15th May 2018

MHAW – Positive work-life balance

MHAW - Positive work-life balance

Happy Mental Health Awareness Week! This is such an important event to help get people talking positively about mental health in the hope that it removes some of the stigma, shame, guilt and embarrassment associated with mental health.

The key focus this year is coping with stress. Whilst stress isn’t itself a psychiatric diagnosis, it is heavily linked to most other mental health conditions. Therefore managing stress is very important for positive mental health. One key factor in managing stress is to have a healthy work-life balance.

Many people at SB&G might say that I’m not best placed to give this advice but I do think I have taken a much healthier approach to work life balance over the past year.

So, here are 10 things I now try hard to do to keep a healthy work life balance:

  1. Manage your working hours, take control of your diary and commitments

This can be easier said than done at SB&G with a heavy meeting culture. But try and be strict with which meetings you really need to be in, particularly if you are duplicating other members of your team. Try and block book your own time to do necessary tasks. I also try to leave Friday as a clear day so I know that I can catch up on any necessary tasks before the weekend.

  1. Take breaks – it’s not healthy to sit at your desk or in meetings for 8-10 hours a day

To be honest, I used to be terrible at this, but I have got much better over the last year. Taking a lunch break is really important to switch off from work and break up the day; it energises you for the afternoon. I now try and go to the gym, run or swim at least twice a week at lunchtimes. I’ve found it definitely makes me more productive in the afternoon.

  1. Find yourself a fun “extra-curricular activity” – sports, hobbies, exercise, general distractions

For me this has always been exercise focused, as I love to cycle, run and swim outside of work. I think it’s really important that you have a non-work activity to put some energy in to and distract from work. I have also recently taken up blogging which has been therapeutic when I’m feeling a little stressed. I know others that paint, knit, play music, sing and do gardening; all great for your wellbeing and work-life balance.

  1. Work smarter, not harder – focus and prioritise

I used to be too much of a perfectionist with everything I did at work and this led to me working extremely long hours to ensure everything I worked on was as good as it could be. I also liked to control and oversee everything coming out of the team to ensure it was to the highest standard. This approach is simply impossible at SB&G, the quicker you learn to focus and prioritise the better. Try and identify the 3-5 key things you need to deliver and put 80% plus of your time in to those. There has to be trust and delegation in teams, trying to oversee all output can also be unsustainable and doesn’t allow the team to grow and develop.

  1. Plan lunch catch ups with friends outside of work

It can be very easy to get engrossed with work and lose touch with friends. I have 3 or 4 good friends working in and around Leeds and we try and schedule a monthly lunch date. This is another nice way of getting away from work and breaking up the day which is great for your wellbeing and can also make you more productive in the afternoons.

  1. Try and keep off emails and slack when not in work

I am probably one of the most guilty parties when it comes to this… My wife will often shout at me for being engrossed in something on my phone, particularly when the kids are around. But it is really important to try and keep evenings and weekends as separate from work as possible. If you do feel the need to work then make it a 1-2 hour timeslot sat at a desk rather than having a laptop open in front of the TV all evening or tapping away on your phone. Also try not to email/slack others in the evening if it’s not urgent particularly if you are not expecting a response at that time.

  1. When you are on holiday/annual leave – fully switch off

This is so important, even more so than evenings and weekends. Firstly get regular holidays booked in every 6-8 weeks, even if it’s just a long weekend. And when you are on annual leave make sure it is a true break from work. Set a very clear out of office message and divert people to another member of your team. Switch off Slack and try and stay off emails completely; it’s time for some R&R to recharge the batteries!

  1. Don’t work late in to the evening

I have been very guilty of this over the years. I would regularly work until 10pm or even midnight and sometimes later. I would get engrossed with work and just keep going, hardly realising the time. But this is definitely not healthy! One thing it impacts heavily is sleep, staring at a screen and it’s blue light after 9pm can make it very difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep. A lack of quality sleep can negatively impact your mental health very quickly.

  1. Recognise your stress triggers and act on them

Everyone has different natural stress levels given certain situations and a big element in this is resilience to being under pressure. I personally used to manage stress and pressure fairly well but having been in relatively pressurised jobs for over ten years this caught up with me last year. I have now learned to proactively spot the signs and triggers and act on these quickly. It sounds strange but if I have had a few days without exercise I can feel things frustrating me a lot more easily so taking myself off for a run/cycle/swim really help this.

  1. Put yourself, family, friends and particularly your health first.

I have learnt this one the hard way unfortunately. Putting work first over a long period of time can really impact on the other important things in life. If you don’t create enough time for yourself, family and friends and focus on your health it can catch up with you very easily with sometimes devastating consequences. So monitor your own stress levels and make sure that work doesn’t become the be all and end all.

Someone said to me recently – what do you think you will be saying on your death bed… is there any chance it will be “I wish I’d worked harder or longer hours…?” If not, then take control of your work life balance now before it leads to unnecessary stress and could have physical and mental health implications.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to talk to me and others about mental health this week and any time.

It’s good to talk. And it’s ok not to be ok.

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