For most, work/life balance is an elusive beast. In the construction materials industry, that beast might as well be Sasquatch. In fact, most speculate that it doesn’t exist at all. Long hours, tight deadlines, testing and retesting - that’s just the name of the game. We’ve nearly accepted that whether we’re on a job site, in a materials lab, or in the office, work/life balance in this industry is nothing more than a myth.
This is where our misinterpretation of the concept has led us astray. Work/life balance doesn’t refer to a perfectly constructed utopia where every need is met in perfect timing. It simply means the right mix of work and leisure to allow you to experience reduced stress, increased happiness and improved productivity. It’s different for each of us based on our individual ideals, priorities and our opinion of an acceptable amount of give and take.
To help you navigate this winding road toward your unique work/life balance, I’ve created a to-do list of five actionable steps that you can start checking off today.
5 Steps to Crushing Work/Life Balance Goals in the Construction Materials Industry
1. Define Balance in Your Own Terms.
Before you can even think of crushing a goal like this, you need a clear and concrete vision. We can’t achieve work/life balance if we don’t know what it looks like.
So, start by considering what an ideal work/life balance would look like to you. Ask yourself how your life would be different? What would you have time for that you didn’t before? What would be your greatest contributions at work? At home? Be specific. How often would you vacation, and where? What would you be willing (or even glad) to give up? Write it down. Revise it. Revisit it often. The more detailed your answers, the clearer your path.
2. Evaluate Your Rituals.
Start by figuring out what they are. If you sit down for breakfast with your kids before you leave for work every morning, that’s a ritual. If you come home from work every day, and immediately turn on the TV to relax, that’s a ritual. Even small and seemingly insignificant behaviors we practice with regularity can have a huge impact on the trajectory of our day… and ultimately our lives.
So, it’s unquestionably worth the effort to pinpoint as many of your rituals as you can, and then consider which ones are in alignment with your vision, and which are not. Once you identify the rituals that support your ideal balance, you can begin to make the adjustments necessary to gradually eliminate the ones that don’t, freeing up time and energy for a more gratifying life.
3. Commit to Work/Life Boundaries.
Many of us take our work home and we take our home-life to work, and it’s one reason we can’t seem to balance the two. When we don’t have boundaries, it can feel like we’re missing out on life, working 24/7, and still never as productive as we expect to be.
Despite the taboo, it can be extremely beneficial to compartmentalize your life. Work goes in the work bucket, home life goes in the home life bucket, and the two should rarely mix. Giving your full attention to your home life when you’re at home will make you more capable of giving your full attention to your work life when you’re at work, and vice versa.
So, when you’re spending time with your family or friends at dinner, or at a baseball game, or on vacation, give yourself permission to be there entirely. Resist the urge to talk about mix design problems or the nitty gritty details of construction materials testing and quality control. Logistics challenges? Off limits. Don’t check your emails. Set boundaries, communicate them to anyone who needs to know, and get intensely protective of the time and space you designate for each.
4. Outsource and Automate.
By outsource, I certainly don’t mean sending jobs overseas. I’m referring to what we’re already doing on a regular basis. Drive thru restaurants. Taxes. Daycare. Public transportation. Dog walking services. We couldn't imaging life without the automation of online bill pay, thermostats, and smartphones.
In our home lives, we get to choose what to manage ourselves, what to let someone else manage, and what to hand over to technology.
But what if you really love taking you dog for walks, or doing your own taxes, or picking up your kids from daycare, but you can’t find the time because you’re putting in long hours on the job? Then perhaps it’s time to focus on making some time-saving and energy-saving adjustments at work by streamlining your manual processes and advocating for automation where it makes sense.
If you’ve been working in the construction materials industry long enough, you’re well-equipped to spot areas of inefficiency. Could your department benefit from automated team communication tools? Could your file management system use an upgrade? Can you advocate for integrating your construction materials testing, mix design, quality management and all laboratory processes into one system? (By the way… we can help with that one).
Automation is a win-win for you and your company. Even if you are not a decision maker, you can advocate. The right tools will save you and your company time and money, and the benefits will extend from your work life to your home life in the form of reduced overtime, reduced stress, and ultimately improved balance.
5. Prioritize Sleep.
I saved this one for last knowing some of you might be so tired of hearing it (pun definitely intended), that you’d stop reading once you saw it on the list.
Given what we all already know about the negative impacts of too little sleep on both productivity and well-being, failing to give sleep the respect it deserves in our quest for balance is nothing less than self-sabotage. Achieving balance takes determination and flexibility, and we’re guaranteed to have a greater capacity for both if we get the rest we need.
Unfortunately, it’s rare that work/life balance occurs spontaneously. The benefits of achieving balance are well worth the effort and commitment required to get there. Stay motivated by revisiting your vision (step one above) on a regular basis. But don’t shortcut the process. Make calculated changes, and before you know it, you will have tamed the beast.