Achieving a worklife balance

Many governance professionals are struggling to balance the demands of their work with the things that are important to them outside of work.  Some want to get home early enough to spend time with their children and families, some to go to the gym, or others want to find enough time to take part in hobbies or voluntary work.

In addition, there is no doubt that spending too long at work is bad for your health.  Having unrealistic ‘To Do’ lists and overscheduled diaries can lead to burn out.  Often our default solution is to work harder and if you have tried this you will know it doesn’t help! There are limits to the number of hours you can concentrate and the longer you work the less productive you become to the point where you might as well not be working at all.  Statistics published by the Mental Health Foundation state that when working long hours 27% of employees feel depressed, 34% feel anxious and 58% feel irritable.

I have worked with my clients in coaching and mentoring on this issue and these are some of the things that have worked for them.  Remember you need to try different approaches to find what works for you.  You then need to stick with it until it becomes habitual and your new way of working.  Even then, watch out for your old ways creeping back in and take action if they do.

Set a goal

What does your ideal day look like?  When does it start, when does it end, does it include breaks? Don’t worry too much about what is possible at this point.  See my article in the March edition of ICSA G+C Magazine about setting great goals:  It can help if you picture very clearly in your mind how your life is going to be better once you have achieved the goal.  This is a positive exercise and will provide an energy boost to help you make the changes the necessary.

Gather some information

Once you have a goal, it can help you to understand how you are currently spending your time at work.   How long do you spend on emails?  How frequently do you check them?  How many meetings do you attend?  How useful are they?  How long do you concentrate on single tasks?  Do you have a tendency to flit between tasks?  How are you spending time outside of work?  What are your typical hours at work?  Do you regularly take work home, or check emails at home, impacting on the quality of the time you have outside of the office? How much sleep are you getting? How does getting insufficient sleep impact on your productivity?  How does getting sufficient sleep have an impact?

Once you have some information, look at it.  What strikes you about it?  If you want to achieve your goal, what are you going to have to change about your day to achieve your goal?  Then, what actions does this mean you need to take?

Below are things that have worked well for me and for my clients.  Why not try some of them and see which work for you:-

Working smarter not harder.  I don’t like this term because it’s a bit woolly, but I have written some earlier blogs on the topic of time management and prioritisation which gives some ideas.  The blogs are called:-

“Help – there are not enough hours in my day!” and

“What if there is so much to do I just don’t know what to do first?”

And are available lower down this blog page.

Just say no (or speak to your boss)

If you have data about how you are spending your time, have organised yourself but still find you cannot complete everything, it could be time to take action.  The data you have collected could give you confidence to start to say no to some requests, and/or to speak to your boss about your work load.  You could discuss changes to working hours, location or how you use your time at work.  Remember your employer will benefit in the end if it makes you more productive and keeps you well.   You could also consider saying no to meetings which are unproductive, that don’t add anything to your job and where you are not really needed.

Establish boundaries

You could decide a time that you are going to start and finish your work day and stick to it.  Your concentration will be better if you also schedule breaks. Schedule your diary to support these aims.  Some people find it easier to control the time they start work rather than the time they leave.  If you have the option, perhaps you could start later and use the extra time in the morning to achieve the things at home you want to?

You could leave your work at work and resist the temptation to check emails when you are at home.  The danger is that unless you take control and establish boundaries, people will expect more and more of you.  Someone once said to me that you start by saying “I wouldn’t normally check my emails in the evening EXCEPT ………..”, and it ends up being EXPECTED.  It is a slippery slope.  If necessary, discuss with your boss what the expectations he/she have of you concerning work out of hours and set boundaries with them.  It may be that just because they send emails in the evening, they don’t actually expect you to respond until the next day.

Learn to let go

Stop trying to be perfect!  You could cut out anything that doesn’t matter or doesn’t make a real difference.   When you get to the time of the day you have decided you are going to leave, try writing a list of outstanding tasks/anything that is on your mind, then close your computer and LEAVE.  You could even put the list under a heavy item to symbolise that it is staying there.  The act of making the list will stop you trying to hold onto tasks so you don’t forget them, and help you mentally leave work.

Also, let go of anything that is holding you back such as agonising over something that went wrong months ago.  If it isn’t taking you forward, forget it.

Make time for you

You could benefit from setting aside time every day to do something for you, that you love.  Sometimes it can help to organise to meet someone to ensure you leave work on time and do something for yourself.  If the alternative is to cancel an arrangement with a friend or the family then you are more likely to leave work on time.

Book annual leave and take it – it is essential for rest, providing perspective and focus.


In my experience governance professionals can find it particularly difficult to delegate, so this will be the focus of my next blog.

If any of this feels impossible, too difficult or not right for you, consider working with a coach or signing up to the ICSA mentoring scheme to support you to achieve the work life balance you dream of.