What does work-life balance mean in the age of the Internet?

For many, the New Year period brings with it renewed motivation to set goals and implement strategies for living a ‘better life’. Time off from the busyness of the previous year can be a brilliant time to consider new ways to protect and enhance the things most important to you. Personal health and well-being is often centre-stage. The pressure of the internet-era, and our own expectations and work practices, may have contributed to poorer lifestyle balance in the past. Here are some ideas worth considering as you plan for a more balanced year ahead.

In the age of the internet, the work day now has the potential to become endless, rendering lifestyle balance unobtainable. Constant access to work through technology, in addition to a range of pressures (fear of job loss, competitive industries, lack of time) can drive us to work longer and longer hours to stay ahead or just keep up. The compounding stress from maintaining this busy lifestyle can hurt relationships, your health, and your overall happiness. With this pressure to be constantly available, how is lifestyle balance achievable?

Energy Gains and Drains A simple way to consider work-life balance is taken from Kristy Arbon’s self- compassion blog. She suggests to take some time for yourself and check in regularly (fortnightly) with regards to the “energy gains and drains” in your life. Essentially if there are not enough gains and too many drains, life balance is out of kilter. Kristy encourages her readers to make time to write a list of energy gains, oxytocin boosters and energy drains.

Some of my energy gains include:

  • Walking and stretching
  • Being in nature
  • Connecting with the important people in my life
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating meals that sustain and energise me
  • Having down time

Kristy also suggests some activities for boosting oxytocin — the feel good hormone associated with human connection: hugging, holding hands, watching a touching video, singing, dancing, being generous, telling someone you like them, and even social media  — if used well.   The other side of the list are the energy drains.

A few personal energy depleters include:

  • Too much work and not enough play
  • Too much coffee
  • Poor food choices
  •  Little or no exercise/stretching
  • Being too busy outside of work (i.e. no down time)
  • Working in an environment that conflicts with my values

Once the list is established it can be reviewed quickly, or added to each time you “check-in”. She also reminds us that having a scheduled reminder is not an opportunity for berating yourself for what we are not doing, but is a gentle reminder to practice some self-care and improve your awareness of imbalance.

Energy Gains and Drains in your workload From a work perspective, considering the demands of your job and how much you are able to meet them is an important aspect to consider here. If you think your work commitments are specifically causing imbalance, consider checking in with your work-self by asking the gains/drains questions:

  • What are the things about your job that energise you?
  • What are the things that drain your energy?

If there are more drains than gains in your job you may like to consider how you can manage this.  Acknowledging that balance looks different for everyone, Deborah Jian Lee’s article on work life balance suggests looking at your own expectations and work practices. According to Lee, unplugging from technology and letting go of perfectionism are invaluable.

Unplug for a moment Taking time to unplug from the wormhole that is technology is an important part of work/life balance. Robert Brooks (Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical school; author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life) says, “There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment”. Phones essentially represent interruptions and can inject a level of stress into your day. Resisting the urge to check your phone, however, builds resilience. The more you resist, the more resilient you become, and the greater the overall sense of control in your life. Unplugging may also help with Lee’s suggestion of “letting go of perfectionism”.

Let go of perfectionism In many industries perfectionism is highly valued because it is linked with being a high achiever. However, experts suggest that perfectionism can be incredibly self- destructive because there is actually no such thing as ‘perfect’. If a perfectionist lets their self-worth be defined by their achievements only, then they run the risk of rarely feeling satisfied and feeling derailed by anything less than exceptional results. If left unchecked perfectionism can have negative impacts on self-worth, personal resources, and relationships. This can be a huge energy drain. Checking in with your own expectations and how realistic they are is one way to curb the ill-effects of perfectionism. What do you need to do to counter the effects of your habitual ‘martyrdom’ or unusually busy week? If being ‘always available’ or ‘up-to-date on emails’ is your idea of doing a good job, psychotherapist and writer Philippa Perry suggests putting down boundaries aligned with your contract and sticking to them. Switch your devices off and “in working hours work, and out of hours don’t” she says.

Try a little self-compassion Something Kristy teaches all over the world is self-compassion. You may react to the concept of self-compassion thinking it’s “wimpy”, a form of self-pity, self-indulgence or an excuse. However, it really is about simple self-care. Kirsten Neff defines it as basically “caring for ourselves the way we would care for someone we truly love”, especially when we/they are suffering. As an act of self-care, consider unplugging and acknowledging that many of our own expectations are unrealistic. How can prioritising energising activities both in, and outside of  your work, put some balance in your life? There is no such thing as perfect and technology has no conscience! Putting some boundaries around your work life and making time for energising activities is a key way of resisting the imbalance that technology can pull us into.

Additional reading:

Websites Kristy Arbon’s post can be found here: https://heartworks.training/check-energy-drains/ http://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahlee/2014/10/20/6-tips-for-better-work-life-balance/ http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/benefits-of-mindfulness.htm http://www.break-buzz.com/how-to-stop-247-email-ruining-your-life  

Books The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown Chained to the Desk by Bryan Robinson The Office Survival Guide by Marilyn Puder-York

About the Author Katie Hayden is a counselling psychologist working in the area of addictions. She is trained in cognitive behaviour therapy and also uses mindfulness and compassion based approaches in her work.   Illustration thanks to Carol Green

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