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Balancing work, school and family life is hard

Strategies for managing conflicting priorities
Work-life balance, education
Being able to focus on one task at a time is important by pushing aside distractions and doing “deep work. Shutterstock

By Brian Kreissl

Many readers will notice I didn’t do a post the last two weeks. While I actually started one off and found the topic uninspiring and a bit tedious, the main reason I didn't complete it was because I was incredibly swamped.

Because we’re coming up on year-end, I had a ton of deliverables for our looseleaf publishing program, the 2018 editions of our Quick Reference titles and some other new books and projects. (Incidentally, congratulations to Jamie Knight, author of several of our Quick References and other books, for winning the award for Employment Lawyer of the Year at the National HR Awards.)

For various reasons, I have been short-staffed the last 18 months or so, and simply haven’t had enough time to devote to new product development. However, that should change to a certain extent over the next few weeks.

Aside from my work deliverables, it has also been a hectic time for school, family and social obligations, personal errands and some home renovations. To top it all off, I have really been trying to go to the gym more regularly over the past couple of months — with at least some measure of success.

I recently handed in a major assignment I was working on for my adult education class. While it was an interesting assignment on the differences between andragogy and pedagogy, I am glad it’s over. It could be an interesting topic for a future post.

Managing time and energy

I could probably have done a better job managing my time (and my energy, which studies are beginning to show may be a better approach), but much of my stress couldn’t really have been avoided in recent weeks. It was as if someone always wanted a piece of me no matter which direction I turned.

As mentioned before, this is one reason why relatively few people actually pursue part-time and continuing education. People these days have enough challenges in their lives without adding to their stresses through additional academic responsibilities.

If we are to maintain a commitment to lifelong learning and keep up to date with changes in the economy, technology and latest business practices, one great way of continuing to learn and develop oneself is through part-time education. Employers and academic institutions need to be understanding of the needs of adult learners, but there are some coping strategies individuals themselves should be aware of.

Coping strategies for individuals

Being able to focus on one task at a time is important by pushing aside distractions and doing “deep work.” This is particularly helpful when focusing on challenging tasks or learning difficult concepts and can result in higher performance in completing work and academic tasks.

This is something that takes some practice, pre-planning and deliberately pushing aside all distractions. Multitasking and information overload are the enemies of concentration, so it does take some ability to prioritize and manage distractions (including smartphones and social media).

Prioritizing and determining the difference between the urgent and the important can help people manage their time and energy and determine what tasks get completed in which order. Sometimes you just need to realize you cannot do it all, and that someone is just going to have to be disappointed.

Not biting off more than you can chew is important, as is the ability to delegate and just say “no” to people. It is important to master the skill of politely but firmly declining commitments or negotiating revised delivery dates.

Setting aside a few minutes and conquering procrastination can help too. This can be as simple as devoting 30 minutes per day to slowly but steadily tackling an unpleasant project or deliverable.

I also find it challenging dealing with those tasks, like filing, that always fall to the bottom of the pile. Sometimes we just have to do them anyway because otherwise they’ll never get done.

If we don’t do them, the people who criticize us the loudest for completing unimportant tasks are often the same people who would criticize us for not completing the work in the first place. Sometimes it’s best to tackle this type of work after hours.

Managing your energy can be accomplished by tackling the most physically and mentally demanding tasks when your energy levels are highest. It’s also important to eat right, get enough sleep, exercise, stay hydrated and be sure to build some fun and down time into your schedule.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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