The Work Life Balance Conundrum.

If you run a small or medium business, chances are that you will sometimes struggle to maintain a proper work life balance. It happens to all of us at some stage. When we are in the office, we are constantly in motion and the day gets extended at both ends, as business pressures demand more of our time. This can often be compounded by the harsh reality that when we are at home, our minds are still in the office. This is not fair to our loved ones and it is certainly not being fair to ourselves.

The harder we work, the more unbalanced our lives become and this can become a cycle of unrepentant misery and guilt. The real challenge is to be able to take a helicopter view of your situation and to recognize what is happening. You may believe that you are working your socks off to benefit your family and to secure your future. However, your family may not care too much about the material benefits you deliver and simply want more of you and your time.

The problem with incessant work is that we often become stale and our judgment can become clouded. This can lead to poor decision-making and debilitating fatigue. The longer you are caught up in this cycle, the longer it will take you to break the habit and develop fresh perspective.

So how can you address this unhealthy imbalance? Well, one way to improve things is to start scheduling your leisure time in much the same way as you schedule business activities and appointments. Divide your entire week into segments and book time in your calendar for family activities, not just work activities. Don’t forget to book time for personal activities as well. We all need time and space to unwind. It may involve a trip to the gym several times per week or a few beers with friends. It might even be date nights with your partner. An example of a weekly planner that may help you to schedule time better is shown below. A bigger version is available for free download from one of my other blog articles at

Work Life Balance

Another way to improve productivity is to adopt some new habits in your behavior when you are at work. Spend a little bit of time examining where you are spending most of your time. If you consider the matrix below, in which quadrant do you spend the most time?

work life balance - Importance-Urgency-Matrix

If you spend most of your time in the “urgent but not important” quadrant, then find a way to delegate these activities to someone else or just stop doing them. If they are not important, maybe they don’t need to be done at all.

If you spend most of your time in the “urgent and important” quadrant, you must ask yourself why you have allowed some important things to be overlooked until they became urgent. Again, if you are constantly under pressure, it is a clear signal that you need to share the load with colleagues or subordinates in your business.

If you spend most of your time in the “not urgent and not important” quadrant, then you are wasting a lot of valuable time doing stuff that does not require doing. Simply stop doing these things and see what happens. Probably nothing.

If you are spending most of your time in the “important but not urgent” quadrant, then you are spending your time exactly where you should be spending it. If key activities are non-urgent, then you will have the clarity of mind to deal with them appropriately rather than racing on the next thing that is on your “to-do” list. Also, important things need due consideration and you must allow yourself the space and time to reflect on them properly before making decisions.

Yet another way to improve productivity is to stop becoming a slave to email. 25 years ago there was no such thing as email and we all dealt with an inbox of paper based mail or correspondence, on the basis of its importance. It came in just once per day and we looked at it once and dealt with it once.

Then email arrived in our lives and it became relentless in its ability to demand our attention and time. No matter what we are doing or how busy we are, we have this almost uncontrollable desire to look at emails as soon as they pop up on our screens. Some of us even persist with this when we are at home, as we are afraid that something important will be missed if we don’t give it our immediate attention.

Try to realize that email is most often playing to someone else’s agenda and timeframe, not yours. Don’t let it interfere with your concentration. The email can wait until you are ready to deal with it. Try to adopt a discipline of just looking at your email 2 or 3 times per day – not every 10 minutes or every time you get a visual or audio cue that someone else is craving for your attention. Perhaps deal with email first thing in the morning as you plan your day, then a quick peek for matters of importance to you just after lunch, and then a final look before you go home so that you can anticipate what you are going to work on tomorrow.

One more way to increase your productivity is to break your time into defined blocks. If you choose blocks of concentrated time of say one hour, when you will not welcome interruptions, then you will achieve far more. You can always return phone calls later and you are already only checking emails 3 times per day, right? The more of these productivity blocks of time that you can fit into your day, the more you will be able to consistently achieve and create space for other things.

Remember that a proper work life balance is important to your physical and mental health. Using the suggestions in this article can significantly increase your productivity, while leaving plenty of free time to enjoy your family and your life.

Niall Strickland