24 August 2016

Work/life balance doesn't exist (but you can still enjoy both)


Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell worked in Ciphr's marketing team from 2012-2020.


Career development Health and wellbeing


It seems as though every career and business blog includes an article related to managing the ‘work/life balance’.
The benefits this will lavish on your wellbeing and career are apparently abundant.
The problem is that our careers are part of life and not a separate entity. The sooner we realise, accept and adapt to this fact the better.

The trick is to manage your time regardless of whether you’re working or enjoying personal time.

Take charge of office time

You can use any one of the many time management techniques, such as Pomodoro, or just use common sense when planning your day.

Don’t over commit. If you know you don’t have the time to complete something, and complete it well, then reschedule or delegate it to someone else.

plan your dayMeetings are often unnecessary and the time they take up can be spent more productively. Filtering which meetings you need to attend from those that don’t warrant your attendance will gain you valuable time to complete more pressing tasks.

Some interesting statistics that help to illustrate just how ineffective the overuse of meetings can be:

  • 34% of staff fall asleep during such sessions
  • 63% of meetings don’t even have a planned agenda
  • UK SMEs wasting up to £63,700 per annum on meetings
  • The average worker attends 3.7 meetings every week – MeetingSquared Research
  • Across a 40-year career, a total of 17,470 hours, two entire years of someone’s life or around ten years of work time is spent preparing for or attending meetings – MeetingSquared Research
  • Only about 10% of taken decisions resulted in post-meeting action
  • Between 50% and 75% of a manager’s time spent at the meeting table

When meeting with colleagues make sure you listen to, absorb and record everything you need to take care of your responsibilities. Having to reconfirm or clarify points at a later date wastes not only your time, but that of your colleagues.

One period of time often overlooked as an opportunity to be productive is your commute. With an average duration of 1hr 38 minutes in the UK, there’s plenty of time to get things done.

Whether you travel to the office, or place of work, by bus, train or even plane, use this time to plan your day. With few distractions, you can exploit commuting time to focus and tick tasks from your schedule.

Unplug (and let it be known)

The need to feel connected has become an unhealthy addiction that the majority of people suffer from. Although this connection has benefits it’s important to unplug once in a while. Especially from work related communication.

The following stats reinforce the need for us to turn off our devices on a regular basis:

  • 84% of mobile phone users claim they could not go a single day without their device. (source)
  • 67% of mobile phone owners check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.(source)
  • Studies indicate some mobile device owners check their devices every 6.5 minutes. (source)
  • Almost half of mobile owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls. (source)
  • Some researchers have begun labelling “mobile phone checking” as the new yawn because of its contagious nature. (source)
  • A Swedish study found that young people who used technology heavily had a pronounced risk for mental health problems like depression, stress, and sleep disorders.

To avoid burnout and reduce the chances of work overwhelming you it’s imperative to allow yourself time when you can forget about office duties, politics and responsibilities. It’s such an important observation that laws are even being introduced to force business to comply.

France recently passed a law to protect workers from work-related emails outside of office hours. According to Article 25 of France’s new El Khomri law, which governs labour rights and conditions, “the development of information and communication technologies, if badly managed or regulated, can have an impact on the health of workers. Among them, the burden of work and the informational overburden, the blurring of the borders between private life and professional life, are risks associated with the usage of digital technology,”

“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached to a kind of electronic leash— like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails — they colonise the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

– Benoit Hamon of the French National Assembly

There’s even a ‘National Unplugging Day‘ in the UK to encourage people to put their devices down and join the real world, described as a ‘digital detox’.

unplug from workIt’s one thing to tell yourself to unplug from the office but you also need to let your co-workers know too. As they’re not psychic they’ll still be trying to contact you, in the many ways possible in our connected world, unless you inform them that you won’t be available.

It’s important for our wellbeing that we can remove ourselves from the corporate environment and recharge once in a while. This just isn’t possible if we spend this time answering (or avoiding) calls from the office.
Whichever system you use to record your time, whether this is Outlook, your company intranet or employee portal or a planner on the wall, it’s important to make it known when you are and when you’re not contactable by the business.

To truly unplug you need to be brave and ruthless:

  • Turn off email alerts
  • Sign out of business-related apps and accounts
  • Put your work device(s) away
  • Make sure your ‘out of office’ message is clear about expectations for those contacting you out of business hours
  • Make sure urgent or high priority tasks are delegated to a trustworthy colleague in your absence

Use tech to your advantage

use techTechnology has evolved at an incredible speed over the past decade. Our mobile devices have become our personal assistants, providing us with answers to whatever questions we have, dealing with everyday problems and alerting us about everything from a photo like to an important appointment.

Using this technology to help us work smarter enables us to take care of responsibilities more efficiently and not have to worry about of complete them outside of office hours.

Automation tools, communication and collaboration apps and the ability to work from anywhere and at any time are all examples of how we can be more efficient during our contracted hours and avoid work overflowing into our personal time.

Enjoy your time (both in and out of the office)

There’s no point in putting the effort into completing your work tasks if you don’t then utilise and enjoy your spare time. It’s as important to plan your time away from the office as it is when you’re there.

enjoy your timeBook weekends away, arrange dinners with friends, plan a BBQ or take a day trip to the coast. Whatever you do make sure it’s not just sitting on the sofa watching daytime TV!

As well as enjoying the time you spend away from the office, having fun at work (while getting things done) will improve your wellbeing and make office life feel like less of a burden.
Starting fun initiatives, planning nights out with colleagues and injecting a bit of personality into the working environment will improve morale, increase productivity and generally make the office a nicer place to be for everyone.

Improving the company culture in this way will also boost your employer brand in a number of ways, including recruitment and marketing, getting you noticed as an employee for the right reasons!

Free yourself from the office

In a survey summarised in the Microsoft whitepaper, Work without Walls, the top 10 benefits of working from home from the employee viewpoint were indicated. The number one benefit was “Work/home balance (60%)”.

unchain form the officeWe have the ability to work from anywhere in the world and at a time we can choose. Many businesses now offer flexible and remote working to employees by default and are realising the benefits this way of working provides.

Employees that have the additional freedom of where they conduct their work are happier, more engaged with the business and more likely to become a brand ambassador. Productivity is also increased while costs are reduced.

Stanford professor, Nick Bloom, studied the benefits of working from home. He found employees were more productive, achieved more, worked longer hours, took fewer breaks, and took less sick days than their in-office colleagues. These employees were also happier and quit less than those who went into the office on a regular basis. He estimated that, on average, a company saved around $2,000 per employee who worked from home.

When an employee is able to work from home and avoid the commute, they gain that valuable time to be with their family, go to the gym, or simply stay in bed that bit longer.


exerciseStaying fit isn’t just about your physical condition, it’s also about your mind and mental health too. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists if you keep active, you are:

  • less likely to be depressed, anxious or tense
  • more likely to feel good about yourself
  • more likely to concentrate and focus better
  • more likely to sleep better
  • more likely to cope with cravings and withdrawal symptoms if you try to give up a habit, such as smoking or alcohol
  • more likely to be able to keep mobile and independent as you get older
  • possibly less likely to have problems with memory and dementia

All of the above benefits of exercise lead to a better state of mind generally, allowing you to enjoy your spare time but also increase mental focus and productivity; meaning that you can accomplish professional tasks more efficiently.