Just how to tip the scales between work and leisure

Today “work-life balance” is a phrase that is often used by many young and some older Singaporeans but getting the balance right apparently means different things to different people. Indeed some tend to use it to suit their circumstances and others genuinely feel that they have had enough of work and need to put some leisure and happiness into their life.

Indeed we are late starters to adopt this approach to work and leisure. It gained credence in Britain in the 1970s and 10 years later in the US. In the ten years from 1986 to 1996 work-life balance was mentioned in the media 32 times. A Time magazine cover story noted that in 10 years from 1986-1996 work-life balance was mentioned 32 times in the media. In 2007 alone, Time said the phrase was mentioned 1674 times.

Perhaps one reason why it is catching up with Singaporeans now is because of our economic success and with it the widespread use of technology. The work life has become more pervasive. As a result, the after-office life invariably suffers as the boundary between work and leisure hours becomes blur.

While many treatise have been written about how stressful the work place can be, there is no running away from the fact that being at home, or when socialising with friends the emotional relationship between humans are not stress free. Indeed the level of stress may vary between the two scenarios at the office and out of the office.

Hays Singapore conducted a survey on work- life balance, where they asked people if this was attainable. The result: 42.53 percent of Singaporeans thought it was attainable but the key was to have a flexible employer. Another 36.02 per cent felt it was attainable, and it was up to them to make it work. And, 21.46 per cent felt work/life balance was not attainable.

But before we start embarking on work-life balance, let’s remember that we should not forget our primary responsibility to work and earn to sustain ourselves and our dependents, with sufficient to save for a rainy day. There is an inclination in some quarters where work-life balance is taken as a soft option to flee from hard work and challenges, and to abandon the will-power to persevere and overcome hurdles. To adopt this can be a fatal mistake and lead one to become unmotivated, losing drive and motivation in life and worse still to fall into a dependency syndrome.

While there’s a lot of literature on work-life balance, one good guidance is from the Mayo Clinic in the US. In its web article “Healthy Lifestyle: Adult Health” it said: As long as you’re working, juggling the demands of career and personal life will probably be an ongoing challenge.

Here’s an adaptation of Mayo’s ideas to find the work-life balance that’s best for you:

• Track your time. Pay attention to your daily tasks, including work-related and personal activities. Decide what’s necessary and what satisfies you the most.

• Take advantage of your options. Ask your employer about flexi hours, a compressed work week, job sharing, telecommuting or other scheduling flexibility. Don’t be disappointed if you can’t get this as not all employers may agree to it. However, do note that the more control you have over your hours, the less stressed you’re likely to be.

• Learn to say no. Whether it’s a co-worker asking you to spearhead an extra project or your child’s teacher asking you to organize a class party, remember that it’s OK to respectfully say “no”. When you stop accepting tasks out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you’ll have more time for the activities that are meaningful to you.

• Leave work at work. With the technology to connect to anyone at any time from virtually anywhere, there might be no boundary between work and home — unless you create it. Make a conscious decision to separate work time from personal time. When you’re with your family, for instance, keep your laptop, or smart phone, out of sight.

• Manage your time. Organize household tasks efficiently, such as running errands in batches or doing a load of laundry every day, rather than saving it all for your day off. Put family events on a weekly family calendar and keep a daily to-do list. Do what needs to be done and let the rest go.

• Bolster your support system. At work, join forces with co-workers who can cover for you — and vice versa — when family conflicts arise. At home, enlist trusted help, better still if you have parents or loved ones to pitch in with child care or household responsibilities when you need to work overtime or travel.

• Nurture yourself. Eat a healthy diet, include physical activity in your daily routine and get enough sleep. Set aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy, such as practicing yoga, or reading. Better yet, discover activities you can do with your partner, family or friends — such as dancing, cycling, jogging or taking cooking classes.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.