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CAREERS - When work consumes your life, it's time to take stock. Setting boundaries and learning to delegate can help you achieve a better balance.

Whatever happened to the concept of a balanced work and home life- One of the more appealing buzz expressions of the late 1990s, work/life balance seems to have disappeared without trace.

All the main political parties claim to put children and parents near the top of the agenda and forward-looking businesses are trying to be more family-friendly.

Yet too many people spend too long at work, to the detriment of their health and home life.

Only 53% of more than 3,000 managers questioned in the Chartered Management Institute's annual holiday survey found time to take their full entitlement, and those who didn't principally blamed work overload. Meanwhile, one in four respondents to a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development survey reported that long hours had made them stressed or even depressed.

A recent article in the magazine Personnel Today recommends drawing up a 'budget' for an ideal week, allocating time for all the necessary elements such as work, leisure and family, partner, maintenance (house, garden, car) and study.

It urges setting aside 20 minutes at the start of each week to review diaries and bring them up to date - incorporating weekly targets, key priorities, deadlines and appointments: 'Draw up daily task sheets listing everything you must achieve and structure each day into blocks of activity, grouping phone calls, dealing with queries, reading or responding to emails, ' it says.

It also suggests taking five minutes at the end of each day to run through the next day's schedule.

Recognising where delegation is possible is a critical part of increasing effi ciency and achieving a good work/life balance. Done well, dele ation means you can offer guidance while attending to other more important duties.

While a growing number of employers recognise flexible and home-working can be good for business as well as employee morale, such arrangements are not always practicable in the civil engineering environment. But it is still worth looking into the possibility of working from home on a regular basis, which would at least give temporary respite from a stressful commute and wearing office politics.

Looking after your health is an essential component of achieving a work/life balance; maintaining a good frame of mind is important, as is being able to switch off.

Developing interests that are not related to work can help: 'These need to be sufficiently compelling to distract you from the daily grind, ' says Jenny Lanyon, senior operations manager at health and well-being consultancy PPC.

Lanyon urges workers to maintain clear boundaries between work and other aspects of their life: 'Set a time at which you will leave work every day. If you need to work late, plan for it, and ensure that you set boundaries - for instance: 'I will leave work no later than 7pm tonight'.'

If you only do five things to improve you work/life balance, Personnel Today recommends:

Taking regular breaks and making sure full holiday entitlement is used.

Understanding the distinction between urgent and important.

Delegating whenever possible.

Learning how to say 'no'.

Get a good night's sleep.

Mental attitude is as significant as external factors when it comes to achieving a good work/life balance. Worrying about every little problem generates a 'fight or fl ight' response in the body, and this makes it more difficult to deal with everyday life.

More information: www. stress. org. uk www. personneltoday. com Balancing Work & Life by Robert Holden and Ben Renshaw (Dorling Kindersley, £4.99, ISBN 07513 33654).

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