Are you managing your work/life balance?

Mar 7, 2013

Our penultimate post for National Careers Week concerns something that a number of people have a problem with – work/life balance. It is so easy to say yes to everything you’ve been invited to or asked to do by your boss (or manage if you are the boss!). This blog is in the form of a Question and Answer. The question was genuine, and unfortunately at the moment we are dealing with too many similar situations. Hopefully the answer will point you in the right direction.

I am feeling overwhelmed by my job. I’m managing the editorial process but even though I have been doing this role for a long time, I have to admit I am starting to feel out of my depth. For the last few months I’ve been coming in at 7am to get a head start, skipping lunch and staying until 8.00 pm (all of my colleagues leave at 6.00pm). I’m having to take projects home with me during the evenings and weekends; I have no life. It’s been like this for almost 3 months and my girlfriend is on the point of leaving me. I’m not sleeping, I never go out, haven’t been to the gym in ages. I love my work and the company I work for but I am not getting the support I need from colleagues nor my boss (who always says ‘sorry not now’ when I ask for help). I don’t want to lose my job what can I do?

Even before we consider the workload and the items you are struggling with we have to look at your working day. By working from 7 am to 8.00 pm, with or without a break, you are not doing yourself any favours. People who are tired during the day do not make great decisions nor are they working at their most efficient. You need to take control of the situation and a few simple adjustments will help you do this.
What I suggest that you do is, for a week, leave on time!
It is okay for you to still come in early, if that suits you and you are using the quiet time effectively (not playing on Facebook, reading the news online etc) making too much transition too quickly to your working hours can make you feel more stressed than help the situation. Make sure you take a proper break at lunchtime too – a minimum of 20 minutes away from your desk – and go out for a walk. This will help clear your head and refresh you for the afternoon. Do not take work home; either in the evening or over the weekend.
As to your workload: there are two main theories about the world of work.
The first is ‘Parkinson’s Law’ – that work expands to the time available for its completion. This means that if you allocate 30 minutes to do a 5 minute task, this task will take you 30 minutes, even though in reality the task should only take you 5 minutes. So maybe, because you know you are always going to work late, you might be spending longer on tasks than if you knew you were going to leave on time.
The second theory is the ‘Pareto Principle’ – the 80/20 rule. That 80% of what you do brings in 20% of results and that 20% of what you do brings in 80% of the results. Your aim is to identify the 20% of your job which is bringing in the 80% of results; your job description might help you here.
Now, during the week that you are working regular hours, do a ‘time and motion’ study, where you break the day down into 20 or 30 minute segments and write down what you are doing at that precise moment. Have your job description handy when you do this and use the tasks from it as the main headings. This will also indicate to you clearly whether you are spending your time on the things the company thinks you are and how long things are taking you, and whether there are any training issues. (e.g. a simple task still takes you a long time because you have never been taught how to use the publishing management system properly). You might also want to look at attending a time management course or course in Editorial Project Management – if you’re in London the Publishing Training Centre has an excellent course.
Alternatively, take your job description and match it to your current intray – are you taking responsibility for things that are clearly someone else’s role? What tasks on your job description have been identified as core tasks and what are extras? You’ve indicated that this workload has only compounded in the last few months – what has happened to make this shift?
You mention that your boss is always too busy to talk to you. Send them an email and set up a regular time each week for a catch up or to address issues. It also might be an idea to identify in the first meeting any training issues or workload issues that you have identified, but discuss them in a constructive manner with suggestions if you have them – make your boss’s job easy for them, rather than being negative.
Also make sure that you have weekends clear from work. Go to the gym, turn off your mobile, make yourself unavailable. Those with pressing work issues can wait. One of the biggest problems, if you are suffering from work overload, is to keep covering up for it. The less the company is aware of it, the less likely they are prepared to do anything about it.
If you are continuing to have difficulties or you feel you don’t want to discuss certain areas of your job with your boss, we offer a one-to-one service, where we go through your intray together, and assess the causes and discuss solutions.
Best wishes and Good luck!

A version of this article originally appeared in Publishing Talk Magazine.