Maintaining Work-Life Balance From The Start Of Your Career


Work-life balance could mean different things to different people. It’s never too late or too early to define your priorities and create clear boundaries around them, so that you are able to maintain a near perfect (nothing really is perfect now, is it?) balance in life. Because, as Nigel Marsh, author of Fat Forty and Fired, says, “If you don't design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance.”

When you’re a newbie:
When you are just beginning your career, make the most of it and learn all you can as you may not have other major commitments. Rob May, CEO of Backupify, writes: if you want to have an experience gap over your peers, “Screw the 40-hour work week and spend as much time as it takes to be the best you can possibly be. The rewards in the future will be worth the sacrifices you're making now.”

If this is not the case, and you do need time for your other priorities, you can set expectations; but first understand how your team works. Is there a fixed schedule/ a busy season? Does anybody leave early or stay late? Get a sense of the unwritten rules in your work environment while establishing yourself as a reliable and dedicated employee. Prove your worth and create a strong reputation for your work ethics before you gradually begin to introduce the idea that you would not be able to burn the midnight oil all nights.

Alternately, explore other easily workable options as Marsh says, “Being more balanced doesn't mean dramatic upheaval in your life.” If your trainer does not have time other than the 6:00 PM slot at the gym, can you complete your session and log in again at 8:00 PM? Would that work for your role?

While it is tricky to establish boundaries as a fresh hire, it is not impossible to take your manager and colleagues into confidence on your priorities while delivering your best. Casually introduce details about your evening school, family etc., which would demand time from you, during water-cooler conversations and informal discussions. So when you do bring up the topic of your schedule, they are not caught by surprise.

The same rule applies when moving to a new organisation, irrespective of experience level. The onus is on you, as the new employee to build your credibility from scratch, even if you did enjoy a stellar reputation in your previous organisation. Don’t be in a rush to present your confines, at the very beginning; give yourself and the team time to get acquainted and build mutual trust. Give your best, before you ask.

When you’ve been in the organisation for a while:
It may take a few months to several years to build your brand in the organisation. But once you are viewed as a smart, hardworking employee, you can be more comfortable discussing your other priorities.

As you grow in the organisation, it is extremely likely that your responsibilities would also grow. This could translate into stretched hours, extensive travel etc. But given that your manager and the team are now familiar with your work, you could have a fair and open discussion with them on your needs. Explore options which could work out beneficially for you and the organisation – If you can avoid travel, propose alternates that might work – video conferencing, virtual meetings etc. This could be a viable cost-saving option that your manager may endorse too! If you trust someone in your team to work on your behalf, nominate them for projects that do not necessarily need your direct involvement. By doing so, you are not only delegating work to free some of your time, you are also giving opportunities to your team members to help their career.

If people management is becoming too stressful, and you were happier in an individual contributor role, understand what your organisation’s policy is in this regard, and let your manager know. Many companies, especially in the technology sector, now have people management and individual contributor career paths.

Manage your time effectively. Prioritise meetings - checkout the agenda and ask to clearly understand your role in it. Plan and diplomatically avoid meetings which only seem to suck the time out of your day; often many discussions can be closed over an email.
If you are in a senior position and are eligible to have administrative support, invest your time in hiring the right assistant for you. A great assistant takes a whole lot of administrative activities off your plate and helps you manage your time by clearly organising your day by your priorities.

If you are still relatively junior and are in good stead with your manager, reassure him/her that you will be able to deliver on your goals even if you leave on time; that you are willing to stretch when the situation demands it, but would prefer a fixed schedule on an ongoing basis.

Key points to note:
· Whatever your experience level, a lot depends on your equation with your manager and your organisation’s policy with regard to schedule expectations. If you have a bad boss, you’re going to have a tougher time convincing and discussing your needs.
· A compromise in quality or efficiency in your role could easily be attributed to your schedule and your ‘decrease in commitment’. Take extra care, at least in the first few months of your new schedule, till you build a rhythm, to deliver above and beyond your expectations.
· Be honest and open when sharing your need for a fixed schedule. If your manager or team gets apprehensive, assure them with alternatives that might work for all of you e.g.: a status check at the beginning/the end of the day could help everybody stay updated on the progress of the project.
· Once you have reached an understanding, stick to your new schedule. If you’ve shared that you are not going to take calls or reply to emails after a certain time, do not make exceptions unless absolutely necessary.
· Do not assume that work-life balance will become your entitlement after you’ve proved yourself in a few projects. There may as well be times when your team is given tight deadlines for delivery. Understand that as an employee, you are answerable and are expected to perform at the time of need -even if it means working late or over weekends. So, be flexible and honest to your responsibilities in those rare occasions as well.

How do you maintain your work-life balance? We want to hear from you. Share your experiences below.
This article is written by Padmaja Ganeshan Singh.
Image: Thinkstock
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