Nicola McQueen "Its ok to be uneven: My top tips for finding your own work-life balance in 2020."


2020 is definitely going to be a year that no one will forget. But with recent developments, many of us will now have to continue to work from home, or in unfamiliar locations and settings. As a result, the question of achieving work-life balance is one that I am increasingly asked about. For me, this balance is very important, but I have realised, it does not have to be equal to be successful – and there are lots of reasons why.

1. Reweight and revaluate

Reflecting on how my own work-life balance has changed since I started my career, I see that it has never been about a “perfect balance”; it is constantly shifting and all depends on what your priorities are. Perhaps it’s career, family or studying that is your focus. Early on, my first priority was establishing my career but, as for many, marriage and children shifts your balance and priorities, and the same happened for me. Life is what changes and you have to constantly be able to reweight and revaluate.

2. Accept imperfection

Difficult as it may sound, it is important to accept that your balance does not have to be perfect, even or constant. It is about finding a happy, comfortable  balance that you are in control of – I have learnt that this is the real goal. It’s about being able to make the right choices for your circumstances and this may mean that other things are sacrificed. As a Virgo, I’m a bit of perfectionist, so these can be very difficult choices for me to make!

3. Find your flex

Although being organised and having structure, especially with competing priorities, is important, being flexible with this is essential. Whoever your support system is, partner, extended family, friends etc., understanding and agreeing responsibilities and timelines means that you can build the right amount of flexibility into your life to achieve that happy balance. I have found that having a lack of this balance or structure can really affect decision making, both personally and professionally. With a husband and family of three young girls to look after, having routine has been essential to me. Agreeing each week’s priorities, considering new circumstances and being able to flex if necessary is key.

4. Sign off and switch off

Working remotely, or in a different location, can be great for flexibility, but it can actually create a habit of always being connected and over-committed. In the digital “always on” age, many people, including me, struggle with switching off. Indeed, recent studies suggest that half of UK workers are unhappy with their work-life balance, with many doing longer hours as a result.

Trying to be self-disciplined and ensuring you have a closure to your work day, is very important. That means committing to dedicated, protected time for my life outside of work, where I am also able to switch-off, reflect and rest. I find this is especially important if making big decisions.

5. Trust your team

Whether at home with family and friends, or in the workplace with colleagues, we are all part of a team. I know that I simply couldn’t function without my “teams.” Trusting in the people around me, both personally and professionally, keeping communication open and constantly building on partnerships and relationships has meant that I can easily adjust my “balance” knowing I have the help and support I need. 

6. Practice what you preach

In all honesty, achieving this “happy balance” is not easy – and I am working at it every day. I am also trying to ensure my colleagues have it too. I must walk the walk and talk the talk. But it goes further than this. Simple things such as taking the time to ask team members and colleagues ”How are you?” can go a long way. Ensuring that you and your team take regular breaks and leave is essential. It helps build relationships and also encourages a focus on that “happy balance” for everyone.

So with all this in mind, here are my top Do’s and Don’ts of achieving that imperfect work-life balance   

DO: Plan the week and build in flexibility – Agree your plan and (try and) stick to it. I have “pentagon time” built into my day so I can deal with the unknown or unexpected, which always happens, personally and professionally!

DO: Continue to reprioritise – changing is not failure  - it is good time management and will ultimately make you more productive in achieving your goals 

DO: Multitask! Make time to combine your work and home life where you can. That could be doing a “walk and talk” meeting to get those steps in, listening to an audiobook or podcast while eating lunch or doing some simple home gym exercises, while on a conference call. Whatever works for you.

DO: Divide and conquer! For me and my family, especially over the last few months, it has been really important to have a clear dividing line between home and work/school. Even if I am working from home, I am in work clothes and have a dedicated room for my work and my children did the same during home schooling. It’s a divide mentality that helps me feel organised for the day ahead.

DO: Review, reflect and refine – As I said at the beginning, it is life that is changing, so always check that your balance it is working for you. Take time to review, reflect and refine. Achieving your own personal work life balance is an evolution!

And to avoid… 

DON’T: Set an unrealistic schedule – make sure you give yourself enough time to achieve things, and if you don’t think you are going to achieve what you need to, ask for help!

DON’T: Get distracted/deviate – when you have lots of competing priorities, or the unexpected happens, it is easy to have your attention diverted. Commit to the task in hand!

DON’T: Forget your team – whether professional or personal, you need to ensure you use the support that is around you. Set your own boundaries and lean if you need to. You can’t do it alone!

2020 will continue to be a real challenge for all of us, but what I have learnt is that accepting that your work-life balance is never going to be equal, embracing imperfection and fostering flexibility, will all help us to have the happiness we need and deserve.


P.S. The month of October marks National Work Life Week – 12th-16th October find out more here.