- Plan a vacation—a real vacation.
We all know household work never ends. There's always the next meal, the next load of laundry, the next school lunch to pack. But these days with e-mail, cell phones and blackberries, our jobs have us on the same 24/7 tether. The work on both sides just never seems done. What's more, we're not ever getting a break. Most Americans don't use all the vacation time that's owed them. And when they do, they often find it difficult to truly leave the office behind. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 574 million vacation days go unused each year by American workers.
With all this constant work, it's even more important to take a real break once in a while—from mid-year reports as well as dirty dishes in the sink. And I'm not talking a three-day weekend here and there, during which you're answering e-mails all day. Studies have found that to feel truly rested and recharged you need at least four or five days off. A true getaway will not only help you reenergize, it'll provide the downtime you need to think about the changes you and your family want to make to get more balanced.
If you truly can't swing five days off, I suggest a travel-free mini-break. I find that my stress level goes up the minute I have to get on a plane, in a car, or on a train to go away somewhere. So when I need a vacation but just can't fit it in, I book a hotel room nearby—preferably somewhere I can get a massage or a manicure, or that has a pool I can sit by and read a book for a few hours. Give it a try and see what I mean. Ban the e-mail. Ban the cellphone. And breathe!
- Figure out if you can afford to stay home.
If you're considering (or your spouse is considering) leaving the workforce to stay home for a while, try living on a single salary for a few months first. Not only will this give you an indication of whether or not you can actually live on what you make, but it will give you several weeks of banked income that becomes a sizable emergency cushion. Plan your monthly budget using only one paycheck and see if you can stick to it!
For a better sense of whether you can afford to stay home, there are a number of calculators on the Web. I like the one at TodaysParent.com.
- Look into all your options.
It's not perfect out there yet, but it is getting easier to find employers who will offer family-friendly work arrangements, says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy and author of Off Ramps and On Ramps. She says that 57 percent of employers now offer a serious form of flexibility. In many cases, however, they don't advertise these policies—you have to ask. Make an appointment with your boss or the human resources department to find out what types of flextime, job sharing and other flexible arrangements your company may offer. (Be sure to have a good plan in mind of what you'd ideally like, what you can realistically handle and assurances of how you will still get your work done.)
If your own company is behind the curve on this issue, start networking and researching to explore what may be available at other companies. It may be worth making a move if you can get a more flexible arrangement elsewhere.
Still not sure how balanced your life is? Take this quiz to assess your life.
Published on January 15, 2006