Life

Get home on time: 11 ways working parents can improve their work-life balance

To mark Go Home On Time Day, the Working Families charity shares some top tips with Lisa Salmon on how mums and dads might improve their work-life balance

Spending time with their family is a priority for most working parents – but many find it easier said than done

FAMILY is the most important thing in many people's lives – yet the pressures of modern life mean it's often also one of the most neglected.

New research from KidZania shows the average UK family spends just 43 minutes a day – or three hours a week – of quality time together. And chances are, the reasons for this will sound familiar, with nearly half citing work commitments as the culprit.

But working parents are being encouraged to be proactive about the quality time they spend with their family – and Go Home On Time Day on Thursday June 21 is a great place to start.

The brainchild of the Working Families charity (workingfamilies.org.uk), which says that in the UK, four in 10 parents work full-time, and more than a third (34 per cent) of those working part-time end up putting in extra hours each week. Forty seven per cent say work gets in the way of spending time together as a family.

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, hopes Go Home On Time Day will inspire parents to reflect on their own work-life balance, and take small (or big) steps towards lasting improvements. She suggests ways to help you go home on time, for a better work-life balance:

1. Share responsibilities

If you live with a partner, encourage each other to review your working commitments and make changes at home to help share the care of children, household responsibilities and earning money. Often, a nursery or school pick-up is the best way of making sure you go home on time, so sharing more childcare could be beneficial in more ways than one.

2. Prioritise tasks

If you're feeling overwhelmed with too many tasks, there are simple tools that can help you sort what needs to be done first, done next, given to someone else, or not done at all. The 'Eisenhower matrix' is a good example – it's just a four-box grid where you plot tasks depending on how important and/or urgent they are.

3. Just say 'no'

It can feel very difficult to say 'no' when you're asked to do something, especially if it's by someone senior. But they might not realise what else you have on – you need to tell them. Focus the conversation on how they can help you prioritise tasks in the time available, rather than giving a flat 'no'. If the requests are coming from someone using your services and you feel uncomfortable saying no to them, speak to your line manager about your workload.

4. Delegate

Ask yourself if completing a certain task is the best use of your time. Could someone else complete it more efficiently, or use it as a learning experience?

5. Write things down before you leave

Have a to-do list and update this at the end of the day. This should help you switch off and leave work stresses behind, knowing the tasks are safely written down.

6. Stay focused

Avoid checking and responding to requests as soon as they come in, especially if it's getting close to the time you finish. For example, you could turn your email alerts off, and set aside certain periods of the day for admin tasks.

7. Conquer procrastination

If you have big and small tasks on your to-do list, get your biggest task, or the one you least want to do, done first. It's easy in theory but in practice, we all procrastinate. Tim Urban's TED talk is a funny and helpful starting point for understanding and tackling procrastination.

8. Work with your body-clock

Everyone has a 'chronotype'. It's believed that 40 per cent of us are larks, which the world of work is mostly configured to, but 30 per cent of us are owls, and the other 30 per cent are somewhere between the two, according to Matthew Walker's book, Why We Sleep. If it's possible to engineer your day around your chronotype (larks work best in the morning and owls late afternoon/evening), your official working time will be much more productive and efficient, enabling you to finish on time, whenever your personal 'on time' is.

9. Request flexible working

If you're finding work and life incompatible, ask your manager about flexible working. Anyone who's been with their employer at least 26 weeks can request flexible working. But if you've not been in your job that long, it's still possible to talk informally to your boss. Many are far more receptive than you might think.

10. Reduce travel time

So much time is lost travelling to and from work. Could you work from home? If you're the boss, could your team work at home sometimes? Evidence shows employees who have more control over where they work are more productive and engaged, so cutting down travel time is a win-win for everyone.

11. Be kind to yourself

Our own expectations are another challenge when it comes to finding the right work-life balance. We can't be perfect parents all the time, so be kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack. Sometimes, being good enough is genuinely good enough.

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