COVID-19 may have slowed things down, but our guess is that it won’t ultimately change our lifestyles. In spite of all of our technological advances, our lives are more hectic than they ever have been and there’s no real signs things are about to change.
We spend less time with family, less time socializing, and less time unwinding than any other time in history.We all say we want a better work-life balance. But it’s such a challenge to get off the hamster wheel that few of us succeed. Even when we start taking steps to enjoy a better quality of life, it can feel like society reminds us that only working harder, faster and longer is acceptable if you want to be considered successful.
So, how do we manage all of our obligations and still enjoy life? That’s what we are going to cover here. First of all, it’s important to understand why a work-life balance is vital to our happiness and health. Once we get a better understanding of just how much harm we do to ourselves by pushing through on a consistent basis, it will be easier to make the changes we need to make to balance our lives.
And there will need to be changes made. It’s impossible to wake up one morning and decide today’s the day we get it together. We’ll leave work on time, have dinner with the family, and get to bed at a reasonable time. We’ve all tried this before, right? But until we change our actions, we will continue to stay in the same stressed-out place, just trying to keep all of our spinning plates in the air.
In this Positivity Guide, you will find practical tips to help you be successful at balancing your work and life with more ease. You’ll also learn the signs to look for to know when your life is imbalanced, so you can make the necessary changes to get it back on track. With all this great information awaiting us, let’s get started balancing our lives.
What is Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance isn’t a new term, but it’s being bantered around now more than ever. People are waking up to the fact that life is too short to be working it away. Even large companies are noticing the benefits, not only to their employees but to their outcomes, when they encourage a better life balance. Wellness programs are becoming more prevalent and acceptable as we see research studies consistently telling us that work-life balance is imperative if we want to remain happy, healthy, and productive members of society.
A work-life balance just means that there is an equilibrium between the amount of time we spend working for pay and time spent living life in meaningful ways. For so many years, workaholic-ism seemed a social status that many of us strived to achieve. Now we realize the negative influences of that lifestyle. Do we spend enough time unwinding from the day? Or do we occasionally take a day off and feel guilty the entire time? Maybe we only feel comfortably relaxed when we are on vacation? And yet, even then we answer work phone calls, texts and emails, somehow believing if we don’t, the business will fall apart.
We aren’t insinuating that work isn’t an important part of our lives. It is. Not only does work give us the means to live in the style we wish, but it also provides us with social interaction and a sense of fulfillment. But when it starts to take over our identity, and we lose touch with our spouse, children, and friends, something is going to give. So it’s each of our individual choices—what will it be?
Don’t be fooled into believing that if you don’t make a conscious choice, you aren’t choosing. You are. Do you desire to be an employee of the year or dad of the year?
What Does Work-Life Balance Really Mean?
The truth is, no one can answer this for anyone but themselves. It’s an internal truth that we all must figure out for ourselves. If we feel overburdened by everything we have to do, either at work or home or both, it’s time to make a shift. We need to enjoy the only life we have.
Our goal should be to find and maintain a balanced, healthy work and home life. The residual outcome of this balance is feeling content with the amount of time you spend working and living your life. If you work so many hours a week and then come home only to take care of chores around the house before falling into bed, you aren’t experiencing a healthy work or home life balance.
Work-Life Balance Myths
We’ve alluded to this before, but it’s important to outline three major myths about creating a work-life balance.
- You should split your time 50-50
Attempting this will only cause more frustration and stress. If you try to allow an equal amount of time to work and lifestyle, you’ll end up adding more activities to your list. Balancing life for most people isn’t about adding more stuff. It’s about doing less, but enjoying each thing more fully and completely.
- Your balance should look like everyone else’s
When we try to live our lives as others do, we fall into the same trap that we are trying to escape. It isn’t balanced if it doesn’t feel right to you. So what if your neighbor feels happy working 60 hours a week and you don’t? And by the way, he probably doesn’t feel great about that—he just says he does. Instead, find what works for you. The only person you must please is yourself. Once that is done, everything else will fall into place.
- Your balance will always be the same
As our roles in life change, so will our balancing act. It’s normal to need to adjust our work schedules and the amount of time we spend at home during different phases of our lives. For example, when your company hits its busy season, you can expect to work more hours or be on call more often. That’s doable short-term and expected for almost every job. Or when you get a promotion, change jobs, get married, have a baby—all of those big life events will necessitate a shift to maintain balance. Expecting this will take the stress out of the equation.
No matter where you are starting out, creating a work-life balance will take some time. As life naturally ebbs and flows, you will need to move with it to stay stable. Give yourself some time to make the changes suggested later in the book. It won’t happen all in one day, and for certain there will need to be slight adjustments made frequently. Imagine an old-fashioned scale. Any slight change in the weight on one side will naturally require a rebalancing of the scale. Life balance is the same. It’s not a one-time fix, but a consistent commitment to your health and happiness.
Now, let’s take a close look at why it’s so important to make this commitment to yourself.
The Problem with Imbalance
In this day and age of stress and exhaustion as a lifestyle, we would be wise to look at the long-term effects of this choice. The lack of balance in our lives has a lasting effect on our health and happiness, and can even shorten our lives.
The Cost of an Imbalanced Life
Doctors are prescribing medication to treat depression or anxiety and to help sleep at an alarming rate in the 21st century. It’s not uncommon for both parents and children in a household to be on these medications. Constant stress and overwhelm build up in our bodies and lead us to behave in ways that cause even more stress and worry.
Medical research proves that working more than 55 hours a week consistently raises our risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and a host of other chronic illnesses. Overwork leads us to sleep less, exercise less, sit more, and develop unhealthy eating patterns that exacerbate these illnesses.
Divorce and domestic violence are at all-time highs and show no signs of slowing down. When we work long hours, we find ourselves not being present when we are home. A lack of parental guidance is raising delinquency rates among children and teens, as family time becomes nearly extinct.
It’s impossible to feel energized and enthusiastic about life when you exist on little sleep and vending machine food. Our minds and bodies weren’t made to keep up the pace that we currently demand of ourselves. When our lives become one long line of, go to work, go home, eat, shower and go to bed, day after day, our enjoyment of life gets lost.
Just as with a lack of fulfillment, our productivity decreases when we continually push ourselves to work longer and harder. Studies show that we are more productive when we take frequent breaks and take time off. When we are mentally and physically exhausted, our creative mind shuts down, which means we stop working smart. We make silly mistakes we normally wouldn’t make, and we fly off the handle over the tiniest issue. Working more hours doesn’t necessarily mean accomplishing more.
Don’t get us wrong. Hard work is a good thing. But so are boundaries and balance. We need to encourage all of these, in our lives and the lives of others.
Signs Your Work-Life Balance Is Off
Many people have bought into the fallacy that they can have it all. But after a while, something has to give. Have you implemented this belief system into your life? Answer the questions below to find out if your work-life balance could use some rebalancing.
Work too many hours
It’s the easiest way to determine your current work-life balance. Scientific studies tell us that working more than 55 hours a week consistently puts us at risk for immune deficiencies, lower productivity, and higher stress levels. Working occasional longer hours is appropriate and often necessary. But take a look at your overall work schedule. Don’t forget to count all the time that you aren’t at work, but still answering emails and taking client phone calls.
Fall asleep on the job
Mental and physical exhaustion caused by overwork and high-stress levels leads to fatigue and the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation. Do you need cup after cup of coffee or energy drinks just to function at work? How often is this necessary? If you feel you can barely remain awake or focused at work, your work has taken over your life.
Lack a social life
Think back over the last few months. How many times have you seen friends, gone on a date or enjoyed alone time with your significant other? How often do you cancel plans due to work obligations or from being too exhausted to care about going out with friends, even when you’d been looking forward to the event? If you can’t remember the last time you spent time laughing with someone you love, you need to take a close look at your work-life balance.
Avoid taking time off
Even though we are busier now than ever, we are taking less time off than ever before. Our employers give us sick and vacation time because we work best for them when we are rested and healthy. But too many of us leave those days on the table, believing it’s a sign of weakness to need a break. Unfortunately, history tells us that we will eventually be forced to take those days when we crack under pressure, either mentally or physically.
Think about work when you are home
Even when you are meant to be enjoying yourself, do you find yourself worrying about that looming deadline or the unhappy client you need to appease? When we can’t seem to turn our work mind off, we should see it as a red flag that something is out of whack. Again, if this is occasional, it’s not a problem. It is, however, when it’s a daily event.
Fight with your family
If you are constantly frazzled and exhausted, it’s likely you spend time with your family in a way that is more harmful than beneficial. When we are under too much emotional pressure, it’s easy to overact to simple mistakes or misunderstandings that normally we wouldn’t even notice. If you find yourself always irritated with your spouse or children or there’s always someone you are fighting with, the chances are good that you need to take a step back to look at your priorities.
Live in overwhelm
When our brains are overwhelmed with to-do lists and other obligations, we feel like there’s no escape. We can’t make wise decisions, and we overlook important details that cause even more stress and concern. If you feel like you can’t think straight on a daily basis and see no end in sight, it’s time to give yourself some time off to reconsider your priorities.
Inability to sleep or stay asleep
Does it take you forever to fall asleep? Or maybe you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about work and can’t get back to sleep. When work is often interrupting our sleep, it’s a red flag that it’s taking over our lives. During times of stress, we need to sleep more than ever. If worrying about work issues are causing you to lose sleep, you need to take it seriously.
Lack of healthy habits
Always too tired to go to the gym or even walk the dog? Your digestion system doesn’t know what to do when it encounters green veg? The only downtime you have is when you fall asleep on the couch with the TV still on? Healthy habits are unfortunately the first things we throw out the window when life gets hectic. We often learn too late that these healthy habits were making it possible to work and live effectively. If you can’t remember the last time you did something healthy for your body, stop and reflect on what that could do to your health long-term.
If a few of these or even all of them sound all too familiar, don’t despair! There are steps you can take to simplifying your life to bring balance back. The first step is to recognize that you are bordering on burnout and making a conscious choice to change it now.
Congratulations! You’ve learned that you need to balance your life and understand what can happen if you don’t. That’s a major step towards changing your life for the better!
Now the next step is to begin implementing small, consistent changes that will bring you into better balance. Choose a few of these strategies and work them into your life until you feel confident with your ability to make them happen on a regular basis. Then come back and add in some more.
Determine Your Priorities
You may do this regularly for your goals, but what about your life? When we get caught up in the minutia of daily life, we lose sight of what we miss out on when we aren’t paying attention. John Lennon nailed this concept when he sang, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Isn’t it time you made time for the things that you value most in your life? The answer should be yes!
Start by making a list of the things you wish you had more time to do. The list should include the people in your life and the things you’d like to do with them. Would you like to spend more time with your significant other and children? Have you always wanted to learn a new language or learn to paint? No matter how trivial it may seem to others, write them down. Then, put them in order of importance. This list is your table of priorities, and it shows you where you need to start making the necessary changes to have a happy, balanced life.
Track Your Time
How often do you notice that it’s almost quitting time and you haven’t gotten much accomplished? It’s frustrating, but it’s also an easy way to talk yourself into staying at work longer to get everything done. Sometimes we try to make everything perfect, which means we never get any task finished. If we are honest with ourselves, this is a delay or procrastination tactic.
Use one of the time tracking apps or extensions available online to see where your time goes. Or use a simple kitchen timer to remind you to stay on task. You can even make it into a game to see how much you can get done before the timer goes off. You can do this at home. Set the oven timer to keep yourself focused on housework or chores you don’t want to drag out.
Manage Your Time
Start by making a list of the things at work and at home that you don’t enjoy doing or the ones you feel aren’t in your wheelhouse. Once you’ve made this list look at each task individually and figure out a way to deal with it more effectively. You may decide to outsource or delegate some to a family member. Can some errands be run all at once so that you don’t waste time? At work, you may be able to assign a task to an employee under your supervision who doesn’t find that task a total pain and who will do it more efficiently than you. And, who knows? You may even find some tasks that don’t need doing at all. We are great at creating busy work for ourselves.
For example, let’s say you hate washing the car. Ask yourself how important that chore is to you. Is it just a habit? Maybe your parents washed their car every week, and so that’s what you’ve always done. Or, perhaps it is important for you to have a clean car. If so, that’s fine, but maybe chose to run it through the car wash or hire a neighborhood kid to do it for you. You will be amazed how many chores we do that can easily be knocked off the list or hired out.
Practice Saying No
We hate to let people down, so we frequently agree to take something on when the thought makes us want to hide. We say yes automatically in our home life as well as at work. No matter who is asking, don’t say yes immediately. Tell them you need to check your schedule and get back to them. The extra time will give you a chance to think about the commitment. Is it something you’d enjoy doing? Is it important to you? Or is it one more thing to add to your ever-growing to-do list. If you decide you can handle the commitment, let the person know. By delaying the answer a day, you are less likely to take on a task you won’t enjoy, or you feel is unimportant. It’s also easier to say no after the fact, especially if you can call, email, or text the person.
Keep Work at Work
With our smartphones always within reach, we find it almost irresistible not to check it when it chimes with a notification. We’ve become so trained to respond immediately to the interruption that we don’t consider if it’s how we want to spend our downtime. When you are at work, keep focused and give your employer your best. And when you are at home, avoid responding to work email, texts, or calls. If you have a coworker who frequently stays late at work and emails you while you are at home, let them know that you don’t deal with work details while at home. Set up the expectation that you deserve and take your downtime seriously.
Did you know that when we are interrupted when working on a task, it takes us two or three times the amount of time to get back into the groove to complete the task? Most of us work best when we can focus on one task for up to 90 minutes at a time.
To make the most of those minutes, turn on your phone message, shut down email, and hang a do not disturb sign on your door to make sure you get the uninterrupted time you need. You might email the people you supervise to let them know you’ll be unavailable that day at a particular time and ask that they bring things to your attention either before or after. Let your family know you won’t be answering calls or texts because you’re concentrating on a particular task or activity. When handled lovingly, this is all more than appropriate. Your coworkers and family will get used to this after a while.
Schedule “You” Time
It can be a real challenge, but self-care is vital to our health and wellbeing. Start small—schedule a coffee with a friend after work or set aside time to read in a bubble bath for 30 minutes a week. Once you begin doing this even on a small scale for a short time, you’ll notice the unbelievable benefits to your mental health. Your mood will improve, and you’ll feel more up to the challenge when stressful situations do arise. When you feel ready, extend that time or give yourself a couple of fun activities to look forward to each week. The rejuvenation you experience when you do this will be well worth the actual time it takes.
Ask For What You Need
Granted, this is easier said than done, but it’s essential for a good work-life balance. We are so used to being interrupted because of technology that we habitually give in to temptation and allow ourselves the disruption. Whether at home or work, let those around you know when you can’t be disturbed. Don’t get angry and fly off the handle at them. Instead, inform them when you need uninterrupted time to complete a project on time or when you merely need some peace after a long day.
Limit email Access
Every productivity guru on the planet tells us not to check our email first thing in the morning or the last thing at night. They also warn us only to check it a couple of times a day. Most of us are guilty of ignoring them and to our peril. We waste precious time skimming unimportant emails only to do nothing with them. That means we have to go back in later and respond. Limiting how often we check our email accounts, both professional and personal, helps us focus on the important projects we need to work on now. When we set aside 30 minutes a couple of times a day to deal with email, we are more efficient, and that gives us more free time to relax.
If we’re busy and our stomachs are growling, instead of eating healthily we tend to grab whatever’s easy to keep us satisfied. That typically means living on fast food. When we follow a perpetually busy schedule, we fall into eating junk food with very little nutritional value more often than not. Keep your fridge and cupboards filled with healthy easy-to-grab snacks and meals. No time to shop? Take advantage of the online grocery delivery options available. When you know a busy schedule is coming up, which will happen even when you have a balanced life, order healthy food deliveries from restaurants or keep a standing order and pick up the meals on your way home. A diet of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats helps your body handle stress more easily and makes it easier for you to sustain a hectic time when necessary.
We are encouraging you not to add more activities and busyness to your life, but starting a yoga practice can help you feel energized and balanced. In fact, that is what yoga is all about—balancing and uniting the mind and body. Even a 10 minute morning practice can make a big difference in your outlook.
Get Enough Sleep
The average amount of sleep people got a hundred years ago was nine hours. Now it’s seven. But that doesn’t mean we need less sleep we used to. When our stress increases, our need for sleep goes up as well. Our body and mind need time to rejuvenate, which is why we need to sleep in the first place. Keeping your rest schedule at a premium will ensure you can make the best choices for your personal life as well as at work.
Schedule Recurring Downtime
To get into the habit of leaving work on time, find an event you’d enjoy that meets every week on the same day at the same time. By doing this, you’ll get used to shutting down for the day at a reasonable hour. Then it will gradually become easier to do the same other nights of the week as well.
Make a Pact
Talk to some of your coworkers and make a pact to help each other out when family or other life events conflict with work. Just knowing that this is in place and that someone has your back if an unexpected clash comes up will help you work in a more relaxed way. Do the same in your personal life too. Ask friends and other family members if they’d be able to help out if your child is sick. Would they let your dog out when you have to stay late at work or travel on the odd occasion? It makes us feel good when we can genuinely help out others too, so the situation will be a win-win even if it’s not something that comes up often.
Keep in Touch
It’s so easy to put off getting together with friends. Perhaps it just never seems like a good time to spend time that way. After all, you are both busy and time is needed at home when you aren’t both at work. But having a support system is vital to a healthy work-life balance. We all need friends to make our lives feel fulfilling. Find ways to get together with friends on a regular basis. You might plan a monthly lunch during the weekday or join a class together that meets once a week after work. It may feel odd to have to schedule in friendship, but you won’t always have to do that. Once you see it as a priority, it will become easier to make the time to do it without needing a prompt.
Take Frequent Breaks
You work through your lunch scoffing down whatever junk food you could find in the vending machine, and the only breaks you take are to hurry to the bathroom and back. Does this sound healthy? What would you tell your friend who was working this way? Our brains are only meant to focus for up to 90 minutes at a time. After that, we start making more mistakes and poor choices. We don’t retain what we learn, and we aren’t as productive, even though we are “working” at our desks.
One way to implement frequent breaks is by implementing the Pomodoro Technique. This technique is a way to make sure you are being your most productive by keeping track of when you work and reminding you when to take a break. The basis is scientific evidence that says we work best in 25-minute bursts, with 5-minute breaks in between bursts. You can find different apps and extensions to make this simple to implement.
Become Deliberately Oblivious
Technology is a wonderful thing, and we can use it to streamline our responsibilities and work duties so that we can live a happier life. But it’s a double-edged sword. We spend a lot of time being busy without really accomplishing much. That happens at work as well as at home. As you track your time, pay attention to how many times a day you do things like check email, see what your friends are up to on Facebook, or read memos that don’t have any importance to your current job. Or maybe you stay up too late staring at the TV or playing games online, so you never get the sleep you need.
Decide now that you are going to be in control of the amount and type of information you receive daily. Unsubscribe from email lists that just clog up your inbox. Un-follow social media groups that are no longer applicable. Request to be taken off email groups at work which are no longer relevant. Turn off the TV, take a break from reading the news flashes that auto-send to your email. There are a hundred little ways we waste precious time each day, and they are unnecessary. You can start taking back your time by reducing the amount of information that continually bombards you.
Decide to get proactive on working smarter by setting aside the last 20 minutes of work time to organize your files. Put things that you’ve used during the day back in their correct spot and plan for the next day. Spending your time like this is wise—it’s the least productive time of the day, and it will ensure you are ready to get to work immediately as soon as you get to the office tomorrow. You’ll also not waste time looking for things because you haven’t put them back where they belong. Don’t forget to do this with online files as well. Working smart will help your productivity so that it’s unnecessary to stay late to get everything done.
Enjoy Simple Fun
You don’t have to have a big fancy date night planned to have a good time. You don’t need to wait until you take the kids to the amusement park to spend quality time together. It’s much easier to fit fun time in when your expectations aren’t so high. If you wait until you have a long weekend to get away with your significant other, you may be waiting a while. Instead, take a bike ride together after work, have a picnic lunch during the week, or order in your favorite meal and enjoy snuggling on the couch watching your favorite movie. Heck, you can do all of those things with your kids too. The things we remember most are the daily events that made us feel loved and secure. Make memories whenever you can instead of putting it off so you can “do it big” sometime in the future. It may never happen.
Be Aware of Non-Paying Work
Just because you are at home doesn’t mean you aren’t working. There seems always to be projects and chores around the house that need attention. Do you spend all of your time at home dealing with chores and obligations? That can easily happen to all of us. Paying bills, maintaining our homes and running errands can eat up our time at home very quickly. Stay aware of the encroachment of housework even though you have gotten the hang of getting out of the office on time. If you are still overwhelmed with what feels like work to you, consider hiring someone to clean your gutters, mow your lawn, and complete handyman chores around the house so you can free up your time to live your life.
If you’ve been waiting until this next big project is finished to turn over a new leaf for your work-life balance, we ask you to reconsider. Take another look at the tips and strategies above and find one that you can implement today and start now. You don’t need to make huge changes all at once. In fact, that’s much harder to sustain, which can lead to you giving up because it’s just not working for you. Decide one way you will be kinder to yourself by making your quality of life better right now.
The only way to ensure you create a better work-life balance is by making it a priority. Otherwise, it’s going to be something that you only talk about, but feels unattainable. We can all make small shifts to make our lives more balanced, and when we do, we see the benefits immediately. Who wouldn’t want a happier, healthier life?
Remember, your definition of balance is different from everyone else’s, and that’s okay. That’s the way it’s meant to be. None of us can tell someone else what they need to do to live a healthy work-life balance. We are all different—we have different goals, priorities, life experiences, and desires. So whatever you decide balance looks like for you, own it and put it into place. And don’t let anyone tell you it’s not “right.”
You also will want to keep in mind that once you recognize and create your perfect balance, the game isn’t over. Maintaining a work-life balance will be something you need to keep in mind consistently—it’s easy to fall out of a healthy habit when life or work gets busy. Making adjustments to account for short-term and long-term circumstances is a smart thing to do. Needing to make adjustments here and there doesn’t mean you’ve failed, but rather, that balance is important enough for you to recognize when things aren’t quite right and to take action to correct the course.
Even if you’ve talked about wanting a work-life balance many times, it’s never too late to start. Lowering your stress level and inviting more fun into your life will benefit you now and in the future. You’ll enjoy life more, and you will lower your risk of having some of the most common diseases of modern life. Taking this first step of learning more about a healthy work-life balance should be applauded. Now you have the tools you need to get started creating a work-life balance that will sustain you for a lifetime.