can lead to lower productivity and creativity.

Step 6 – Build new habits

Catch your guilt before it catches you! Make a habit out of changing anything you say to yourself that isn’t helpful. You could also make some practical changes along the lines suggested below.

A. Do your work habits need changing?

If so, here are some useful strategies for you to try.

Ask questions

  1. What would happen if I didn’t do this particular task? Can I delegate it? Does it have to be done at all? Would anyone notice/care? Would it have any detrimental effect on me or the company?
  2. What would happen if I didn’t do this task right now? Could it wait till another time? Is there something I could be doing now that would benefit the company and me more? What would happen if I left the office early for once instead of staying on and doing this now? What would happen if I didn’t stay late every night?

What Flexible working patterns does the company have that might benefit me?

Are there any flexible working patterns I could suggest to the company? (If you think your company needs persuading, check out The business case.)

Do something different

  • Go for a walk at lunchtime.
  • Share a joke with colleagues.
  • Take one or two deep breaths, lowering your shoulders as you breathe out.
  • Take a one-hour lunch break for a change.

B. Do your home habits need changing?

If so, you might like to try some of the following ideas.

Ask questions

  1. What would happen if I didn’t do this at all? Can someone else do it? Does it have to be done at all? Would anyone notice/care? Would it have any detrimental effect on me or my family?
  2. What would happen if I didn’t do this right now? Could it wait till another time? Is there something I could be doing now that would benefit me and my family more? (Check out The personal case.)

Do something different

  • Have a real conversation with someone who matters to you.
  • Read a good book.
  • Say hi to the check-out person at the supermarket.
  • Take time out to smell the roses; pause for breath.
  • Have a go-slow day (begin to notice everything around you).
  • Taste your lunch for once or have a leisurely breakfast.
  • Sit down to eat.
  • Share a joke with your child or partner or friend ...

If these activities cause you to feel anxious or sense that something is not ‘right’, check out What’s stopping you?

Act as if you were someone who had a balanced life – what would that person do? How would they spend their time? How would they feel about taking time out as and when appropriate? Do as they would do until you have established new habits – with accompanying good feelings! And notice how much your life changes for the better.

Challenge your beliefs

Beliefs are also habits.

Unhelpful beliefs
  • Long hours at my desk mean I must be working hard.
  • All work and little play makes Jack a successful boy.
  • It helps to ignore the little voice in my head that says ‘I should be somewhere else’.
  • It’s great: I can work when and where I like, as long as I can be reached 24/7.

What other limiting beliefs can you add to this list?

If you want to do something about these unhelpful beliefs, start by asking the following kinds of question that will challenge them (and who knows, might then even change your life – and the lives of those around you – for the better):

  • Who says so?
  • What if it weren’t true?
  • What if the opposite were true?
  • Does x actually mean y?
  • What would be the consequences of doing something different?
  • What would be the consequences of not doing something different?

Challenging your beliefs in this way can cause you to look at things a little differently, which might be helpful in your quest for a better work-life balance.

Take action
– now

Why not make that appointment today with your boss to discuss what’s possible?

It’s up to you

Are you willing to take steps (such as the six outlined above) to change things in your work and home life, so that you have more balance? If so, now is a good time to start!

You might want to check out Flexible working patterns before you take any action.

If you’re not yet willing to take even the first step, maybe you could have a look at What’s stopping you?

Good luck!