Your phone means you’re accessible all the time, which can be good for productivity but really bad for family and work-life balance. Saying ‘no’ includes setting a few smartphone rules.

Stretched too thin? Practice saying ‘no’

Linda Duxbury is a leading researcher in work-life balance and her surveys show that new technology – especially the all-access, all-the-time smartphone – might not be helping that much.

Do More Ag is a not-for-profit organization focusing on mental health in agriculture across Canada. Find out more at domore.ag.

The smart phone improves productivity. No question. While waiting in line at the elevator or with the combine on autosteer, you can make grain sales, shop for machinery, deal with human resources issues and catch up on calls with your mother. But Duxbury, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, has surveyed Canadians and found that while 65 per cent of respondents say this technology has increased their productivity, 70 per cent say it has increased their stress levels and 70 per cent say it has increased their workload.

Technology means you can get more done during down times, but maybe those down times are important for stress management. Technology also means you’re accessible all the time, which can be good for productivity but really bad for family and work-life balance.

Duxbury’s research identifies four main types of work-life conflict

  1. Role overload. We have our regular job, or jobs, as well as care for dependents (children and parents), volunteer work and management of the household. “It seems we have more jobs added to the bottom of the list than come off the top,” Duxbury says.
  2. Work interferes with family. Work hours are long and getting longer and expectations are increased, which forces work to take priority over family. “This is the number one predictor of family breakup,” she says.
  3. Family interferes with work. The flip-side to conflict 2 is when family responsibilities, such as staying home with a sick kid, taking kids to hockey tournaments, helping with homework or making meals, get in the way of the pile of work that has to get done. You have to set up work so that it can keep going while you’re away or that it can stop so you can tend to these family needs. “You have to put family over work,” Duxbury says. “If you haven’t figured out how to do that, it will cause strain when issues come along.”
  4. Caregiver strain. If taking care of aging parents isn’t something you’re prepared for, it can be unexpectedly stressful for work-life balance when that time of life comes along. Duxbury suggests that elder care is actually more stressful than child care because parents don’t want to be treated like children and, unlike children, parents don’t become more independent over time. “In rural areas, the difficulty in looking after elderly parents can be catastrophic,” she says.

Duxbury underlines the conundrum for these conflicts: “Finding work-life balance on the farm is difficult, but the costs of not dealing with it are substantial.” Help comes through behaviour change, she says, providing these 10 tips to achieve a healthier, lower-stress, more satisfying balance.

Duxbury’s 10 tips to find balance

  1. Do only what ONLY you can do. Did you capture the meaning in those two ‘only’s? What jobs can you do and nobody else because only you have the expertise? Do those jobs and only those jobs. Delegate the rest. If you don’t have staff or family members to take on these jobs, then consider custom operators or temporary workers to do them.
  2. When you do delegate, don’t micromanage. The purpose of delegating is to reduce your workload. If you’re constantly watching over the person doing the job, that isn’t helping you. Let it go.
  3. Schedule brief breaks throughout the day. Ten minutes every two hours does help.
  4. Create a “to do” list each day. Use this to set priorities. Be realistic. Don’t just put work things on that list. If something different comes along, add that to the list and then scratch it off when finished. Duxbury recommends that when someone asks you “How long will that job take?”, estimate the time then double it and double it again. “That will take the time strain off that job and allow you to fit it in among all the other jobs,” she says. “It is far better to overestimate the time required so you can deal with unexpected.”
  5. Manage your smartphone. “The more time people spend on their phone or tablet, the less able they are to interact socially,” she says. Set some smartphone rules: Shut if off and put it away outside normal work hours. Do not check it during family time. Schedule a time for email. Do not take the phone with you on holidays.
  6. Ask for help when you are busy or sick. Asking for help is often hard to do, but Duxbury says it often helps to turn the situation around: Would you help others if they asked for it? You can expect them to do the same for you.
  7. Prioritize family tasks. Duxbury’s quick tips for family tasks: Do the most important jobs. Do not be afraid to delegate. Learn to live with messiness. Take shortcuts.
  8. Don’t confuse being busy with being productive. Focus on the jobs that truly add to the business’s bottom line. Drop all other jobs or push them back, and use the saved time for family or for yourself.
  9. Pick your battles. Still thinking through that argument? Still fuming about that mistake you made? Let it go. Don’t ruminate.
  10. Learn to say no. There’s the old expression, “You want something done? Ask a busy person.” If you’re the busy person everyone asks to do stuff, this tip is for you: “Just say ‘no’. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t give a reason,” Duxbury says.

In summary, Duxbury says improved work-life balance is your responsibility. You have to take charge of these behaviour changes. “No one is going to do this for you.”