By Isabel Eva Bohrer (Madrid)
In her book The See-saw: 100 Ideas for Work-Life Balance, Julia Hobsbawn speaks from experience. As a working mother with five young children and a young business, Hobsbawn had spent had spent a long time working extremely hard on finding her priorities and her own work-life balance. “I realized that the metaphor I came back to in my mind was one of a see-saw, constantly having ups and downs,” she recalls. “And I couldn’t find a book which expressed in the words of women like me but also some men, what this time feels like, in which we have everything but are also so overloaded we often feel empty of power or opportunity,” she adds.
The result is a practical, upbeat book that addresses a critical issue in today’s society. While some people still refer to it as “work-life balance,” others have begun using phrases like “work-life effectiveness” and “work life fit.” New York University sociologist Dalton Conley has coined a further term called the “weisure” principle, which underlines the blurring of the line between work and leisure. According to Conley, the 24-7 life of “weisure” is the next step in the evolving work-life culture.
Regardless of the terminology, however, what remains true is that work-life issues are a challenge for many people, men and women alike. As Hobsbawn notes, “what matters in the end is not the language – it is the meaning of our actions.” She herself prefers words like “efficiency” and “fitness” because they describe a positive work-life balance. But how exactly do we achieve a successful work-life balance?
The Importance of Positivity
In our modern society, it is all too common to regard work-life balance as a problem. However, instead of seeing it as an impediment to success and happiness, Hobsbawn tells us that the “first thing is to regard it as a positive set of options which need very careful planning and managing is key. Having an abundance of opportunities is to be celebrated,” she stresses.
With work taking over what would normally have been leisure time, it is common for both men and women to feel overwhelmed. According to Hobsbawm, “one of the ways of managing is to identify clearly when to stop, when to say no, when to put oneself as an individual at the heart of our decision making even if that feels selfish.”
But learning how to say no may take time. Many people are afraid of that two-letter word, explains William Ury, author of The Power of a Positive No. “We’re afraid of not being liked, not being accepted,” he says. “We’re afraid of hurting a relationship or losing a deal.” Business owners and independent consultants may find it especially difficult to turn down new projects or clients. Start by identifying why you always say yes, advises Hannah Clark in her recent Forbes article “Getting To No.” Once you have overcome your initial automatic response to say “yes,” the key to saying “no” is to be polite but direct, according to Clark.
Focusing on Yourself
In conjunction with saying no, another key is to focus on yourself. “Finding time and the courage to focus on yourself amidst the maelstrom of everything else is a strength, not a weakness,” explains Hobsbawn. Her words call to mind a recent article in the New York Times titled “Who’s Your Boss, You or Your Gadget?” With this question, author Mickey Meece addresses the core of today’s technologically dominated society. By turning off your BlackBerry, you can focus on yourself. Laurie Lopez, a manager at Winter, Wyman HR Contract Solutions in Boston, even advises fellow employees on how to make a successful pitch for a non-traditional workweek: (1) determine how your proposed schedule will improve your life at home and at work, (2) research your company to determine what’s been done for others and what might be possible for you, (3) develop a detailed plan and put it in writing.
The Role of the Employer
Last but not least, your employer can help, too. Both companies and unions can further the debate and practice of work-life balance. Deloitte, for example, just started a corporate blog 18 months ago to help publicize the ways some executives successfully integrate their personal and professional lives.
Ultimately, both your employer and you will profit. “If you are focused and fresh you will do a better job,” says Hobsbawn. “You will live better.”