With so many of us striving for success, we’re clocking in more hours at the office and neglecting our personal goals and general wellbeing, making it almost impossible for us to achieve a healthy work–life balance. The irony here, of course, is that working long hours on the regular tends to backfire, negatively impacting employee productivity and, subsequently, their employer.
If you’re wondering how you can turn things around and achieve a healthy balance in such a fast-paced and demanding world, or how you can separate your work life from your personal life, then you’ve come to the right place!
In broad terms, having a healthy work–life balance means not allowing work to “seep into” your personal life. It’s the practice of prioritizing and honoring what you do for a living just as much as your downtime, which includes your out-of-work interests, rest and relationships. You have to weigh up what's most important in life.
As such, there’s no universal or “magic number” of hours a person should spend on their various professional and personal activities. What feels good will vary from person to person — so it’s essential to be in tune with what you’re experiencing on an emotional, physical and mental level, and make adjustments based on that.
What can be said of work–life balance more generally, however, is that it has a direct impact on people’s overall happiness as well as their productivity during work hours.
The more emphasis you put on how you spend your time outside of work, maintaining hobbies, a social life and adequate time for rest, the better you can start performing in the workplace, too.
More specifically, with a good work–life balance:
- You feel healthier. Your mind and body have time to recharge after a hard day’s work, allowing you to feel more rested and reduce your sick days in the long run.
- You feel focused. This allows you to work better and faster, and come up with solutions to problems instead of becoming easily overwhelmed by them.
- You feel fulfilled. Having time for hobbies, family and friends means not relying exclusively on your job for how satisfied you feel in life.
- You preserve your close relationships. Time doesn’t flow backwards, so we should strive not to sacrifice all our time with the people who matter most.
- It’s easier to advance your career. When you’re rested and fulfilled, and you have a great support system, climbing up the career ladder gets easier.
Whether it’s in the short term in the form of tiredness, or in the long term in the form of declining health, an unhealthy work–life balance will catch up with you.
Here are 5 signs to look out for when assessing the quality of work–life balance you currently have.
One of the most obvious signs that a person’s lifestyle is off balance is how tired they feel. Although bouts of tiredness are perfectly common among working adults, persistent fatigue isn’t a normal response to day-to-day activities.
Another obvious sign of a poor work–life balance is increasing irritability. If little inconveniences are enough to totally throw you off, you might want to think about how much (or, rather, how little) you’ve been practicing self-care.
Rocky interpersonal relationships
If you hardly make time for your friends, parents, partner or children, it can create tension in your relationships. Even if your close ones haven’t outwardly complained yet about how absent you’ve been, they might be feeling hurt by it.
Lack of excitement in life
Even if your work is meaningful to you, your profession alone shouldn’t be bearing all the responsibility of keeping you happy and fulfilled. Stimulate and challenge yourself in different ways; variety has been called “the spice of life”, after all.
You can’t expect to be able to come up with innovative ideas or produce quality work at a consistent pace when your mind feels muddled from the stress and tiredness. Though it seems counterintuitive, taking breaks boosts your output.
To minimize stress and enjoy a better work–life balance, try the following 20 strategies and techniques:
1. Identify what’s important to you
The first step to take when striving for the perfect balance is to identify what is truly important to you. Whether it’s focusing on your wellbeing, taking up a new hobby or spending more time with family and friends, you must have a personal goal in sight.
As our lives are so busy, it’s often hard to dedicate enough time to the things that we truly want to do, and this is why it’s so important to identify and prioritize what is necessary for your personal happiness.
2. Pencil in downtime in your schedule
If you’re anything like me, you’re always on the go, trying to ensure that everything’s in order at work and at home, which usually ends up eating into your much-needed downtime. This not only results in extreme tiredness, but it also makes you feel stressed as you’re always rushing to tick tasks off your to-do lists.
Instead of spending every waking second doing some kind of work (be it housework or after-hours office tasks), bring back some kind of balance to your life by adding some downtime to your daily schedule. During these hours, do things that you really enjoy doing, and repeat this action until it becomes a habit. And if there’s nothing you necessarily want to do, just learn how to relax and switch off from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
3. Have set working hours
Whether you’re allowed to set your own working hours or they are non-negotiable, it’s important to stick to a routine. If you have a set schedule, be sure to stick to those exact hours without working overtime. Anything extra, and you’ll end up making mistakes and rushing work as you’ll be eager to get home, which is neither productive for yourself or the company.
Rather than burning the midnight oil and moving towards career stagnation, it’s important to close the book and pick it up again where you left off the following day. You should focus your time and attention on what you can control — and leaving work on time is one of those things.
4. Don’t take work home with you
While you need to have set working hours, it’s important to leave work where it is and not cave into doing any at home (even if it is quickly replying to an email). With technology enabling us to “stay connected” at all times, it can be hard to switch off and refrain from checking our notifications, but we must learn to resist the temptation.
A great way to switch off is to write a to-do list and carry over any remaining tasks to the following day. That way, you know what needs to be done and you can start tackling your tasks from the minute that you get into work.
5. Adopt a healthier lifestyle
Refusing to see the doctor about your shoulder that’s been giving you nothing but agony for a month. Forgetting to get your annual check five years in a row. And let’s not forget to mention the number of times you’ve gone into the office with a cold when you should really be tucked up in bed.
All these actions have a knock-on effect on your productivity, as you’re constantly battling with your health. Instead, put your health first by leading a healthier lifestyle. Eat healthier meals, drink lots of water and set some time aside to exercise.
6. Fine-tune your time management
If you tend to spend a lot of time procrastinating and putting off certain tasks, you’ll benefit from investing in time-tracking tools. This will help you identify where it is that you’re wasting time, and get rid of interruptions and focus on meeting your deadlines.
Another great way to increase productivity is to work using the Pomodoro method which requires you to work in short spouts to ensure you’re fully focused for the entire 25 minutes (as illustrated below). The short breaks also allow you to reset your mindset and concentrate on the task at hand.
7. Get enough sleep
Living in a world where time is of the essence, we often choose to sacrifice our sleep to ensure that we manage to fit everything in. However, constant sleep deprivation can have a lasting effect on our health and reportedly costs companies over $136 billion in lost productivity.
And while it’s widely stated that eight hours of sleep is essential for a healthy brain, the number of hours each individual needs depends on their body. This amount could range between 6 and 10 hours per day, so it’s important to establish what your personal requirement is and to try to stick to a set routine.
Delegation is important within the workplace and in your household.
If your duties at work are holding you down, delegate tasks to interns or other coworkers who can take on extra responsibilities and relieve some of your workload.
But if it’s household chores that you can’t keep up with, delegate some to your partner or roommate, or consider hiring some much-needed help that can lift the strain from you.
9. Set career goals
Setting career goals is essential if you strive to have a great work–life balance and be satisfied at work and at home. But these goals will differ from person to person.
Some people may dream of climbing the career ladder, while others focus on pay rises and some simply want an enjoyable job that will allow them to have a family life too. What’s important is to understand what’s ideal for you, and to work towards achieving that goal.
10. Plan time off
Many workaholics fear that taking time off will mess their progress and, more often than not, don’t use their full holiday allowance in fear of jeopardizing their work duties. But planned time off is a great way of managing a healthy work–life balance and ensuring the mind and body get the rest they need.
“Evidence shows you become less productive without proper breaks,” says Penny de Valk, managing director of talent management at global HR services group Penna. “Even if people work longer hours, they’re not as creative and can’t maintain the same intensity level.”
Planned holidays and time off are essential for survival. They help you recharge your batteries, refocus and return to work more productive than before. On the other hand, if you work excessive hours, you’ll end up placing a strain on your personal life and moving further away from achieving an ideal work–life balance.
11. Treat time off work as a type of commitment
Would you rather be late to an important work meeting or arrive an hour later than usual at the gym? You’d prefer the second over the first, right? While pushing back an activity or skipping it altogether will have no immediate consequences, sacrificing your out-of-work commitments repeatedly to cater to your job will eventually come at a cost.
So, try and turn “I don’t have time” into “I should and will make time”. If you sign up for yoga classes thinking “I’ll go when and if I have the time”, you probably won’t be able to exercise with the consistency your body and mind need. That’s why you should treat your hobbies and interests the way you would your work meetings: as something that should non-negotiably occur.
12. Learn to say “no”
Maybe you’re someone who genuinely enjoys helping others. Or maybe you’re always agreeing to doing extra work in hopes you’ll get that raise or promotion you’ve been after for the past few months. No matter the case, you should always strive for balance.
Next time you agree to shouldering yet another task to help your team out, consider your own workload for a moment, as well as your mental and emotional capacity. Are you already tired or overwhelmed and simply turning a blind eye to it? Remember: saying “no” is perfectly fine — and human. Everything in moderation.
13. Develop your negotiation skills
When you know how to negotiate effectively (which largely has to do with presenting your requests as win-win scenarios for both you and the company), it becomes easier to preserve your work–life balance and overall job satisfaction.
Let’s say you’ve been working extra hard recently to prove your manager you’re worthy of a raise. But for some reason, they say the company is unable to proceed right now. Don’t just say “Oh well!” and let all that hard work go. Instead, ask for a more flexible schedule or additional days off.
Compromising and claiming things you know will boost your productivity and wellbeing is great for your career advancement.
14. Set boundaries
Setting boundaries doesn’t just stop at learning to say “no” to extra work or overtime. While preserving your time and mental resources is a good thing to do, preserving a healthy work–life balance also entails setting emotional boundaries.
Consider the following: if you had a heated conversation with your manager, how long would you dwell on it? If a coworker started a rumor about you, how much would it hurt you? It’s human to be sensitive to these kinds of situations, of course, but putting metaphorical barriers between yourself and undesirable situations in the workplace can do wonders for your life outside of work.
15. Avoid multitasking
Despite the widely held notion that multitasking can make you more efficient at work, science has shown that it slows you down. It’s better to allow your mind to focus on one task at a time with no interruptions for as long as possible.
When looking to manage your workload better and leave work on time, it’s best not to slow down yourself further by juggling too many tasks at once. Block out your time instead and use to-do lists to tackle one thing at a time.
16. Get rid of distractions at work
If you’re struggling to finish your work on time even on the days when your workload is manageable, it could mean that you’re procrastinating rather profusely. Be honest with yourself: are you doing your absolute best to minimize distractions, or do you end up picking up your phone every 10 (at best) minutes? Logging out of social media can be useful while at work.
If the problem isn’t the internet, but your cubicle neighbor and how much they love to chit-chat, you might want to have a word with them, too. Arrange to grab a coffee together over your lunch break and socialize then, instead!
17. Get organized
If you minimize your workplace distractions, ask your manager to take some responsibilities off your plate and still can’t seem to finish your work on time, consider your organization skills for a moment.
Is your desktop (digital or literal one) a total mess? Are your files, notes and lists all over the place? You can’t keep wasting more time on finding the materials you need for a task than actually working on that task. So, at the first chance you get, dedicate 30 minutes to getting everything sorted out neatly.
18. Eat in the breakroom
A good piece of advice for employees looking for ways to improve their work–life balance is to hang out in the breakroom. Why? Spending time with your coworkers (the ones you’re fond of or at the very least tolerate) is a great way to get some socializing in, unplug from thinking about work, and plan group activities or outings.
You can exchange ideas and opinions, strengthen your friendships, and learn to rely on one another, which can help when you’re feeling overworked and in need of a helping hand.
19. Practice mindfulness
When you’re at work, it’s good to train your mind to concentrate on work-related things only. By refraining from daydreaming about whatever wonderful dessert you’re going to have in the evening, you’ll stay in the here and now, and get through your to-do list faster.
Likewise, when the evening comes and you’re enjoying your no-bake peanut butter and jelly cheesecake, stop your mind from dwelling on that snark remark your supervisor made. Staying grounded in the moment allows you to execute your to-dos more efficiently and enjoy your time off work to the max.
20. Consider changing jobs
A survey by employee transparency platform JobSage shows that more than one in four people have quit their jobs in recent years for the sake of their mental health. Another survey by Deloitte found that “70% of executives are considering leaving their jobs for workplaces that care more for their wellbeing”.
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many “safety” mechanisms you put in place to preserve your work–life balance. Your line of work or specific employer might be making it near impossible for you to achieve the type of lifestyle you need to thrive. If that’s the case, considering a job or career change could be the most beneficial thing to do.
- Work and rest in separate rooms if you can. The physical separation of “work” and “play” will help you leave work “at work”.
- Set alarms to take regular breaks. The office comes with distractions and interruptions that your house doesn’t. Remember to pause, anyway; your mind and body need it.
- Stick to a routine, even if your schedule is flexible. Wake up, have breaks, and log off around the same time each day.
- Change in and out of work clothes. Much like a physical divider between your working space and the rest of the house, a change of attire can signal to your mind when work is over.
- Honor your out-of-work plans. Remember to treat your downtime seriously. For example, treat going to the gym with the same punctuality you would attend a work meeting.
Watch our video on work–life balance:
In a world where we’re constantly attached to technology, where we try to do everything at once and where we’re continually pushed for time, it’s necessary to take a step back and identify what’s significant in our lives.
As we’ve seen:
- A healthy work–life balance does wonders for our physical health. This, in turn, can boost our immune system and cut the number of days we miss due to illness each year.
- There’s no magic number of hours of rest that a person needs. To strike the right balance, we need to pay attention to the individual cues our bodies and minds are giving us.
- Treating time off work with the same seriousness as work-related duties can positively impact our productivity. So, treat socializing, exercising and sleeping enough as important commitments.
- Using physical barriers or cues (such as working and resting in separate rooms or changing outfits) can be a good way to hit “pause” on the work day and “resume” on your other interests and commitments.
Do you try to keep a good work–life balance? Let us know what your top tips are by joining in on the conversation below.
Originally published on January 8, 2019. Contains contributions by Joanna Zambas.