Over the last few months I have been delivering a couple of events around the topic of ‘how to have it all – partnership and a life’ or if you were at the ACCA autumn update, ‘how to have it all – a career and a life’. In this talk we do talk about how to improve your work life balance

To improve your work life balance start in a way you mean to carry on with

Interestingly one nugget really stuck in the city lawyers who attended Deloitte’s women in law event where I was speaking. The nugget was:

[quote]Your first 90 days in a role will set the pattern of your working hours for the rest of the time you stay in that role or firm[/quote]

At first, you look at this stat and think, no this can’t be true. However, just reflect on this a little… How many times have you managed to significantly decrease your working hours in a role when you started off working long hours? If you are going to improve your work life balance you need to start in a way that you mean to carry on with.

In fact, this is where the problem of working long hours actually starts. You start a new job keen and eager to impress. You agree to take on work from others, partly to have stuff to do, but also to prove your ability. This flow of work carries on to you as people see how reliable and competent you are. After all, you always deliver don’t you? Consequently, you put some long days in to demonstrate how committed and keen you are to the cause. These long days then become the norm. Do you see how easy it is to find yourself in a role where you routinely work 50+ hours each week? Is it any wonder that it then becomes tough to actively and meaningfully improve your work life balance?

Often the only way to break this pattern of long working hours is to leave the firm, or take a long period of absence, such as being on maternity leave.

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To improve your work life balance set expectations with partners and people in your department

I heard one story of a new partner into a top city law firm. When she introduced herself to her new department she talked about why she did the role. This involved her love for her family and wanting to provide for them. This was then followed with the expectation that she may not always be in the office, after all her family are her main priority, followed closely by her clients – but she was always contactable whether or not she was in the office. With these expectations set right at the start, no one batted an eyelid when she wasn’t working long hours in the office. It did help that she was a partner and damn good at what she did.

If you are in the situation of working long hours and wanting to reduce them to improve your work life balance, the answer is to do it little steps at a time. For example, set the expectation that you will leave at 17:00 on a friday, so you can be there for your partner/family/friends. However, anything that needs to get finished will always be done by 09:00 on monday morning. Once this pattern is established, then do another little thing which will help you get more of your life back. Explain to your partners that you need to get better at recharging your batteries to perform at your best in the office. Then ask if they are OK if you leave by 17:30 on one evening a week. This is best done with something that requires you to be present with other people, rather than in the office, such as an exercise class or being home for bath time.

Once you have two evenings back in a week, then the next step is to look where you are wasting time. If you can eliminate some of your time wasters you may find it possible to start to leave a little earlier on the other week day evenings.

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