Striking a good work life balance can be a struggle at the best of times. Matthew Jennings says be in the moment, and focus on one thing at a time – it’s only when we juggle that we start to drop balls.
Britain is labelled within Europe as having the longest working hours, particularly for managers (The Work Foundation EU Study 2006). It is considered a 'good thing' to be first at your desk in the morning and last out of the door in the evening. There is an apocryphal quote that has been attributed to most of the world's leading corporations, which sums up this management ethos:
'If you don't come in on Saturday, then don't bother being at your desk on Sunday morning.'
The truth is that the best managers often don't work the longest hours. They work the most effective hours.
Management is not just a question of working hard. It is not even about 'getting results'. Good management is about sustaining those results and nurturing your team to feel confident enough to be able to achieve success themselves. In order to be able to do this, you must first understand what makes you tick and what genuinely drives and motivates you.
To understand yourself, you need to know what constitutes your life. What different hats do you wear? We are all composite individuals made up of different parts. To help you apply this concept, write down eight roles you fulfil in your life (training manager, sibling, friend, partner etc). Now write a list under each role of things you want to achieve in the coming year for that role. Write whatever you want, don't restrict yourself.
For example, for the role of 'training manager' you may have: increase staff retention; reduce sick days; increase performance of sales team etc.
Now choose the most compelling ideas and turn them into proper smart goals. For example, for 'increase staff retention' you may have 'instigate individual training programmes based on departmental training needs analysis'; 'liaise with HR for individual career pathways to identify training support'; 'instigate culture of supportive appraisal system based on developing confidence in role'; 'introduce confidential exit interviews, with contingency to counter-offer new company' etc. In order to achieve these goals what should you be doing now? What do you need to have done by the end of the month? What needs to be in place in 90 days' time? Who else needs to know these plans? Who can support you?
For the role of 'friend' you may want to 'see more of my best friend'; 'arrange a holiday with a group of friends'; 're-establish contact with someone I have lost touch with', etc. Apply the same smart goal approach to this role eg 'arrange to go out one to one for dinner/drinks with my best friend by the end of the month' etc.
Communication and focus
Focused time management is the Holy Grail for a successful work-life balance. Communication is the key to this. If it is your child's first day at school then let people in the team know. Arrange meetings that won't clash with that morning. Stay late the night before and get ahead of yourself. Most important of all make sure that when you take your child to school, be there for them and focus on what you are doing. Be 'in the moment' with your child with your whole attention on them until they are through the school gates, then put your training manager hat back on and take phone calls etc. Don't try and do both roles simultaneously, or you will end up doing neither effectively.
An EU study has recommended that work-life balance becomes the main priority for European governments. In this wake will come all sorts of legislation: expansion of maternity rights, paternity, part-time, flexitime, working hours restrictions, duvet days, compassionate leave extensions, and so on. The official approach to achieving a work-life balance will be to legislate lots of leave and days off.
This won't help anyone really achieve a proper balance, least of all training managers who will probably face an increase in workload. The only way to genuinely lead a happy life is to make as much of a success of everything you do as you possibly can.
As a manager, the most logical way to achieve a work-life balance is to look honestly at what drives you. Look at your values and work your energy around those. Then, when you achieve something, you will really want it.
Understanding your values is a complex business. You can do a professional values elicitation exercise or simply make a list of values and choose the five that are most important to you. If you are driven, for example, by the values of fun, security for your family, success, wisdom and integrity, then look at all the things you are doing and see if they fulfil these values. If they don't, ask yourself what activities you could be doing that do meet these criteria.
Your job brings you success and integrity, but does it bring you fun? If it doesn't, then think of ways to introduce fun to your working life. Start an informal competition amongst the other managers for best staff motivation incentive - maybe buy a tin cup with 'world's best manager' written on it as a prize. Make sure that next time you are at a meeting with a departmental head you find a connection with that person. Ask what they like to do in their spare time? What's their favourite food? What's the most daring thing they have ever done? You may just be surprised.
Achieving a work/ life balance boils down to focusing on what you are doing at the time and trying to make sure that you do the things you really want to do as often as you can. Above all else it is about understanding who you are and giving time to the things that are important in your life.
Matthew Jennings is training director at Spark Training. www.sparktraining.co.uk. Spark provide tailor-made training solutions based on achieving client objectives. Call 01273 301121 for more information