The Real “Work-Life” Balance

by Krishna on December 20, 2006

Most of our waking hours revolve around work (or study, if you are a student). We spend time preparing to go to work, traveling to work and actually working. In addition, we spent time shopping for items that are necessary for our work, including clothes, books or even pumping gas.

Even just working 40 hours a week consumes approximately 25% of the hours in a week.  If we eliminate sleep and relaxation time, work will be the most significant activity and which consumes the greatest percentage of our waking hours and our resources — physical and mental.

When people talk about “work-life balance”, they sometimes ignore this fact. Any effective work-life balance strategy has to take into account that our life primarily consists of work, especially in the early part of one’s career. By considering work as a necessary evil so that “one can get back to do what matters most” misses the point entirely.

If a significant part of our conscious time consists of work, it would make for a better life by making work better and more enjoyable rather than using other activities as an escape mechanism from an unhappy work life. The good news is that a lot of this is in our control.

The first step is to identify what aspects of your current work you like and what you don’t like. If you are not looking for another job, it is unlikely you would be in your current job unless you liked something about the job in the first place. First, identify those elements that give you the most pain and suffering.

Try to address the issues one by one. You will find that some of these issues can be resolved yourself through various means — delegation, training, education, etc. Other issues may not be in your control. Talk to the concerned people about these issues. Instead of offering solutions upfront, present your problem so that they can take action.

All issues may not get resolved overnight. Some of them may take weeks or months, but instead of focusing on each item, measure the general progress. What is the trend? Is the number of negative issues decreasing? How are you doing overall compared to a previous time period?

Now look at the positive side. Assuming that you like your current profession more than any other, what can you do to make work more enjoyable? Sometimes monotonous work can make work feel very dull. Can you invent ways to automate part of the work? Can you create or suggest new processes that would make the work better?

Most people feel bad at work because of lack of autonomy and greater micro-management by superiors. Try to find areas or avenues within your work where you can work more freely. Finding ways to do your work faster will give you more leisure and more breathing room.

In the IT industry, there is greater room for innovation and inventiveness. Since the technology is rapidly changing, there is greater opportunity to learn and do something really interesting and satisfying at work itself.

A final thought: If work becomes a happy place to be, then even your escapes will be the more pleasant because the dread of going back to work no longer exists.

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