Mindfulness – Work-Life Balance with a Fresh Start
Andrew McNeill spent 20 years in senior leadership, most recently as a Director in the UK Civil Service. He is also an accredited mindfulness teacher and speaker on mindfulness and brought these two worlds together in his book Organisational Mindfulness a How-to Guide in 2019, which has sold in 4 continents. Currently Andrew offers leadership training to a wide range of organisations, helping individuals and teams improve their performance and their wellbeing.
He has kindly allowed us to share this piece on Mindfulness – The Work-life balance with a Fresh Start to mark the start of the year.
A Fresh Start
So, how have the first few days/weeks of January been? How are the New Year’s Resolutions going? How does it feel being back ‘in’ work?
For many of us the festive season will have given us a chance to step back for a bit, with the added advantage that many people around us, clients and colleagues take the same days off. What a relief!
But then come January most of us have to return to work.
Now this might be joyous for you? I don’t want to presume that life at work is grim. You may relish reconnecting, catching up with everyone’s news and even getting away from the family, but for many people, this time of year can be tough.
Personally, I was fortunate to get a proper break and spent a fair bit of time reflecting on my priorities. I even mapped out my activities and all the different projects I have on the go. I realised that I have a lot on. A lot of different clients with competing pressures and each with legitimate calls on my time.
I came to a fairly straight forward solution; I have to do less and I must have a better sense of balance. Time for a fresh start.
As I hit the first week, I am already in back-to-back meetings and at risk of feeling that my time is no longer my own.
So, if you are feeling at risk of being overwhelmed already by endless emails and meetings, is there a way you can find a balance, actually start afresh?
I remember years ago I worked with a person who seemed to be constantly busy. He had a senior job in a large organisation based in London and commuted down from the North East. He had a young family and did a lot of youth work, supporting sports clubs, for which he had been honoured. I asked him how he managed to get any sort of work life balance. His answer surprised me, he said: “I don’t see them as being different.” He explained he wasn’t advocating working a 16-hour working day, but he only had one life. Work, family, volunteering: it was all part of his life.
This has always stayed with me. An artificial distinction between ‘work’ and ‘life’ suggests that one has to be off-set against the other; that they are separate. But in reality they are both part of our lived experience. We need to have balance in what we spend our time doing, but different activities do not need to be experienced in isolation, as anyone who thought about work whilst enjoying a Christmas movie can attest.
Perhaps, if you are looking for a sustainable fresh start a good first step might be to notice how you feel. Are you already sensing a bit of a knot in the stomach as you open the lap-top? Are you questioning your choice of employer, or even career? If so, how does that feel? Are you clenching your jaw or are your shoulders scrunched up as if trying to hide your neck?
Just by noticing what’s really going on physically with ourselves is a good start. If things aren’t quite right then you need to take steps to build some life into your work.
Here are 5 tips that could help:
- Create gaps in your day – make meetings 55 minutes long or 45 if you can so your meetings aren’t all back-to-back. Tell people that’s what you’re doing, you might be surprised how grateful they are.
- Go for a walk – just a walk around the block or even in your room away from the screen can help release some tension. If you can make this in nature, so much the better.
- Have lunch – even just ½ an hour away from the screen can help give you that all important respite
- Make a connection – send someone you care for a message to say “hello”. It doesn’t have to be deep, but just saying “hello” and having a “hello” back can help boost our mood
- Be kind – random acts of kindness have been demonstrated to powerfully help not just the recipients, but also the person being kind.
These tips won’t change your workload and you might still need to do less and even change your job or career. However, taking a few manageable steps to help show ourselves kindness, to be mindful of what is actually going on for us, and bringing some life into our work, could be the fresh start needed.
Andrew McNeill is co-founder with Karen Liebenguth of Parcival, an organisation created to support leaders deepen their mindfulness practice and continue their leadership journey. The next cohort of the Radical Mindful Leaders Programme runs from 9 February 2022. To find out more go to the website or email Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Andrew and his speaking work please see his webpage or email us at email@example.com