How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance Today
Often, work takes precedence over everything else in our lives. Our desire to succeed professionally can push us to set aside our own well-being. Creating a harmonious work-life balance or work-life integration is critical, though, to improve not only our physical, emotional and mental well-being, but it’s also important for our career.
In short, work-life balance is the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life. Some of the common reasons that lead to a poor work-life balance include:
A good work-life balance, said Chris Chancey, career expert and CEO of Amplio Recruiting, has numerous positive effects, including less stress, a lower risk of burnout and a greater sense of well-being. This not only benefits employees but employers, too.
“Employers who are committed to providing environments that support work-life balance for their employees can save on costs, experience fewer cases of absenteeism, and enjoy a more loyal and productive workforce,” said Chancey. Employers that offer options as telecommuting or flexible work schedules can help employees have a better work-life balance.
When creating a schedule that works for you, think about the best way to achieve balance at work and in your personal life. Chancey said that work-life balance is less about dividing the hours in your day evenly between work and personal life and, instead, is more about having the flexibility to get things done in your professional life while still having time and energy to enjoy your personal life. There may be some days where you work longer hours so you have time later in the week to enjoy other activities.
1. Accept that there is no ‘perfect’ work-life balance.
When you hear “work-life balance,” you probably imagine having an extremely productive day at work, and leaving early to spend the other half of the day with friends and family. While this may seem ideal, it is not always possible.
Don’t strive for the perfect schedule; strive for a realistic one. Some days, you might focus more on work, while other days you might have more time and energy to pursue your hobbies or spend time with your loved ones. Balance is achieved over time, not each day.
“It is important to remain fluid and constantly assess where you are [versus] your goals and priorities,” said Heather Monahan, founder of the career mentoring group, #BossinHeels. “At times, your children may need you, and other times, you may need to travel for work, but allowing yourself to remain open to redirecting and assessing your needs on any day is key in finding balance.”
2. Find a job that you love.
Although work is an expected societal norm, your career shouldn’t be restraining. If you hate what you do, you aren’t going to be happy, plain and simple. You don’t need to love every aspect of your job, but it needs to be exciting enough that you don’t dread getting out of bed every morning.
Monahan recommended finding a job that you are so passionate about you would do it for free. “If your job is draining you, and you are finding it difficult to do the things you love outside of work, something is wrong,” said Monahan. “You may be working in a toxic environment, for a toxic person, or doing a job that you truly don’t love. If this is the case, it is time to find a new job.”
3. Prioritize your health.
Your overall physical, emotional and mental health should be your main concern. If you struggle with anxiety or depression and think therapy would benefit you, fit those sessions into your schedule, even if you have to leave work early or ditch your evening spin class. If you are battling a chronic illness, don’t be afraid to call in sick on rough days. Overworking yourself prevents you from getting better, possibly causing you to take more days off in the future.
“Prioritizing your health first and foremost will make you a better employee and person,” said Monahan. “You will miss less work, and when you are there, you will be happier and more productive.”
4. Don’t be afraid to unplug.
Cutting ties with the outside world from time to time allows us to recover from weekly stress and gives us space for other thoughts and ideas to emerge. Unplugging can mean something simple like practicing transit meditation on your daily commute, instead of checking work emails.
5. Take a vacation.
Sometimes, truly unplugging means taking vacation time and shutting work completely off for a while. Whether your vacation consists of a one-day staycation or a two-week trip to Bali, it’s important to take time off to physically and mentally recharge.
According to the State of American Vacation 2018 study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, 52% of employees reported having unused vacation days left over at the end of the year. Employees are often worried that taking time off will disrupt the workflow, and they will be met with a backlog of work when they return. This fear should not restrict you from taking a much-needed break.
The rise of the flexible workplace
Those who do maintain a successful balance between their often point to their flexible work schedules. Recent research found that in the past seven years, many employers have allowed workers greater flexibility both with their schedule and where they work.
“It is clear that employers continue to struggle with fewer resources for benefits that incur a direct cost,” said Ken Matos, lead researcher and senior director of employment research and practice at the nonprofit research organization Families and Work Institute. “However, they have made it a priority to grant employees access to a wider variety of benefits that fit their individual and family needs and that improve their health and well-being.”
Flexibility can pay off for employers in the long run. “As we look ahead, it is clear that in order to remain competitive, employers must find ways to offer flexible work options if they want to attract and retain top talent,” said Hank Jackson, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.
“Work-life balance will mean different things to different people because, after all, we all have different life commitments,” said Chancey. “In our always-on world, balance is a very personal thing, and only you can decide the lifestyle that suits you best.”
Enjoyment and passion
When women did more than 10 hours of housework a week, they felt more pressed for time and in turn more depressed. But when men did the same amount of housework, they didn’t. A similar pattern appeared for volunteering: Men who volunteered more were less depressed, but women got time stressed and didn’t seem to experience as much benefit.
The explanation that the researchers came up with, bolstered by people’s accounts of how they spent their time, was that men tend to do more enjoyable housework and volunteering. They cut the grass and coach soccer teams; they get into flow and feel a sense of accomplishment. Women, on the other hand, are often occupied with small, repetitive daily chores and service work: less cheering and high-fiving and more trying not to fall asleep at school meetings.
Unsurprisingly, a day packed with somewhat engaging activities feels less busy and stressful than a day of drudgery. If time flies (in a good way) when you’re having fun, it also seems to fly (in a bad way) when you’re not. This subjective element might have created more of a sense of time pressure in women who participated in the study, even if men’s activities equaled or exceeded theirs in hours.
A similar effect takes place at work. In one study, researchers surveyed more than 2,500 employees at a technology company and a financial services company. They found that people who are more passionate, who aspire to do things that matter to them at work, aren’t as rushed and harried as others.
If you feel short on time, you might simply not be enjoying the activities that fill up your schedule. Life can be like that sometimes, but if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, it might help to add one more thing to your day—something that keeps you engaged.
They found a clue when they asked employees about how conflicted or aligned their goals were. Employees lacking in passion said that their goals were competing with each other, fighting for time and attention; for example, the drive to do well at work might make it hard to get home for dinner with the family. But passionate employees were different: They saw their goals as supporting each other. After all, healthy home cooking and family bonding might give them more energy and motivation tomorrow.
Gift of Time
So, time pressure isn’t just about how enjoyable our activities are, but also how well they fit together in our heads. One study found that people who simply think about conflicting goals—like saving money vs. buying nice things, or being healthy vs. eating tasty foods—feel more stressed and anxious, and in turn shorter on time.
Knox College professor Tim Kasser, an expert on materialism who coauthored a seminal paper on time scarcity, once joked, “If every research project that I’m currently working on right now was a cat living in my house, it would be very clear that I had a problem.” If your to-do list feels like a herd of hungry felines, all in competition for your one can of food, it’s no wonder you’re overwhelmed.
While we may freely choose some tasks on our plate, others are largely the product of our society or culture, says Australian National University professor Lyndall Strazdins, who has spent the last decade trying to show how time scarcity matters for individual and public health. For example, being a good suburban mom today seems to include chauffeuring your kids around the neighborhood to countless sports and hobbies.
“If you don’t do that, then you feel you’re not living up to one set of norms, but if you don’t do [something else], you’re also not living up to another set of norms,” says Strazdins. “You’ve got 24 hours…and you get to a point where you just can’t expand your day.” If you feel a lot of inner conflict about a task, then you might consider just letting it go.