The Elusive Quest For The Career / Life Balance

"I just can't seem to get any balance in my life. I'm always being pulled in different directions. There are times when I'm at work when feel that I should be at home and vice versa. How do I get some work / life balance?"

We've all been there! We are working so hard over such long hours that we reach that point of exhaustion where we feel that our career / life balance is unbalanced! To make matters worse, we tell ourselves that if we spend just one extra hour a day in the office for a few weeks we'll get ahead and we can restore some balance in our lives.

The reality is you rarely will achieve a satisfactory balance between your career and your personal life for a long period of time. Over short periods, you will achieve some balance, but most of the time you will be out of balance. You will swing between too much focus on career and too little focus on career. That's why it's elusive!

Who's In Control?

Are you letting your work / career control your life? If the balance is too far to career I would argue that you have let your career control your life and this begs closer examination. If it's too far the other way, then perhaps you are letting external factors control your life. Either way, it's time you gained control of your life again.

The Answer Lies In Communication And Compromise

Because you can't control everything that is happening in the office and you can't control everything that is happening in your personal life, that's where communication is important. You have to communicate to those in your personal life your career situation and the demands on you that your career has. Similarly, you have to communicate in your office your personal situation and the demands your personal life has. Communication alone won't give you balance, but it will give you some control. You also will have to make compromises, and some of these compromises will be very difficult. There will be sacrifices and regrets, too. However, if you have stated your position you are better placed to make the difficult decision at the time, and also better placed to deal with the emotional fallout from the difficult decision.

For example, I enjoy working with newly established firms. There is a lot of excitement and passion; and there is a lot of hard work and time put in to make the dream a reality. Just after the birth of my son, I joined a newly established firm as the Regional Head of Institutional Sales. The fact that we only had one salesperson also meant I was the entire sales department. Over the time I spent at that firm I was the major contributor to that organisation's success and growth. I enjoyed what I was doing and I enjoyed the experience. However, it meant long hours at the office, including many weekends. Whilst the money was good and the experience was invaluable, the personal cost was I missed the first five years of my son's life. Yes, I regret missing out on those years, yet that experience has given me the freedom to follow my dream today. Notwithstanding that I was rarely home when my son was awake, there was one thing I did each week which my employer understood. I was the coach of my son's football team, which meant I had to leave the office early every Tuesday afternoon during winter. So we did spend some time together. Looking back on that time there are some regrets and there were some compromises, too. What made the situation work for me, was I explained the demands on my time to my wife before I joined the newly established firm, and when my son was old enough to play football I explained the situation to my employer. It wasn't an ideal situation, but by taking control of what I could in my situation and having input I was able to negotiate an understanding across all parties.


Do you really need to be doing the "nice to have's?", or can you delegate them or let them slip. I bet they're not in your KPIs (key performance indicators). If they do slip will anyone notice? There is always more that can be done. You can always go that extra mile to make something perfect, but do you need to go that far? I understand that you are passionate about what you do and you care about the quality of the work you produce and that is why you are going to these lengths to do the "perfect" job, but does anyone care? To put this question into perspective, think about your review meeting. Your supervisor is going to focus on your KPIs to determine your promotion aspects, salary increase and bonus. If they have not been delivered, everything else was wasted effort! They were "nice to have". My advice is when the work level starts to increase, focus on the KPIs. Put them at the top of the priority list and complete those tasks, and place everything else further down the list. If you get to these secondary tasks, then you are not too busy after all or you should be spending more time with your loved ones.

Do You Waste Time?

I used to work in an office where people would waste time every day so that they could be seen to be working back late in the office every night and on the weekend. What a waste of time! Whilst every organisation has its own views about being seen to be working the long hours, my advice is to deliver results. If you can deliver results in 30 hours a week instead of 60 or 70 or more, then good for you!

Whilst the culture of this organisation was one example of how we waste time, I also have experienced firms where the teams like to "have a chat". Sure, I get it. We are social creatures and we thrive on social interaction, but keep it to a minimum and get back to your desk so that you can leave the office sooner rather than later. The next time you are caught with a "have a chat", ask yourself if you would rather be spending your time with this chatterbox or with your loved ones, and excuse yourself and get back to the task at hand.

The third way to improve your efficiency is through better meeting management. Most meetings are inefficient; people arrive late, they discuss social topics for too long, they use the meeting to do the work they should have done themselves, and they go off topic. If we all work to improve meeting efficiency and reduce the time spent in meetings by 25% we'd all enjoy a better career / life balance. Again, my suggestion is to speak up. If you are a senior member of the team, you should know when to speak up to make suggestions to improve meeting efficiency. If you are a junior member of the team I suggest either raising your suggestions with your supervisor after the meeting or raising them with the person who chaired / called the meeting, again after the meeting.

All Work And No Play Makes Jack Inefficient

There's another lesson I've learnt in my career about work / life balance. All work and no play decreases your effectiveness. Each day, you need a break, just so that you can be effective the next day. Sure, there will be times when you will have to work around the clock, go home to have a shower and get changed and then return to the office for another long day. That's fine. We can do that occasionally. We can't do it all the time and still remain effective though. You need your sleep and how much you require will be determined by your body. Beyond sleep though, your mind requires different stimuli to maintain a high level of effectiveness. I'm not a doctor and neither am I a psychologist, but I know from experience that when people work long hours on a project or task that their effectiveness declines and they make mistakes. In short, they suffer from fatigue. But worse than fatigue, I'm aware of people having nervous breakdowns from persistent long hours in the office whilst under stress. My advice when you feel the onset of fatigue is to take a break. Take a walk, an afternoon, a weekend, or perhaps a week of normal hours; whatever it takes to improve your mental shape.


Whilst you may not be able to achieve an ideal career / life balance, if you communicate your situation and needs you can improve the balance. You also need to accept that you will need to compromise and that part of having a successful career is the acceptance that you shall have to make some sacrifices and have some regrets. Prioritise and improve your personal efficiency. When exercised together you'll have greater control over your work / career balance. To learn more about gaining an effective career / life balance contact Inspirational Leaders (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).