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So you’ve just finished another gruelling late shift at the office, fought your way home through a seemingly endless amount of traffic on your return commute, and are now staring blankly at your computer for a few precious minutes, before collapsing into bed and repeating the whole process again tomorrow.
For many ambitious people, managing to strike a good work-life balance isn’t just an abstract concern, but a very real, vivid, and ever-present issue.
Perhaps you’ve been steadily climbing the corporate ladder for years and feel that you have to go all out, all the time, in order to achieve your lofty career ambitions. Or maybe you’ve just been successfully scouted by a portfolio procurement recruitment agency, and are working around the clock to make a good impression at your new job.
Whatever the case may be, you find yourself feeling more and more like you have no time for your own personal life whatsoever, and you’re worried that the future is going to be nothing more than a long, drawn-out sequence of workdays ad infinitum.
Fortunately, there are various things you can do to try and improve your work-life balance. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Use the 80/20 rule and focus on your most critical tasks for each day
Productivity gurus often talk about the 80/20 rule, also known as The Pareto Principle.
In short, this rule states that 80% of the positive results you experience in the workplace will come from 20% of the actions you take.
This principle seems to rest on mathematically sound ground, and typically applies to a wide range of different phenomena.
The great lesson of the 80/20 rule is the realisation and understanding that, at any given moment during the working day, you’re likely spending a very substantial chunk of your time on activities which will yield you few, if any, benefits.
While you’re almost certainly going to have to complete at least some of those generally “wasteful” tasks in your average working day, unless you’re an entrepreneur, you might still be able to improve your workplace efficiency quite dramatically, simply by identifying your core “20%” tasks, and making them the centre of your focus.
One of the great secrets of time management is that you need to focus your efforts as precisely as possible, so that they have maximum effect, rather than just wading through an endless list of undifferentiated “to-dos” and “maybes”.
The more efficient you can be in the office, the more time you can free up for your personal activities and pastimes.
Realise that everyone has the same number of hours in the day, and look for ways to be more time efficient
Laura Vanderkam, writing in her book “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think”, does a very effective job of detailing how some extraordinarily productive people manage to juggle high-flying careers with family time, personal fitness, and assorted hobbies, side-projects, and educational pursuits.
The key takeaway message of the book is that all of us — from the most productive and successful to the least — have the same 168 hours per week at our disposal. No amount of wealth, success, or fame has ever won anyone a 25 hour day.
Keeping this basic truth in mind can serve as a very powerful reminder that the way we use our time is absolutely vital. Among other things, Vanderkam’s book includes anecdotes of people so dedicated to getting the most out of every spare moment, that they’ll take out their Kindle and read whenever they’re caught alone for a block of 5 minutes.
Use your time like the priceless resource it is. Instead of casually surfing the web over and over throughout the day, force yourself to read a book in those spare moments. Instead of spending every evening watching TV shows, spend a good few doing online courses.
Whatever it is you want to get done on your own time, make sure you’re dedicating as many of those spare minutes as possible, gathered here and there, to the task.
Begin waking up earlier
Waking up earlier is one of the great productivity hacks of the ages, and has been touted as a magic bullet for productivity by some of history’s most prodigious creators, thinkers, and doers.
Waking up earlier to get more out of your day is generally preferable to staying up later, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, morning hours are typically more energetic and productive than evening hours.
Secondly, morning hours are usually constrained by the fact that you’ll soon have to get to work, which means that they’re more likely to be focused and result in you actually doing things intentionally, as opposed to getting drawn away into a world of procrastination and inattention.
Even just waking up an hour earlier than usual can seem like an entirely new lease on life.
That extra hour can be spent working on your novel, undisturbed, getting your daily workout in, reading your favourite novel, working on your side hustle, listening to that new album everyone’s recently been telling you about, or planning a great family outing for the weekend.
Work on optimising your energy levels
No matter how good you might otherwise be at organising your time, if you don’t take steps to optimise your energy levels, you should expect to find that, sooner or later, your plans just go off the rails.
There’s little good in trying to get more free hours in your day by cutting out sleep, but this is exactly what many people do.
Yet you’re far less likely to enjoy your free time, to feel positive about life, or to be productive at work, if you’re constantly, chronically sleep deprived.
The same applies for skipping meals, or doing anything which drags down your overall daily energy levels.
Focus on improving your health, and focus on improving your energy levels, day by day. You’ll find that all your free time goes a lot further when your vitality is high.