Councillor Abi Baker, Organiser in Guildford/Mole Valley shares her hints and tips about maintaining work-life balance.
Finding the work life balance can be difficult no matter what job or volunteering responsibility you have. When what you do is something you are passionate about it can be even more difficult. As activists, councillors and candidates we have committed ourselves to working hard for others, but we can sometimes forget the most important person in our lives, ourselves.
I am sure every one of us has been sat in front of our computer in the early hours of the morning, working on something when we should have been in bed hours ago or taking that quick phone call when we are supposed to be socialising. I know I have. Sometimes, that is unavoidable, but it shouldn’t be the norm. Finding the right balance between your work, family and personal life has always been a challenge, but with smart phones, laptops and working from home the blur between work time and personal time is larger than ever.
The most important thing you can do is set yourself some boundaries, the second is sticking to them. No one can keep going at 100mph and not, at some point, crash. This doesn’t make you weak, incapable, or uncommitted. It is simply a fact. Humans cannot be resilient and at 100% all the time, and that is ok. Give yourself a break. Especially if you think you don’t have time for a rest, that is when you probably need one the most. That email can wait, you can return that phone call later. If you take some time for family or friends or go for a walk the world will not end whilst you are away from your inbox.
When setting boundaries, they are not just for yourself, they are for other people. So let your team know that you aren’t available on a Sunday, or after 8pm on a week day. It took me a long time to realise that being part of a team means that when I need to step back, someone else can take up my tasks. All I have to do is ask.
Also, being honest about the time I have is important. If I say yes to everything but don’t have time to do it, that is no use to anyone, including myself. Something that really helped me with my own resilience and finding my work life balance (still a work in progress by the way) was imagining what I would say to someone if they came to me and told me they were feeling like I was. I wouldn’t say ‘well you must sit there at 1am and finish that email.’ ‘You have to take my call at 9pm on a Saturday no matter what you are doing.’ ‘I don’t care if you are feeling overwhelmed by comments on social media, just get on with it.’ I just wouldn’t. So why then, do we tell ourselves that? From time to time, we need to have a word with ourselves and remember to give ourselves a break, just like we would if someone came to us needing help.
As a councillor or activist, sometimes the meetings we have can seem endless. So if you have a busy Monday to Friday filled with meetings, take some time at the weekend. Is there an action day that you are supposed to be going to on Saturday, but you’ve been to 3 this month and you haven’t had a day with your family for a few weeks? Then say you aren’t available this week, but you will see everyone at the next one. It is ok to be unavailable sometimes.
It is also important that you have a support network around you. This could be a fellow councillor, activists or close friend. From time to time we will come across upsetting casework, we might have 10 deadlines in a week or it could just be that we are not feeling great. That is also perfectly acceptable. Have someone to talk to or an activity that helps you relax.
Politics at any level of involvement is hard. It is not just a job or activity, it is a set of beliefs that quite often define who we are. We have a drive to help others and make the areas we live in the best places they can possibly be. This is part of why being a Liberal Democrat and working with like-minded people is so rewarding. However, to enjoy your success and the rewards you must find your own work life balance.
Sound advice especially to new Councillors who feel gullty if they cannot sort problems brought to them immediately. If you are intending to look into the problem tell them that, with a warning if you think it may be complicated to resolve.