Tactics or Principles?

Why principles matter more than tactics in getting your work life balance.

Before starting to think about addressing work life balance it’s interesting to consider why it’s a problem at all.

How did it happen in the first place? When we start our careers we are young and full of energy and eager to take on more, do more and learn more. Its exciting and an adventure to get into the world of work and swim away from the shore. Then insidiously the pressures of maintaining a descent work life balance creep up on us. We realise that we might have been a good colleague, team member and employee but we might have been a lousy partner, friend son, daughter, etc. When this turns into a lousy mum or dad then we’re hurting more than ourselves.

What’s clear is that its very much ourselves that are in charge of the issue. We are the ones making the decisions about the amount of time and attention we apportion to work or life. We do live in a society with a strong work ethic – one which I’ve found all over the world, and in fact is so much stronger outside the UK than most people imagine. When we think of society, its norms and expectations there are clearly some norms which are essential for civilized society – like obeying laws, using the same systems and languages which make interactions between people and groups and organisations work without damaging anyone.

To be part of what we think is acceptable in society leads many of us to assume our own versions of perceived norms without much discussion or challenge. We build out own view of what everyone else expects without any discussion, thought or testing. And this includes our views of what we need to do to be successful in work. We assume we know what we need to do in order to be successful and valued and off we go. I’ll work hard and I’ll be good, liked, safe, and hopefully, successful.

We could start, as many do, with a list of tactics to employ or we could look at some principles. Tactics are effective but they don’t address the underlying deep thinking needed to make real change.

If we were to construct a view of what was appropriate in terms of work life balance where would we start? With the Basics! The basics of healthy, effective, productive, living and working. We need several things in order to deliver what work requires from us so lets think about them and use them as a starting point rather than short term tactics.

Coming in at number one would be Health – if we are not healthy then we are going to get ill or worse and then not be able to do the work we want to do.

Next would be good nutrition, and hydration. Understanding and implementing up to date knowledge to our diets is not really optional any more. There are too many

Then I’d add in safe working conditions which ranges from physical safety to emotional and mental well being.

We need an emotional and social life for all sorts of reasons.

Clarity – In order to do our best we need to be clear on what we are required to do and to what standard. You’d be surprised by how many people come into my office having built ideas and beliefs around these without ever testing or even checking with others. They end up basing whole huge aspects of their approach to work on an assumption that they’ve built up locked in a room somewhere and is fundamentally wrong. For example not recognizing the different the between a question and a command.

How about Sleep? There are recommended levels of sleep we need to have I order to be healthy. So sleep needs to be in there. We need about 8 hours a day.

Communication needs to exist between colleagues and team members. Learning about assertive communication is one of the hardest things some people ever do. It can become a massive internal struggle to react in a way totally contrary to our natural more passive inclinations. The good news is that work is the perfect environment to experiment with assertive communication in order to improve communication in your relationships which matter much more.

We need some sort of motivation in order to perform and this includes a healthy degree of stress. Our money is only part of motivation. We need opportunities to develop, follow our interests and passions to and work should be providing this.

We could do with some boundaries as well. We have all got boundaries – limits to interaction and our own behaviour, but they are frequently ill formed in that they are not considered, rather, they evolve. Boundaries contribute to success, clarity, safety in critical sectors and efficient working. They define relationships and roles. But they need consideration, defining and negotiating.

Many of us need to be creative and problem solving I our roles. Even if we only operate processes we need sufficient mental headroom in order to conduct those processes effectively. If our job is fire fighting then we need fire fighting time and a time to train, I suspect that many jobs become fire fighting for the wrong reasons.

The next pre-requisite would be systems – systems for ourselves to operate, and to define relationships between different people.

A higher but more crucial level we need to be clear about our purpose – what’s important, why are we doing what we are doing. This changes over time. Our priority at the start of our career changes as our lives evolve. Our approach to balance needs to be allowed to evolve too.

Be clear about your thinking – unhelpful thinking styles and emotional reasoning – harness the power of your inner psychopath. Understanding our own thinking patterns and learning about helpful and un-helpful thinking styles is such as perfectionism, or mind reading, and learning to challenge them can be liberating. Identifying where and when we are using emotional reasoning, again, is liberating. I’ll do this because it will make me feel better in a very specific context. ‘I’ll work late or take work home because I’ll feel more secure in my job.’ ‘I’ll eat this chocolate because it will make me feel better.’ Learning about your inner psychopath is to discover what you would do if the feelings and opinions of others didn’t matter. You suddenly see what you need to do and how to do it.

Once we’ve thought about the principles that we need to think about the changes we need to make in order to develop a better work life balance the behaviours are much easier to develop. It involves understanding and experimenting with change and luckily enough work is a great sand box to play with.

So while you think about the real principles of balance, creativity and productivity its time to do learn something new, do something different and notice what happens!