Discovering your work-life balance

Managing your time between work and life isn’t simple, but finding a balance is possible.

01/18/2012


Ever think that there must be an ideal work-life balance point somewhere, you just have to find it when you have time? Kind of like those min/max system optimization concepts that engineers learn in school, you may think, “Someday, I’ll get it right!”

In our frenetic business environment it’s common to feel like you can’t possibly work any harder and equally as common to feel like you have no choice. At the Career Smart Engineers Conference that CSE hosted in October, many sidebar discussions were about how hard everyone is working. Work-life balance may seem remote—a concept but not reality. The point of this column is to push back on that—to help you look hard at what you can do.

Whether single, married, kids or no kids, you do have control over how you spend your time. Is there really an optimal amount of time you should spent at work, say 47.3 hours/week for example?

No.

It’s not that easy. Sometimes projects crater and need 100% of you…right now. Sometimes kids need stitches and need you to hold them in the ER…right now. Sometimes your elderly parent calls and really needs your help…right now. So, how do you get that elusive work-life balance, most of the time?

It beats me. But here are some thoughts to stimulate your quest for a balance that you can live with:

  1. There is no single balance point; life is dynamic and constantly in flux. Sincerity in effort may be the best you can do. In other words, keeping work-life balance top of mind and dealing with it is worthy in itself.
  2. Mentally, be where you are physically. Try to avoid bringing a laptop to your kid’s soccer games or taking calls during dinner with your spouse. Compartmentalize—work is work, life is life. It’s okay to shut off one or the other.
  3. Think of your family as you would a customer. What does your family need? What’s going on with them? What’s important to them?
  4. Set your expectations that the work is always there and you’ll never really be finished, so wrap up at reasonable points and leave. Use your commuting time to transition between work and home.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up when you occasionally have to put in a 60- or 70-hour week out of necessity. Just don’t make it a habit. It can be a great lesson to your kids to see a parent working hard to keep the family going. Explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
  6. Change if what you’re doing isn’t working, overall. Another good thing for kids to see is a parent courageous enough to want to be happy. They will learn from your experience and see that we all are in control of how we spend our time.

There’s a concept in tractor pull competitions that the farther you go, the more the sled digs into the ground, making it harder to pull. Don’t let that be the metaphor for your career. Develop the mind-set that the breadth and perspective you get by doing things outside of work increase your value; they don’t just take away from time you’re working. The reality is that it may make you more effective at work in the time you’re there.

So, no simple answers, but hopefully these thoughts will help you sally forth in the battle to keep balance in your life. While any of us can feel trapped in what we’re doing, that’s only true to a point, the point at which you decide how much control to take. Ultimately, you are in control of your time. Taking action accordingly is your best bet for reaching a balance point that works—for you!

John Suzukida, PE, Lanex Consulting, MinneapolisSuzukida was Trane’s senior VP of global marketing and strategy prior to founding Lanex Consulting in 2002, which focuses on energy efficiency, product-to-solutions transitions, and strategy. He has facilitated meetings for the West Coast Zero Net Energy Coordinating Council, Daikin, Danfoss, and the National Conference on Building Commissioning, and has authored articles for industry publications. He has a BSME and distinguished alumnus award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.



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