Thursday, 10 October 2019
In early 2019 business owner Annie Browne was asked to speak at an event about work life balance. She told her audience she doesn’t believe there is any such thing. Here she shares her tips on achieving something even better – a work-life blend.
As a mother of two young boys, married to a globetrotting academic and living four hours away from our families, running my virtual assistant business supporting clients UK wide and co-founding a 7.5k-strong UK freelance community makes for a jam-packed schedule to say the least. Of course, I was humbled to be asked to share my experience, but it probably wasn’t as expected, as I took to the stage and announced that actually, I didn’t believe the search for work-life balance would ever be fruitful. What followed was an attempt to offer an alternative perspective that would help the audience to find what they were looking for.
In a world where ‘busy’ is the norm we see millions of people publicly searching for (or offering solutions to) the perfect work-life balance. We won’t find it. As Matthew Kelly said in his book Off Balance, we don’t really want balance, we want satisfaction. He is right. What we are REALLY looking for is an end result; a feeling of happiness, contentment and success. Somewhere along the line we decided that ‘balance’ was the way we would achieve our end result.
We occasionally come across idealistic ‘role models’ on social media that tell us that their way is perfect, and you can be just like them; run a business and live your perfect lifestyle. It is so easy to be drawn in and decide that someone else’s version of ‘success’ is what we are looking for and in order to achieve it we need to replicate their perceived work-life balance. All too often we miss the step where we decide on what we were actually hoping to achieve before we set off on our quest to find it.
So what is success? In 2015 when I started my business Hello My PA I never imagined I would ever stand on a stage and say the words ‘I am the most successful person I know’. But that is exactly what I did at the start of this year.
It’s not because I am a narcissist, that I earn £1 million a year or drive a fancy car. It is because now, I know what it is I want to achieve. I keep myself in touch with those things regularly and, most importantly, I recognise when I achieve those things. I know that I have succeeded in what I set out to do, and where I haven’t I have gained knowledge and experience.
As individuals we are only able to truly know what we want to achieve ourselves and only we are able to truly know if we have achieved those things. What you see of others’ lives on social media is not necessarily the whole story.
Once we are in touch with what our end result is and how we want to feel about certain aspects of our life we can start to plan our journey. We can fill our days with tasks and activities that will help us to achieve that result – but here is the thing about the concept of ‘balance’.
I want you to imagine a set of tipping scales. On each side of the scales you have an equal number of weights. The scales are perfectly balanced. The scales represent your average day. One set of weights represents all of your ‘work’-based tasks that you do day-to-day. The other set of weights represent all of your ‘life’-based stuff.
On your average day, you achieve all of the tasks from both sides of the scale and you remain in balance. But what happens when one day you need to give a bit more to ‘work’ to achieve a new work goal? Or you need to give more to ‘life’ because you need a bit of time for you? The concept of balance suggests that as you give to one side, you take from the other; that if you do anything other than your average day, you are immediately ‘off-balance’.
The line between life and work is blurred, especially where self-employment is concerned. In a world where we are constantly switched on, our offices are in our pockets and we can be reached by all people at all times, with our desire to ‘have it all’ (whatever that is) meaning a willingness to work from anywhere at any time by our own choice, I put it to you that actually, your average day is more of a work life BLEND.
The concept of a blend allows you to think more openly about what you do with each day to achieve your end result. Maybe your focus is more in favour of business tasks one day and family the next; whatever you want to achieve as your end result as your feeling of satisfaction. Perhaps finding the right ‘blend’ for you on any particular day will get you to where you want to be. So how do you know what the right blend for you is? Here are my top tips.
Decide what your end result is
What is it you want to achieve? What do you want to feel at the end of every day?
Every March I set myself some annual goals. These reflect what I would like to do in the coming year in my business, for me personally and with my family. Then I focus on only these things.
If what you are doing each day isn’t working towards what you want to achieve, if it doesn’t make you feel the way that you want to feel, ask yourself if you should be doing it. Alternatively, if you like what you are doing, decide WHY you are doing that thing, why it makes you feel good and if perhaps you need to adjust your goals. Goal setting is important and gives us focus, but it also gives you flexibility to explore.
Being aware of how you are feeling, what you are achieving and if you need to make adjustments in areas of your life is really important. Take time for you and your thoughts.
This is invaluable!
Don’t measure your success by someone else
Decide what success means for you. When setting yourself goals, make decisions that are relevant to your own success. Decide what you need to do to achieve those things and plan around that.
Success is what you make it.
Don’t get distracted by other people
Other people aren’t working towards your goal. They are doing their own thing.
Don’t compare yourself to others
You’re adding value to the things that are important to you. No one else is doing your thing. There is no comparison.
This is one of my favourite subjects and I regularly give advice and workshops to help people get themselves organised in life and business.
There is way too much to say on the subject to include here, but the headline is be aware of what you need to do to achieve your end result and plan accordingly. Decide what tools and resources you need for your thing.
You can sign up here to receive tips and advice on productivity and organisation if you would like to explore beyond the headline.
Once you are focused and organised you will become more confident in what you are trying to achieve. You will know exactly where you are heading, what you are doing and you will know, by taking time to reflect, that you are getting there.
Be confident in yourself and in your decisions that you made for you.
You’ve got this!
Once you are confident that you are designing your days with the right blend for you, you will be doing something each and every day that is working towards your end result. As you continue to be pro-active in the right areas for you, I put it to you that you will gain momentum. Much like riding a bike. Everything you do is a single push on a pedal. In fact, if you keep those pedals turning, perhaps you might just find your balance.
It’s About Time is an initiative developed by NatWest Cymru in conjunction with Darwin Gray Solicitors, the University of South Wales (USW), Bizmums, and the Federation of Small Businesses. Research carried out by USW showed that women in business mentioned ‘time’ as a major factor in their lives – whether literally never having enough of it, or finding the right time to launch a business, and the right time to grow a business.
The It’s About Time series of blogs and articles is designed to inspire, inform and educate through the stories of women (and men) who are finding their own routes to professional and personal success. It is put together by Gemma Collins, NatWest Cymru’s business growth enabler for Cardiff.