Most of us live busy lives. As human beings we have limited time and energy to accomplish our given taks – both socially and professionally. This limited time poses a great challenge to women who have family responsibilities and are working. Particularly challenging are jobs that require long hours at work or excessive travel such as academic, leadership and research positions. Due to financial, social and personal motivational reasons most women are expected to juggle both roles. On the other hand, the imbalance between work-life could have a negative impact on partnerships, parenting, productivity, etc. Consequences of imbalance work-life include health problems (stress, depression, psychological problems, high blood pressure, etc.) and job burnout among others. Work-life balance is an intensively discussed subject. Ever felt like the work-life articles are written for someone other than you? In spite of numerous publications there is still no uniform definition of work-life balance or its components . According to Greenhaus and Beutell work-life balance roles could lead to conflicts, arising from time loads and stress . Positive effects on work-life balance could be partially attained if there are supportive measures from parents, family, supervisors, colleagues, mentors, and most importantly flexible working-hours arrangements.
In addition, there is no defined formula that could be described as a solution to work-life balance challenges. However, strategies such as time management, prioritizing, multitasking, organisational skills, and flexible-work arrangements could be used to balance the two. Prioritising is a key component of work-life balance. Women are naturally multi-taskers and they tend to take much more than they can handle both at work and home. They shouldn’t set themselves up for burnout and say “no” to impossible deadlines and tasks. Women should let go of the idea that only them can do certain tasks. They should make choices that empower them and the situation.
“Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” Albert Einstein
There are two broad strategies of managing the two worlds – work world and home/family world. The first strategy implies to keep family and office matters strictly apart. The second strategy involves blending family and work life more by taking kids to the workplace or by taking office work home.
The strategies are entirely different and both have their advantages and limitations. One should pick up something that suits best her personality and working style. At the same time, one should not stick to only one strategy as there are times where you may need to strictly compartmentalize or blend up things for the time being.
Perhaps achieving a work-life balance is more about finding ways to grow as a person while meeting the expectations and requirements of today’s society, It is about embracing the duality, finding your passions and exploring them, finding time for yourself to reflect on beauty, complexity, identity, relationships, and the cosmic connections between them. If you are in a relationship – and we are all in relationships, whether with a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, a best friend, or a pet – a work-life balance means you create the time to foster and explore life with the individuals who matter most to you. Ironically, building and fulfilling relationships may involve as much “work” as does growing a career. Similarly, if you are lucky and follow your passions, you will find “life” at work as well.
Some find key to a healthy private life lies in being aggressively organized. Disorganization leads to a less effective usage of time and neither part of our life will benefit from it:
- Scheduling one’s own day: Such scheduling needs to consider work and down time.
- Setting one’s own norms: Live with the idea that others ways for success may not necessarily be yours. Focus on setting the pace, schedule, and timing that work out best for you.
- Focusing on one action at a time: Multi-tasking attempts often end in not getting anything done. Focusing on one key task at a time helps to reduce the hurdle and to be more efficient.
- Limiting accessibility: Regulate and limit when to be accessible for professional and personal.
- Planning ahead
There are other small ideas that worked best for some of us:
Fun time/me time/ sharing time: Keep some time to go crazy! It can be painting with the kids, or listening to music and dance secretly or having a cup of tea with a friend. Do it when your mind asks for it –throw away the TODO list and enjoy the moment. When the pressure gets too much, become yourself by keeping a positive attitude and pull yourself together. Every season shall come and pass.
Handling Guilt: Try to explain why your work is important to your kids. It helps with workig without guilt and meeting deadlines, after which you may enjoy an ice cream with them. Don’t strive for perfection, especially in terms of societal expectations. Do what is good for yourself but not what is expected from you by the societal practices either at work or home.
Prioritizing: Prioritize work based on deadlines and need. Believe that you have a choice to say “no” to certain requests both at home and work. It gives a sense of empowerment over your own time.
Delegating Tasks: Get rid of the fear no one would do things the way you want. Learn to work in a team where the entire team can contribute. It goes both ways for family and work. In family: we have tasks divided based on what we enjoy more while similar distribution is done at work.
Mentor: It always helps to have a mentor who can give you a broader picture when needed and help you to prioritize, settle and move on . Mentors help you excel in professional life and sometimes even for family matters.
Accepting limitations: At some point, you need to accept to cook healthy food which does not taste so good! That makes you happier and the artificial burden is off. It helps, it helps a lot. Ask for help from family and friends, and allow them to support you whenever necessary.
It is not always easy, but finding the duality in the balance rather than the binary may be a key to achieving balance. “Work” and “life” may coexist in all aspects of life. When we wear ourselves out with “work” we erode our mental stability, creativity, and ultimately undermine ourselves and our ability to achieve and share the “life” part of the balance.
When the “work” part becomes overwhelming, it may require full removal from the situation for a moment. You may be able to perform a mental shift without a break, but breaks help. There is definitely a “work” part to organizing the conference, writing the grant, making the week’s shopping list, or trying to understand why your toddler just will not learn about toilets. When the stress of the work involved in these tasks becomes apparent, take a break to immerse yourself in something that is easy to enjoy for its “life” aspect. You know the things that make you happy – take a walk outside, take a warm bath, or go for a swim or dog snuggle. Read a novel, walk down the hall to chat with a colleague about the latest breakthroughs in proteogenomics (if that is your thing), savor that next sip of coffee, or honestly, just close your eyes and become aware of your breath. Intentionally take your mind out of the “work” part of the situation. Finding the “life” part in your favorite activities lets you feel the “life” part that keeps you sane and happy, the part where you appreciate the beauty of the wind, the strength of your mind and body, the simplicity of breath, the audacity of flavor. “Recharging” yourself with these intentionally carved out “life” moments will allow you to find “life” moments in the rest of life. When you return to that list of tasks, you may remember how excited you are to moderate the panel discussion and grow new ideas. You may see how the grant application is still teaching you about connections between concepts. Adding things to the shopping list may remind you of how the suppers you will cook will be shared with someone close to you (even if it is your dog!). The demanding toddler may remind you of how beautiful it is to learn from this astoundingly intriguing and complex life that we all share.
 Süß, S., & Sayah, S. Balance between work and life: A qualitative study of German contract workers, European Management Journal (2013).
 Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. J. (1985). Sources of conflict between work and family roles. The Academy of Management Review, 10, 76–88
 Mentoring Platform: (http://gyawis-mentoring.com/).
 Bassioni, G. Seek a mentor’s advice! Allow experience to speak! Falling Walls Fragments: http://www.fallingwallsfragments.com/2017/08/08/seek-a-mentors-advice-allow-experience-to-speak/
Authors: Ghada Bassioni1,2, Nova Ahmed1,3, Amal Amin1,4, Mari-Vaughn V. Johnson1,5, Milica Pešić1,6, Rapela Regina Maphanga1,7, Anina Rich1,8, Meron Zeleke1,9
1Members of the Women in Science Working Group of the Global Young Academy: https://globalyoungacademy.net/, 2Chemistry Department, Faculty of Engineering, Ain Shams University, P. O. Box 11517, Cairo, Egypt, 3North South University, Bangladesh, 4National Research Center, Cairo, Egypt, 5United States Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service, Grassland, Soil, and Water Research Laboratory808 East Blackland Road, Temple, Texas, 76502 USA, 6Institute for Biological Research “Siniša Stanković”, University of Belgrade, Despota Stefana 142, 11060 Belgrade, Serbia, 7Modelling and Digital Science, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, P.O.Box 395, Pretoria, 0001, South Africa, 8Department of Cognitive Science, Perception in Action Research Centre, & ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition & its Disorders, Macquarie University, Australia. 9Addis Ababa University, Center for Human Rights, Ethiopia