Work tipping the scales as life loses out

IT IS one of the toughest challenges of life in the early 21st century: how to balance long working hours with making time for family and friends, while trying to achieve your dreams.

And the latest report into the issue shows people are finding it as hard as ever to make the time to fit everything in.

More than half the UK adult population feel they are neglecting their health, close relationships and aspirations because of the pressures of modern life.

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Despite the recession officially ending late last year, the second annual Priorities of Life Index by Scottish Widows reveals that about seven out of ten British adults (71 per cent, or 35 million people) are finding it an uphill struggle to devote enough time to their priorities in life.

Health is the most neglected area, with 45 per cent of people complaining they are unable to get as much exercise as they need, the same figure as last year. Nearly four in ten people (38 per cent) feel they are neglecting their health in general.

Financial pressures are as keenly felt as last year, according to more than 2,000 adults interviewed for the poll.

The results suggested about 18 million people are unable to save enough (38 per cent in 2011, against 39 per cent in 2010's survey) while a similar number (35 per cent) worry they are neglecting their overall financial security as the economic downturn continues to stifle the economy.

Even something as basic as having fun appears to be proving hard to fit in, with 44 per cent of respondents saying they just did not have enough time to factor in some laughs - no improvement on last year's figure.

The index also sees 19 million people admitting they feel unable to commit enough time to their partners, 31 per cent keen to have more time with their friends, and more than ten million parents and grandparents worried they are not making enough time for their children or grandchildren.

Top of the "wish list" was wanting to spend time with family and friends - cited by 31 per cent of people, up from 28 per cent last year. To "just have time to myself" came second at 13 per cent.

By contrast, only 2 per cent of those interviewed said "having more time to focus on my career" was a priority.

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• Case study: 'You have to work hard, but be strict with your time'

Christine Webber, a psychotherapist and life coach, said taking control was a vital part of rebalancing priorities.

She said: "There have been recessions in the past but between the 1970s and boomtown of the Noughties, Britain changed to having the longest working hours in Europe. Unfortunately this culture has carried on during the current global recession.

"People may be in jobs working colossally long hours but don't want to complain. I think they just have to have a dose of realism and regard this as being the way things are at the moment, while at the same time taking control over other areas of their lives.

"Most people know where there are deficiencies in their lives, they know that they have to be doing the opposite of what they are doing.

"In order to have some control they need to say, 'Right, I'm going to look at my life where it is now'. If their life consists of an inactive lifestyle such driving to work, sitting down at work and then driving home again without seeing anyone, they could consider some changes such as sharing supper with friends to get some support or getting up half an hour earlier in the morning to take some exercise."And she added: "In times of trouble we need to look at the real basics and think about how human beings are meant to live.

"A lot of things like having people around you for support and eating healthy food have been lost in this so-called sophisticated era."

Iain McGowan, a savings expert at Scottish Widows, said a "financial audit" could help give peace of mind.

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"We remain in difficult times. Brits are still unable to give their health, wealth or home life as much priority as they would like. Although it can seem daunting, taking the first steps towards improving your financial outlook is vital in getting control over other areas of your life.

"These steps can be as simple as making the most of this year's Isa allowance or making sure your family is protected should something happen to you."

Stuart Valentine, chief executive of counselling group Relationships Scotland, said: "For the majority of people what really matters most is their partner, family and children. When these come into crisis that is when life falls apart. If there are problems in the home life, this will have some level of impact on their working life and vice versa.

"We always advise taking care and taking extra time for family and friends. This can be quite simple things such as a walk in the park, going for a coffee or going to the cinema together."

And he added: "The stresses of modern life are very real and it can be very helpful speaking to a counsellor, especially when subjects become 'no go' areas.

"These areas can be anything from friendships with the opposite sex, or a partner spending too much time on the internet."