Balancing work and life can seem like an impossible task. Meeting the demands of family, children, work, and personal health can feel like climbing a greased pole. But Argosy University Associate Professor Nancy Aragon has some tips to achieving work-life balance. She spoke with VOA Now! host David Byrd.
BYRD: What are some of the top indicators that work and life are out of balance?
ARAGON: Well the first one is stress – that “s” word. We all know that word. But what does that mean? If you’re feeling like you’re running late constantly, cutting corners on everything whether at work or your family or yourself just to get something done because there’s always something else that you have to get done. Perhaps you’re being a little more irritable. Maybe you’re not satisfied with your life in general any more – or your job specifically or your family. And also there’s a variety of physical and mental symptoms associated with a life out of balance including weight gain, depression, and burnout.
BYRD: We live in a very technological age, where people are reliant on cell phones, or iPads, or computers. Is technology a help or a hindrance in work-life issues?
ARAGON: Yes (laughs). And I say yes because it’s both. It can be a help; it can be a hindrance. The key really is how you allow technology to operate in your life. For example, technology has increased my ability to communicate with my family, my co-workers, 24-7. But at the same time, where are those boundaries? So I have to set those boundaries that equate to a comfortable balance for me with my co-workers, with my students. When am I willing to reply to their e-mails, text messages, and phone calls, so forth? And the same for my family, my children, too. I have had to be that parent that takes away my children’s technology if they are abusing it. So, technology – it’s definitely improved our lives: the ability for me to be able to text my high school child to make sure she’s got a ride home or remembered this appointment, or something along those lines is beautiful. I would not want to give up that technology. But we have to at the same time protect our barriers so that there is me time without technology. And it’s very simple: turn it off, leave it at the office. There are some organizations that have actually played around with that: having a day where when employees leave for the day they have to drop their cell phone off, it’s a leave your phone at work night. And the anecdotal evidence has been very positive, that’s a very positive thing for those employees. So, play around with that in your own life would be my suggestion; find the balance so that technology is a help, not a hindrance in your work-life balance.
BYRD: How would you define a work-life balance? You’ve said stress is an indicator of a dysfunction; how would you say a health work-life balance looks?
ARAGON: Well, there are actually a lot of definitions out there in the literature regarding a healthy work-life balance. But to oversimplify there are two main views: one that sees work-life issues as born inherently of conflict and the other sees work-life as an opportunity for abundance and synergy. So the first view would say that a healthy work-life balance is one that minimizes conflict. And the second would suggest that a healthy work-life is one that optimizes opportunity and well-being. I really can’t choose which one I like most. I like both. I think it really kind of depends. If you’re an individual who is already struggling with a deeply out of balance work-life situation, then I think maybe that first definition would be the most useful for that individual: seek to minimize the conflict that’s already characterizing your life. And then once you start obtaining that reduced conflict, then you can start to strive to move from conflict minimization to seeking abundance and synergy between the opportunities your work affords your life and vice versa.
BYRD: For those people who like lists, what are the top five things that a person can do to balance work and life.
ARAGON: Well “lists” is on my list (laughs). I keep a daily “to-do” list to help make sure that everything is taken care of and doesn’t fall through the cracks. But one thing, too, that we need to remember is that work-life balance is a moving target. So what worked yesterday might not work today and probably won’t work tomorrow. And keeping that truth in mind, embracing that truth is very helpful. I think that would be my number one, top five thing is to have a flexible attitude about work life balance. It’s a moving target.
Beyond that, support: support from your family, your friends, your coworkers. Work-life balance is not an island unto itself. It takes everyone in your life to sort of make this work.
Third: exercise, a healthy diet, and sleep. I know that sleep can be a hard one to believe; I used to burn my candle at both ends, too. But when I finally took a very serious look at my own work life balance, and you know stuck a firm foot on the ground and said ‘no more, I am going to bed.’ I even set an alarm on my phone – there’s technology helping me – at night, it goes off and that’s when I’d have to go to bed. I don’t care if my work isn’t done or the kitchen isn’t clean, or what have you, I’m going to bed. And since I have started sticking to my alarm clock sleep time, I have become so much more effective and productive. I have fewer times available because I am spending more of that time in sleep, but I am getting more done with it. So sleep is the latest top-five list that I have actually truly embraced in my life, and it works. So sleep.
Laughter; laughter is another top five thing. It all comes back to attitude here again: we can’t always control our circumstances but we can certainly control the way we react to it. So when work-life balance is getting a little chaotic, see the ironic humor in it and laugh.
And then finally, good time management. We said lists; another way that technology can be helpful is shared calendars. I use Google calendar for myself and my family and my coworkers and we can share, so that we are all on the same page and we know when there is availability to do something that wasn’t on the schedule before and we can use our text phone – yet another technology benefit – to quickly spread the news: ‘hey we’ve got a change in plans. Does this work?’ So good time management.
BYRD: Any other tips for people seeking work-life balance?
ARAGON: I think it’s kind of intuitive. Take a look at yourself and what you need and what you want along with your family and work and make it work. You mentioned I have seven children; that kind of happened to me over night. I went from having two children to having six children over night because I adopted the four. And that was a huge change, I had to really, really change my life around. I needed a much more flexible job than I had at the time. So if I were looking for somebody to give me a work-life balance answer that would have worked for me in the situation I was in at that time, I think I would have been frustrated. I had to look within myself to find the balance, the customized balance that worked for me and my family at that time.