Consulting, like many other industries such as banking and law, is often criticized for its lack of balance and intense working environment. These types of jobs require a huge commitment to work, and this can often mean that the other aspects of your life fall by the wayside.
But just because you love the fast-paced and intense environments these careers offer, doesn’t mean that you need to turn into a complete workaholic and lose all semblance of a life.
Here are some strategies my colleagues and I have found helpful in managing some balance in the imbalance. Whether you work in an intense industry like mine or not, they can be used by anyone looking to up the level of "life" in the work-life equation.
1. Think of it as a Game of Averages
A lot of work-life balance conversations focus on the balance that people can find on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, when you work in an environment where this isn't always in your control or what is expected of you (read: weekly travel and 9 PM calls), it can be better to take a broader view of what balance means.
In other words, I often strive for average balance over a longer period of time. On a weekly basis, this might mean pulling 15-plus hour days Monday through Thursday, but that Friday evening and Saturday are completely off-limits for work. On an annual basis, this might mean working crazy hours plus weekends for a few months, but then seeking out an arrangement or project with a less intense schedule for the remaining months in the year where you can add in volunteering, working out, and more friend and family time.
In consulting, due to the nature of the industry and how projects change quite frequently, it can be easy to seek out projects with different intensities based on what you need. The key is to communicate with your leadership and manager about your desire to take on a project with a different time commitment. Typically, people will accommodate it (as a gesture to keep you sane) if it's something you need.
2. Pick Your Priorities
While it might be easy to say that you want to have it all—a fulfilling and challenging career, an active social life, the ability to run competitive marathons, time to cook dinner for the family, a full night’s sleep, and so on—we all know that’s not exactly possible.
So, a key step in finding balance is to have a clear prioritization of what is important to you. Balance doesn’t necessarily mean spending an equal distribution of time across all aspects of life in general—it can be (and should be) different for everyone. For example, work is most important to me, quickly followed up by my social life and working out. This means I typically eat into more of my sleep time than most of my friends and always look for convenience in my mealtimes. While I admire my friends who religiously pack their lunches and cook dinner, this just isn’t the most important thing for me, and I am more than happy to compromise it to achieve other things.
It’s a matter of quality over quantity: By spending your limited time on what’s most important to you, you’ll feel more balanced than if you tried to cram everything into that time.
3. Delegate the Easy Stuff
Now, about that low-priority stuff? There a few tactics and hacks that my friends who work in time-consuming and intense jobs apply.
First, if you aren't fortunate yet to have access to a personal assistant, consider hiring a virtual one or a student to help you with some of your tasks. Whether it's booking appointments, paying bills, printing, shopping, or the other number of small tasks that add up to huge time expenditure and an endless to-do list, an assistant can help you unlock more time in your day for the things that matter. One of my friends who works in finance does this often, and she can't ever imagine her life without the extra help.
A number of my friends also use time-saving services such as house cleaning, pre-made frozen meal services, or grocery delivery to help ease the pressure of completing necessary chores. This can cut down on time spent doing not-fun yet necessary things like grocery runs, Sunday morning cleaning and laundry, and the like—and gives you more time for the things that make you happy.
4. Look for Small Wins
While I do play a game of averages when approaching work-life balance, I also look for small wins throughout my day to try to achieve what balance I can. For instance, whether it's taking the stairs or walking a couple blocks extra before hopping onto transit, a little bit of fresh air and activity can help bring balance to an otherwise hectic day. This could also mean allowing yourself a 15-minute coffee with a friend for a quick laugh, taking a step back from your work to read an interesting article, or just picking something healthy for lunch.
While taking 15 minutes here or there might seem impossible to do, in reality it will have very little impact on your outputs (likely, people won't even notice you've taken the time). But it will make a big difference in your energy levels and balance. Even though it's extremely easy to just put my head down and plug away when the work is piling up, I try to find these little bits of balance wherever I can throughout my day.
When you work in a demanding industry, it can be extremely hard to achieve the sought after work-life balance that is the topic of so many conversations, but by changing your perspective, employing some hacks, and focusing on the big stuff, you can get to a better level of balance.