How to Develop a Work Life Balance and Still Be a Star Performer
November 22, 2016
Long hours, pressing deadlines, information overload, and high-pressure: there’s no question that it can be difficult to work in a life sciences role and enjoy a decent work-life balance. But it’s genuinely possible—and by implementing a careful strategy that pays respect both to your employer and to your own needs, you don’t have to sacrifice being a top performer in the process.
Use your time at work more effectively
This advice may seem painfully obvious, but it is also grossly overlooked by most people who battle with work-life imbalance. There are many excellent strategies that productivity experts recommend to wring the most results from the hours that you spend at work.
1. Schedule your days around your natural energy peaks and troughs. If you’re a morning person, attack the high-attention tasks early, and move onto ones that take less brain-power during the 3pm slump. Consider Pareto’s Principle that 20% of tasks lead to 80% of results, and prioritise your working day accordingly.
2. Deal with your emails at set times. You may choose to check them at 8am, 1pm and 4:00pm (or less regularly) but it’s important that you turn off notifications, as it’s been shown that the mere knowledge of one unopened email distracts us so much that our IQ drops by 10 points! You can also set alerts for VIP emails if you’re worried you might miss something urgent.
3. Avoid multitasking. Switching between tasks loses up to 40% of productive time as the brain takes time to warm up. Dedicate large blocks of time to tasks so that your brain remains in a flow state rather than losing momentum. Similarly, try not to have too many projects running simultaneously as it distracts the mind and reduces the quality of output.
4. Find ‘quiet time’. Start work earlier or stay later to take advantage of being in an empty office without distractions. Discuss with your manager whether flexible start times are a possibility. Also consider whether you can use your commute time more wisely—could you check emails on the train rather than being stuck in traffic? Or could you use your driving time to make phone calls that will free up more of your time later?
5. Curtail your perfectionist streak. The majority of life-science professionals have been high achievers since their school days, but this obsession with perfectionism can often derail our productivity and work rate. The desire to be perfect often leads to a lot of wasted time, whether that’s over-researching a simple weekly report, or even procrastinating getting started at all. Strive to do a great job, but don’t throw time away on insignificant tasks.
6. Don’t waste time on trivialities. Social media is a big offender here. It takes 25 minutes to refocus your mind after being interrupted, so in reality that 10 minute break on facebook becomes over half an hour of lost productive time. How many times can you afford to be distracted in a day before the day is lost and you find yourself looking at your to-do list thinking I barely got anything done! But I worked all day except a few 10 minute breaks. I’m too busy!
7. Don’t over-promise. Your manager keeps piling on the work- and that’s quite possibly because you keep saying yes! Then you find yourself trapped at the office on a Friday night missing a dinner with friends because you pretended/believed you could handle the task in work hours. Get better at saying no, or giving more realistic deadlines. A useful exercise is to note down everything you spend time on during a working fortnight- you’ll probably be amazed at how much longer certain tasks take than you think.
Use your free time more effectively
1. Make the time you’re not at work really count. Lying on the couch watching television may seem like the perfect antidote to a long and stressful day, but it’s deeply unlikely to add to your sense of enjoying a good work-life balance.
2. Rediscover the things that bring you joy. Going for a walk, catching up with friends, playing games with the kids are all things that make us feel like we’re living, not just existing.
So even though you may work long hours and are time-poor, make sure that you’re doing things that make you feel fulfilled, not just blank, in your off-time. Make a list of things that bring you joy—whether now, or what gave you joy as a child—and then start doing some of those things again.
3. Regain control. We have too many stimuli making demands on our time, and they will fill every crack of your life like expanding foam if you don’t make a conscious effort to stop them. Have at least one day of the week where you do absolutely no work, avoid emails, and turn off social media.
Don’t try and multitask at all during this free time, pay attention solely to the moment you’re in. Luxuriate in a bath, read the paper over a long breakfast, or watch a game of football with all your interest rather than feeling guilty and just’ quickly checking your work emails in the ads’. You’ll go back to work refreshed and ready to succeed, rather than drained and distracted.
You’ve probably noticed that we’re not suggesting you throw down an ultimatum to your boss demanding a four day week. The strategies covered here are things that you can control to improve your work life balance rather than getting exasperated with external demands on your time, and allow you to walk out the office door earlier and into a richer, happier life.