Many people think that the key to work-life balance is to put “career” into its own neat box. By separating work from life, we believe we’re limiting the ability of one to trample over the other.
The problem is, they’re intrinsically linked. Our work IS our life, and not because we want to spend 18 hours a day behind a desk. Rather, if we’re unhappy with what we do as a profession, it has a nasty habit of spilling over into who we are. It affects all areas of our life, whether we want it to or not.
The solution is to find a career we’re happy in, yes. But it’s also about developing small habits that make career and work gel together more harmoniously.
Here are five career resolutions that put work and life together on an even keel, for a happier you:
Leave work on time, every day
Brits are working more overtime than at any point in history, and one in four of us is unhappy at work. Danes, on the other hand, are culturally conditioned to leave work on time every day, and consistently rank as the world’s happiest workforce.
Staying glued to your desk long after home time will do no favours to your productivity. To the contrary, research shows that a tendency towards presenteeism is toxic, and makes us physically sick.
“It is intuitively obvious that the longer you are expected to drudge, the less productive your drudgery is likely to be,” writes Archie Bland in the Guardian. “[But] it is better to look busy and have a stroke, we feel, than to get things done then switch off.”
Leaving work on time is a tough call in the current climate. It requires both efficiency, and (sadly) a bit of gall. Try not to procrastinate or lose yourself to Facebook throughout the day. Instead keep the pace up; plan your tasks carefully, and get them done. Set your phone alarm for 5.30pm, then leave. No apologies, no skulking.
The more you do this, the easier it’ll become. Better still, you’ll blitz the residue exhaustion that makes you procrastinate and run late in the first place.
Plan adventurous weekends
For ultimate career happiness, your off time is as valuable as when you work. It’s easy to fall into the habit of flopping at weekends. We all have hectic jobs and that duvet is just so warm and tempting, right? But the allure of hibernating with Netflix and a bag of Jaffa Cakes has a limited shelf life. Too many weekends on the sofa can leave us feeling a bit sluggish and empty. At its worst, binge-watching TV is also linked to higher levels of anxiety and stress.
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Far better to plan in an action-packed break every six weeks or so that will dazzle your senses. This could be anything from hiking in Snowdonia to glamping in Finland or paddle-boarding on Lake Bled. Ideally, it will involve learning a new skill – something that is an elixir for self-confidence and happiness (even if you’re crap at it).
They say a change is as good as a rest. By regularly leaping out of your comfort zone, you’ll stay refreshed at work. You’ll also remind yourself of the world beyond the office, and your ability to learn skills within it.
Stop caring so much
Workplace apathy is a sure sign you’re unhappy with your job, whereas hard work can bring happiness. Being efficient and ploughing through your to-do list will also ensure you get out of the door on time (see point above).
That said, you need to make sure you don’t work *too* hard. Perfectionism can be harmful. Generally, the people with a good-enough attitude in the office will be happier than those who spend most of their lunch breaks trying to re-work the wording of an email.
“These are the pressures you place on yourself,” Dr Jessamy Hibberd, co-author of This Book Will Make You Calm, tells the Guardian. “For example, checking and rechecking work, spending too long on each task, taking work home and setting excessively high standards.
“Rather than caring about everything, choose what’s most important and let go of the pressure on the things that don’t matter to you so much,” she adds.
Use the 80/20 rule to help with this. This stipulates that 20% of your input will be responsible for 80% of the results. It’s a truism that applies to all areas of life. At work, you can use it to concentrate on the few, bigger tasks that will make the most significant impact on your performance.
Couple this efficiency with not caring so much about every little detail of your job, and you’ll be heading west on the highway of work-life happiness. Get your tasks done without dwelling, take lunch breaks and leave bang on time, no apologies. Done.
Travel with strangers
It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut at work. You see the same people, day in and day out. Even if your job is wildly challenging, there are still bound to be moments when you feel a little… hemmed in.
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Travelling with strangers is the best possible antidote to this frustration. You don’t have any of the hassle of travelling completely alone (something that can be tricky to arrange when you’re working full-time). Yet, by travelling with people you don’t know, you broaden your horizons and gain a whole new perspective on your work.
Meeting new people is a skill that tends to languish as we get older, even though making such connections is a key aspect of wellbeing and renewal. Crucially, travelling with people you don’t know will free you from expectations that caveat your everyday life. It’s so liberating to untie yourself from this framework of obligations, however subtle they are.
At Flash Pack, we specialise in putting together groups of like-minded travellers, and our glowing reviews show we do this well. By exploring the world with strangers, you’ll return to work fresh, invigorated and with a whoosh of confidence that comes from meeting a whole new set of people.
Be master of your own ship
Autonomy – the ability to act on your own accord, and in line with your sense of self – is a vital element of happiness. In business, this doesn’t necessarily mean being self-employed.
Instead, you should drop the “me versus corporation” mentality. You are not a tiny cog in a huge wheel, but instead someone who is entirely in charge of their own destiny. You don’t owe it to anyone to be in a particular job, no matter how great the title or salary.
Whether you take a sabbatical, regularly change careers or stay forever in pursuit of your “why”, it’s important that you regularly ask yourself what drives you at work – and stay true to that (bearing in mind it may well change over time).
This kind of self-determination has nothing to do with impressing your boss and everything to do with making the impact you want to make. Once you’ve done that – and a job has given you all it can – you can decide whether to move on.
Mentally, in this scenario, you’re self-employed: you’re doing whatever it is that makes you happy or fulfilled, and limiting the influence of whoever you work for. That part is almost incidental.
“Keep in mind that you are a consultant and the CEO of your own career, whether you work for a big corporation, a tiny startup or yourself,” writes career expert Liz Ryan in Forbes. “How you get paid is a detail.
“You will not be successful by trying to please everyone or by letting yourself become a doormat. Speak up and say what you feel. Not everyone will like it… To be successful, you have to give up the idea that you can play it safe and still achieve your dreams.”
Steer your own ship and the rewards will roll in, even if it is a little bumpy along the way.
Images: Shutterstock/Flash Pack
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