Sonia Hendy-IsaacBy Sonia Hendy-Isaac – Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Design for Employer Engagement

1st March 2013 marks another anniversary of the TUC’s Work Your Proper Hours Day – so will you be adopting its mantra and leaving on time, having had appropriate breaks throughout your working day? I can already hear the chorus of ‘the chance would be a fine thing’ – but why is that the case? We have the longest working hours in Europe and in the current economic climate, it’s inevitable that we find ourselves expected to do more, often for less, especially if we are looking for promotion or new opportunities. How many of us are asked what our ‘extra mile’ was for this working week?

It seems to me we have become incredibly good at glibly stating that this is just part of working culture in the 21st century – and perhaps it is, but it can lead to high levels of stress and depression for many of us. So how can we begin to counteract it all? How can we find ways to address our proper hours that don’t put us at odds with our career ambitions (or indeed our employers), but that still enables us to find a better Work-Life balance? Well, here’s five quick tips

Be honest 

We spend far too much time saying ‘yes’ to things we have no responsibility for, when really, we mean ‘not right now’ or even a flat out ‘no’; learn to strike a balance by saying yes to the right activities – if it’s something that won’t enhance your experience or that you really won’t enjoy (and it’s not within your remit) – then learn to make friends with the word No! And yes, this applies to social engagements too!

Be realistic 

How many times in a day do you hear yourself say – ‘that’ll only take ten minutes’? And how many times does it actually take ten minutes? Exactly! Being honest needs to be extended through to being realistic – know your timescales, know when you actually have no more space in a day, and let other people know! If your boss says that something will only take half an hour when you know that there’s at least an hour’s work, be tactful and polite, but nonetheless explain the timeframe. Increased realism means we can start to avoid the ‘ten minute trap’.

Get organised 

Ok, so this isn’t a new thing – we all know the super-organised, highly productive types who allocate the activities for each day on a minute-to-minute basis – we often judge them for lacking spontaneity and being rigid in their plans and outputs. However, without some organisation, when do you get time to be spontaneous! By recognising the flash points and bottlenecks in your working week you will be able to manage them more effectively. Use this organisation to incorporate and plan personal events too – and keep everything in one diary (whether electronic or paper) – that way the information needed to help you find that ideal balance is always on hand.

Delegate! 

Ok, so control freaks need not apply, but hot on the heels of organization, is effective delegation! Are there certain activities that you do just because you always have? Are you the best person to do it? Could someone else do it for you? In the workplace (and at home) ask for some support and/or review more minor tasks as an opportunity to develop others in your organisation and offer them new experiences.

Be present 

This is probably the most difficult, but likely to be the most effective tip – it’s not always about time management or saying no – sometimes we can find ourselves so consumed by the need to be ‘connected’ (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.) that this distracts us from the task(s) in hand; highly productive people are able to isolate an outcome and focus on the achievement of it through the removal of distraction – they are entirely present for the intended outcome. Try turning everything off and working in an completely focused way for half an hour and see how much more you get done!

Ultimately, the Work Your Proper Hours Day has the best interest of the workforce at heart; but sometimes recognising and evolving the ways in which we work can be a more effective route to addressing these Work-Life balance issues. As painful a truth as it may be – very few people become leaders in their field without some sacrifice; that said, they’re also the ones most likely to have adopted the behaviours that make them efficient, regardless of the hours committed.

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Sonia Hendy-Isaac

Sonia Hendy-Isaac

Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Design for Employer Engagement