by Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant, METRO
We all have professional and personal responsibilities. The current state of the economy often results in reduced staff covering an increased workload. With service in professional organizations, continuing education, and the ability to communicate with others around the clock, the amount of time and energy that you allot to work and personal pursuits can easily become out of balance.
Signs of an imbalance
When work hours and responsibilities start to have an ongoing negative impact on other areas of your life, it may be time to make a change. Here are a few indicators to watch for:
- Feeling that you are no longer in control of how you spend your time
- Having goals that you keep putting off until you "have more free time"
- Feeling exhausted, physically and mentally, most of the time
- Finding you have less time for rest, recreation, and exercise
- Physical symptoms of stress, which can include headaches, stomach aches, insomnia
- Complaints from friends and loved ones that you are often unavailable
- Experiencing uncharacteristic distractedness and/or forgetfulness; finding that things are "slipping through the cracks"
Evaluate your situation as objectively as possible
Examine how you are spending your time during an average week. Ask yourself: “what do I have control over, and what is truly outside of my control? What really must get done, by me, and what is optional?” When deciding your next step, focus on the areas where you have a choice, and work around the things you cannot eliminate or reduce.
Some other questions to ask yourself: "What are the things I really want to do? What am I continuing to do out of habit or perceived obligation that is no longer serving me?"
“What is the benefit of what I am doing? Is the effort expended worth it?”
“Realistically, what are the likely consequences if I decide to stop or cut back on the time spent doing [X]?”
“Are there 'time sinks' in my workday that give little or no value in return for the amount of time I spend on them?” Social media, games, personal email, texting, avoidable interruptions, and excessive chatting with co-workers may fall into this category.
What you can do
If your 9-to-5 work responsibilities are taking over what used to be personal time, improving your time management skills may help. Take control of your calendar and protect your personal time. Write in the things you want to do, including days off, recreation, exercise, and time with loved ones, just as you would for professional obligations.
Eliminate the “time sinks” as much as possible from your workday. Delegate whenever possible - at work and outside of work. Consider if there is someone else who can do time-consuming tasks or errands. Consider what time of day you are most productive and, as much as possible, arrange your activities around these times of peak productivity.
For requests where you have the option to decline, go with your gut. If someone makes a request of you and you think "How am I going to fit this in?" say no. Decline politely but firmly.
Use your vacation time! Take your sick days, too, if you are not feeling well. And really use those days off for rest and relaxation.
Finally, it is a good idea to evaluate regularly how you’re spending your time and energy to make sure you haven’t gotten off track regarding your well-being and goals.
Dialing back on optional responsibilities in one area of your life may not be as difficult as you think, and rewards of more free time and greater peace of mind are considerable. By choosing carefully and thoughtfully what you commit to, you are likely to enjoy those activities more, especially if they are not causing problems elsewhere in your life.