Oswald Letter

Hottest gift this holiday season? Work-life balance

White Christmas gift with red ribbonby Dan Oswald

Thanksgiving is behind us, and the holidays are in full swing. Most of us feel busier than ever this time of year. With parties to attend, gifts to buy, and anticipated travel for the holidays, there certainly is a lot going on. How do we find time to get everything done and still do our jobs?

Work-life balance, prioritizing between your career and your life outside of work, is an ongoing challenge for most of us, but this time of year makes it even more difficult. How do you find the time to do your job properly, to feel like you’re being successful and working to your abilities, while still finding time for all the other important people and activities that deserve your attention?

It’s difficult to find a perfect balance between the two in the best of times, and during the holidays, it feels downright impossible.

Technology makes workers accessible to their companies 24/7. Or is it that technology makes work accessible to workers 24/7? What with smartphones serving as virtual offices—offering phone, e-mail, and texting—who needs to be at work to be working? The result is that people are working more and more hours as they just can’t seem to leave work behind.

I often talk about the days before smartphones and e-mail. While it makes me sound and feel old, there is something nostalgic for me about the days when if someone wanted something, they had to call or come see you. They couldn’t just fire off a 50-word e-mail or text with their request. And when you left the office, your phone didn’t follow you home. The call you didn’t receive while at the office would wait until tomorrow.

No more. We are sending and receiving messages around the clock, which means the work never ends.

So what’s the solution? How can you gain a better work-life balance, at least through the holidays? What can you do to make sure work doesn’t completely dominate your time with friends and family?

The short answer is that it’s simply up to you. YOU can do this and no one else. You need to manage your time. No one can do that for you. You must decide what is important and make time for those activities. Don’t let the things that pop up encroach on your schedule.

If you live by your calendar, book ALL of your activities, not just your work. That includes down time, family time, exercise—anything that is important to you goes on the calendar. Don’t push out those personal commitments, even if they are just to yourself, to take on more work. If you’re doing your job, if you’re putting in a full workday and doing all you can do, then at some point you need to stop and take care of yourself and others. It’s as simple as that.

Look, I get it. What you do is important. It has purpose and meaning. And you want to do a great job. But at some point, you need to determine the difference between what is important and what is urgent. Too often we let others’ time frames dictate our day. They demand an answer now. They need that report ASAP. They’ve called three times without a response, and we feel compelled to give it to them. Whatever the case may be, we let others dictate our schedule. And once you lose control of your schedule, you’re done.

They might want the answer now. They might want that report ASAP. Maybe they tried to reach you repeatedly. None of that means their requests are a priority for you. You need to determine what goes to the top of the list. You need to decide what deserves your immediate attention and what can wait. You need to decide what’s important and what’s truly urgent.

If you want work-life balance, the only person who can give it to you is you. So here’s my suggestion: This year, the best gift you can give yourself is that of work-life balance. At least try it during the holidays so you don’t look back with regret as you consider how work took you away from the other things you enjoy. You might just decide it’s something you can do every day. Wouldn’t that be something?