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Balanced work-life: Myth or fact

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I have come to believe that working in Nigeria is synonymous with suffering. If you have any work experience – or your university experience, at least – you can relate to what I mean.

Anything that suggests ease of doing anything shows you are lazy and not being “serious” with life.

Working in Nigeria comes with the expectation of having no other commitment, life purpose or goal other than to show up for your job 100 per cent; no weekends, no leave, no off days; just work.

You will wonder how this has to do with suffering. Well, everything! Truth be told, a lot of the hassles that come with work can easily be done with technology or delegation. But we do not think of delegation or technology because our minds have been programmed to believe that if we do not apply mental and physical strength to a thing, then we have not worked hard enough – or we cannot be seen to be working hard enough.

So here I am, planning a perfect work-life so that I can work my actual 9-to-5. I plan to do 10 things during the week, and then all of a sudden my line manager comes in on Monday morning and says, “There is this meeting I want you to attend, and I also need you to do this presentation and deliver on it today because it’s urgent.”

After this, my line manager’s line manager comes in to tell me, “I need to design a budget and it’s needed before 12 noon.” News flash! The meeting alone will take the whole of eight hours of work, so I need to use my “after work” time to start my to-do for the week. Work-life balance is, again, out the window.

Most organisational cultures have embraced this pattern of work to make young people “sit up”, and many in Nigeria are victims of this mindset.

Then they get to manage a health challenge and realise the importance of being able to weigh in other priorities like family, mental health, spirituality and personal growth. While I have come to believe that balancing work-life is a myth, I’m beginning to see some things that make it more realistic to achieve this very hard feat in a place like Nigeria.

Here are pointers to help out.

  • Choose the easy way

 There was a time when my colleagues and I were given a task to populate an Excel template with the data of a group of people. The good news was that the list was already typed in another Excel sheet, so all we needed to do was to copy and paste, but it so happened that the template given to us was locked with a password. The annoying part of the task was that it was not just a small list; it was a list of 1,000 women with addresses, phone numbers, occupations, BVN and a lot of other information. 

So I thought of cracking the code to copy and paste. Meanwhile, my colleagues had printed out the existing list and started typing the names one after the other. They were on this for the second day when I told them that I had cracked the code. They looked at me and continued typing.

Fast forward! It took me about three hours to finish my bit and it took them a week to finish theirs.

So, sometimes the work is not difficult, we make it difficult. For every task that you have to deliver on, think of these simple questions: what is the easiest and fastest way to do this? Should I ask for help or use technology? Has someone done this before? Where can I search for what has been done in the past? All these will make you see how to complete a task faster.

  • Negotiate with your boss

When something barges in on your to-do that is urgent, inform your line manager that this will delay some things on your to-do list and ask which task you should give up for this new “urgent task”. This way, you are not under pressure to deliver on all tasks at once.

  • Write out a weekly to-do 

I will start with a disclaimer: this does not always work because some tasks that are legitimate can just jump into the middle of the week, but you must learn to set weekly priorities. This way, you can estimate how much time you will spend and set a realistic timeline to finish.

Bonus point: “Try to ‘dey relax, work no dey finish.’” I have come to agree with the truth that having a place or person with which you let off work steam helps you to be better at work, so take advantage of weekends to stop and touch base with family, have great conversations with friends and relax.

For further engagement, Ogunlana can be reached through: rachel.ewere@gmail.com

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Rachel Ogunlana
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