Working Out a Balance

Devashish Chakravarty        Print Edition: July 2011

It is every cubicle dweller's Holy Grail. Many have been lost (no, really) in search of it. We worship and envy those who have found it. In fact, the promise of it lures unsuspecting graduates to the gates of countless corporates.

While all this sounds exaggerated, balancing your personal life and work (the Grail in question) is vital for success. But what is involved in this quest for equilibrium? Be warned, it requires some serious effort. Most firms promise it to all employees.

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However, that's an improbable assurance. Balancing work and a personal life is in relation to an individual and is different for each employee considering personal circumstances. The responsibility of achieving it lies with the individual alone.

UNDERSTAND THYSELF

Define what a great balance means to you. Recognise that your need to work is also driven by a need for achievement-apart from the pay cheque that is. The other primary force is a need to enjoy life, which most seek through relationships and other leisurely pursuits.

Missing out on achieving a balance in life triggers a stressful downward spiral of suppressed emotions, relative isolation and embitterment.
Both these propel our daily actions. Thus, a balanced life is defined by you alone. Often, you also enjoy and relish office activities and a portion of your achievements lies within an enjoyable personal life.

IN THE LONG TERM

Write down the specifics of goals that are important to you over the long term. Be it, becoming a VP in five years, a millionaire in 10 or helping your daughter crack the board examinations in eight.

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Similarly, list leisure activities that are important to you. It could be a family vacation to Europe, playing the bass guitar in a band or simply being able to watch as many movies a week as possible. Then analyse your life. Is your life- the sum of work and life outside-on a path that will take you to your long-term goals? Now, choose changes that will help you get where you want to be.

If your industry will not make you a millionaire with your skills, upgrade yourself. Get that advanced diploma in robotics that you always wanted. If your firm's promotion policies will not get you the VP's cabin in five years, find a firm that will. And please join guitar classes, just maybe you're not as talented as you might want to be.

But remember, the right balance today will become redundant as circumstances change. The young entrepreneur is with her startup 24/7 because there is both pleasure and a sense of achievement to be found there. The new father decides to avail of a sabbatical as he will get to spend more time with his family. Revisit your long-term priorities every year.

IMMEDIATE PRIORITIES

Are you scheduling sufficient time now to achieve your long-term goals? If you are stressed and short of time, then time management is a key skill to master. (See Making the Best of Your Time). Meanwhile, are you effectively using the resources that you do have?

Start with your office. Understand how your company defines a balanced work life. Is there a flexi-time option that lets you avoid rush hour traffic? Is the company offering a membership with a club that allows you to take exotic vacations at a discount? Also, use the office concierge to pay bills or to pick up your car from the garage and consider the office creche as an option for your toddler.

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For special benefits, it often pays to ask. Your manager just might be glad to keep you on board with two weeks work done from home while you look after an ailing relative. Also, redefine your attitude. Always negotiate comfortable deadlines to reduce stress. Block half an hour each weekday and longer on weekends for life's surprises. To maximise satisfaction and output, stay focused on the present by compartmentalising all your activities. Replying to office mails on the blackberry while having dinner with family is not a great idea.

Neither is catching up with friends on Facebook during office hours. Automate your schedule. Have a fixed time to hit the gym, reply to mails while commuting and set apart Saturday dinners for family and friends.

Does all this sound like too much work? Does it seem like a good idea to postpone trying to achieve your goals? Bad idea. There are consequences to missing out on defining a balance in life. It triggers a stressful downward spiral of suppressed emotions, relative isolation from society and ultimately, embitterment. Most stress arises from a perceived lack of control over one's life.

Seize control and exercise your choices. You have complete control over what your priorities in life should be. You have the freedom to choose when, how and where you schedule your activities. Achieving balance is a process. You get better as you practice keeping to your choices. May the force be with you.

The writer is CEO, Quetzal Verify, an HR solutions company run by IIM-Ahmedabad alumni.

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