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Thoughts on work-life balance

These are my personal thoughts on work-life balance, it's importance and how to achieve it

What is work-life balance?

To me, having a work-life balance means successfully juggling the many things that I enjoy doing in my life.  Work is obviously a large part of my life - I have two jobs so I am a very busy bee much of the time.  I also have a number of interests and passions including family, friends, sport and music.

Sometimes when things are really busy, I don't get it right in terms of sleep or looking after my body, and I still need to get better at this.  I've had a few experiences in may career which have really woken me up to the need to get my work-life balance right, and I'll share with you what they taught me.

Why does work-life balance matter?

I think that too much of one thing - anything - can be detrimental to your mental and physical health.  I think that when we get it wrong, after a while our body and mind slowly start to send us little messages and then these get stronger over time if we don't change something.  Also, when we get the balance wrong, it can hurt our family and / or friends.  When I see a colleague working crazy hours for years on end, I often wonder what their home life is like.  Are they unhappy at home, which is why they work so hard, or is something else driving them to work so hard to the cost of their relationships?

My wake-up call

The first time I realised my work-life balance was wrong, was when, one day, my body wouldn't let me go into the office.  Sounds weird doesn't it?  I got to the office, and I as approached the steps outside, I stopped.  And I started feeling panicky.  And I couldn't go in.  And I felt like I couldn't breathe, so I decided to get myself to the hospital.  I got on a tube and started climbing the walls with a sort of quiet hysteria.  I got out of the tube early because I couldn't stay, and instead got a taxi across London to A&E (being able to see the sky made me feel a bit better).

When I got to the hospital, they did some tests and told me I wasn't going to have a heart attack but I was very stressed.  When I told them I had been working 14 hours days for over a year (for a startup), they told me I had to stop doing that ASAP.  They told me the long-term stress could do long-term damage.

Making changes

I continued to have mild panic attacks for the next few weeks, but learned to recognise the onset, so I was able to make a change before it got too bad.  The change I made was to stop work immediately, slow everthing down, and then return slowly to work when I felt OK.  This usually took around 30 minutes.

In addition, I ramped my hours back down to a "normal" level.  I started doing more lesiure activities - gym and swim most nights - and the stress levels started to drop away.  Quite simply, I got my work-life balance back.

More problems and more changes

More recently, due to taking on a second job, my work-life balance has taken another hit.  From my previous experience, I know that consistently long hours will do me damage, so I try to manage my work carefully in the evenings and I'm still good at spotting the onset of a stressful episode.  I have also switched my main job to a 4-day week in order to not completely overload.

However, some different problems have come along this time.  Firstly, I have put on weight - this is actually due to eating more to attempt to fight off tiredness.  I have only recently recognised this, and am determined to make sure that I get the right amount of sleep (which is a lot for me) instead of eating my way out of tiredness.  Also, I've made sure that I don't eat just before going to bed because that's completely unnecessary.  I also have a suspicion that this case cause bad breath at night and also in the morning in the office (here's a cool infographic on that subject by the way).

Secondly, I have developed RSI and muscle tightness around my hips.  I have recognised these and taken steps to sort them out.  The RSI is down to the mouse I was using at work - I have switched to a trackpad which has helped.  The muscle tightness could be due to not having a proper office setup when I work from home.  I have been to a physiotherapist who asked a LOT of good questions about my physiology, and she identified that working for hours sitting on the sofa is bad for my posture and this is causing the hip problems.  I will need to invest in a home office very soon along with an orthopedic chair.  Plus do the physio exercises, plus do more core strength / pilates, plus do more fitness in general.  All this will give me a much better life-balance again, and I will be in better shape so I will perform better at work.

This article was sponsored by Jason L.

Author: Carl Steadman