Work-life balance is something most people strive for. Essentially, it’s about having enough time to do your job well, and sufficient time outside work for family and personal pursuits. The goal is to feel fully engaged in all parts of your life.
Despite widespread agreement that it’s a good thing, achieving work-life balance can be a struggle for most people. Work demands can be variable, especially in business sectors that have hard deadlines. Family obligations change as children are born or health concerns need attention.
The line between work and home life can quickly blur, causing overwhelming pressure and leading to burnout. Even if employers do their best to promote work-life balance for their employees, it may not be enough. In the end, it’s helpful to know how to manage your own time and stress response. Here are a few of the best ways to find more balance.
Seek a sense of purpose
Take some time to consider why you do the work you do. Where do you find gratification in your job? It’s not uncommon for people to stay in a job long after they’ve outgrown it. Perhaps the day-to-day responsibilities have steadily increased or somehow changed since you started. Maybe you’ve achieved all you can in the position and it’s no longer intellectually challenging.
Over a lifetime, an enormous number of hours are spent working. Getting in touch with the sense of fulfillment your position provides can help you assess whether it’s time to find another opportunity.
Set a schedule
Setting a schedule may seem easy enough. Having said that, it can be incredibly difficult to stay with. Certainly, you may be caught up in an exciting project and not notice the time, or underestimate how long it takes to finish something. We all have weak spots when it comes to time management.
A few tips can help with this. One is to pad your schedule a bit by adding extra time for tasks, allotting a bit more than you think you need. Another is to set aside designated time to respond to phone and email messages. You could also divide your day into blocks of time for different purposes. For instance, you might divide your time into focus blocks, where you concentrate on high-level or creative work; admin blocks, or shorter periods where you take care of routine business; social blocks for meeting and engaging with others; and recovery blocks for exercise and other self-care. Separating your day like this can help you avoid multi-tasking, which reduces your productivity.
Stick to your strengths
Sticking to your strengths has several aspects to it. When scheduling your work day, it means making sure you play to your strengths at particular times of the day. For example, if you’re better at completing paperwork first thing in the morning, plan accordingly. Many people feel more creative and inspired in the mornings. If that describes you, plan to do any creative or higher-level work then.
Keeping to your strengths also involves knowing your natural competencies and where you have to work harder. Be strategic and do what you’re best at within your job responsibilities. Then, find assistance where required. If you’re a manager, this means surrounding yourself with people with the skillsets you lack and not being afraid to delegate work.
Say no more often
Few of us are inclined to refuse someone when they ask for support. Furthermore, it’s hard to turn down a chance to participate in an exciting new project. However, if you keep saying yes to more and more demands, it won’t be long before you have to say no to something you really want to do—either that, or take back a commitment that you’ve already made. Saying no doesn’t feel good sometimes, but it’s an essential lesson to learn when it comes to work-life balance.
Stop the clock
Realize that your work day has to end sometime. Granted, depending on your job, you may have to stay late occasionally or take important after-hours calls. Having said that, decide where you have control and make sure you shift from working to enjoying life outside work at some point every day.
When you set reasonable expectations for yourself it signals to others when you’re available and when you’re not, and your colleagues will be more likely to respect your time. In addition, even if you’re not in a leadership role, you’re setting a healthy example for others.
Stopping the clock can be difficult when working from home, as so many people are doing right now due to covid-19. Work and personal life can blur together when both happen in the same physical space. To create barriers between work and personal time when you’re working from home, make sure you have a dedicated workspace, change into work-appropriate attire, and create a schedule and stick to it.
Keep in mind that work-life balance is a goal—something to aim for, not necessarily a state you can always exist in. Nor does the concept refer to a precise 50-50 balance between work and your personal life.
Don’t beat yourself up if you feel balance is elusive. Accept that sometimes you may have to put in a 12-hour day, or take a call late at night, or skip something important at work for a family commitment. At certain times in life, you may have to accept that work-life balance is at least temporarily impossible to achieve, and not even desirable. For instance, we have parental leave because we acknowledge that a new parent should not have to work and care for a newborn.
What’s more important is that you are prioritizing your work and personal commitments in such a way that you feel content overall. You may not always be able to achieve balance, but you can reach a place where you feel happy about both sides of your life.