Work-Life Balance

Getting a good work-life balance is the holy grail in this modern world of high-speed internet and 60-hour weeks. Many of us want to get the most from our careers and our home lives but are not sure where to start. Other people seem to live in a different time continuum where work barely interferes with their personal life, and yet they seem to be nailing both.

We talked to one such individual to find out how she does it. Sue Searle, Ecology Training UK’s founder and head tutor, explains how she strikes a good work-life balance. 

What is a work-life balance?

The term work-life balance refers to the amount of time you spend dedicating yourself to work, and to your personal life and self-care. If you love your job, there might be some overlap with these two things, but it’s still important to pull yourself out of work and do other things like take time for other people in your life, work on relationships and develop hobbies. A good work-life balance refers to being able to do these things whilst also making time to keep up with your professional responsibilities. 

How to Get a Good Work-Life Balance

Anyone who has met our founder and head tutor, Sue, will know that she is really mastering the art of work-life balance. Sue just returned from an exciting three-month trip around Southeast Asia, whilst keeping up with the running of Ecology Training UK

Here are Sue’s top five tips for getting more done to achieve a better work-life balance: 

Tip 1: Prioritise Tasks

Identify your most important tasks each day and focus on completing them efficiently. Look carefully at your tasks and see which ones you can delegate or not do at all. It may help you to create a list and file the tasks that you need to do into three categories: now, later and one day. This will help you to get the tasks that you need to do now done. It will give you a good sense of achievement with their completion whilst allowing you to dip into the “later” and “one day” tasks when you have the chance. This helps prevent work from overflowing into your personal time.

Tip 2: Set Boundaries

It is really important to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Define specific times for work, breaks, and relaxation, and communicate these boundaries to colleagues and family members. You need time for yourself, to be with others and to work. Having a clear space to work in can also help as a demarcation if you work from home. When you are in that space you can focus, and when you leave you are no longer at work. 

Tip 3: Practice Time Management

Use tools like calendars, to-do lists, and time-blocking techniques to manage your time effectively. Allocate dedicated time for work, family, hobbies, and self-care. I love art and dedicate some time during my breaks to do creative things. This gives me some extra motivation to tackle things I am not so keen on doing. By allocating this time at the beginning of my day or week, I don’t feel guilty indulging in something I want to do rather than something I need to do. 

Tip 4: Learn to Say No

Be selective about taking on additional commitments and learn to say no when necessary. Overcommitting can lead to increased stress and less time for personal activities. Give yourself some criteria for things that others are asking you to do. This may be: do I WANT to do this, will I ENJOY this, how will it BENEFIT me and others, is it more IMPORTANT than other things I need or want to do? By practising good time management, you should also be able to work out whether you are over or under-committing. 

Tip 5: Unplug regularly: Take regular breaks from screens and technology to disconnect from work-related communications. This doesn’t need to be a long time, but it should be taken mindfully and purposefully rather than by accident. Say to yourself “I will take five minutes to…”. Then use this time to engage in activities that promote relaxation and rejuvenation. Good examples of this are spending time outdoors, meditating or breathing exercises, reading, or spending quality time with loved ones. Nature is a great healer so go and hug a tree, wander around a green space or admire your houseplants. 

A word about Dreams Vs Goals

A few years ago, I was working with a mentor. He asked me about my dreams and one of them was to see tigers in the wild. It had been a dream I had nurtured for decades. He asked, “So when are you going to see tigers in the wild?”. I looked at him and was stumped. I started making excuses about why I hadn’t been to see them. To which he replied “But it’s just a case of booking it, right?”. Of course! This was a dream and not a goal. I was putting off actually doing this thing when all I needed to do was make it into a goal. And then actually do it of course.

With this simple switch in my mind I was able to fulfil my dream. Within 6 months I was in Ranthambore National Park in India with my daughter watching wild tigers. And it was every bit as magical as I had dreamed. 

I spent six months planning and saving to make my dream a reality, and it was so worth it! The best part is that once I had realised that dream, I was able to identify more dreams and turn them into goals, too. This has led to so many adventures, like meeting mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo, and spending more quality time with my family. My next adventure will be to see wild Chimpanzees, and I can’t wait!

What to do Now

Here’s an activity you can do right now that will help you work towards a better work-life balance: 

Write down 3-5 dreams that you really want to achieve and make them into GOALS. Goals have a deadline, stages to achieve them and action. By turning these dreams into goals, you can start writing down the stages you will need to go through to achieve this and what the action will be at the end, and you will have a plan for how to achieve this. Why not try having goals for all areas of your life – career, health, financial, spiritual, social/relationships and fun.