5 Ways to Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance
By Amy Roesch
What does work-life balance mean to you? Maybe when you hear it, you envision laying on beach a thousand miles away from all responsibilities, email notifications turned off, a drink in hand, and enjoying well-earned time off. However, for most of us, this balance isn’t quite so glamorous, and is more of a constant give and take between work, family, commitments, errands, and “me” time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to sit and consider your personal priorities and values so that you can better understand what work-life balance means to you.
Ryan Smith, the CEO and co-founder of Qualtrics, openly shared his work-life balance strategies with the Wall Street Journal, “Each week, I examine the categories of my life—father, husband, CEO, and self. I then identify the specific actions that help me feel successful and fulfilled in these capacities.” He also shared that when he arrives home from work he leaves his phone in the car so that he can be fully present with his family. Taking time to understand your personal values, job expectations, and family commitments can help clarify how to give the appropriate amount of time and energy to everything that is important to you.
Although the U.S. ranks high in wealth, housing, and income, a 2015 survey showed it ranks terribly low in work-life balance—29th among the 36 progressive countries surveyed. No wonder more Americans than ever are suffering from stress, anxiety, or depression. Here are some helpful measures you can take to achieve the work-life balance you dream of having:
- Take small steps to create long-lasting change
Write down several things that you want to improve about your work-life balance and take some time to brainstorm how to make those things happen. Most importantly, start small, to avoid being overwhelmed and to allow yourself to turn your new goals into habits.
Do you want to start eating dinner with your family every night? Start by making it a priority to eat at least one family dinner a week and be present with the ones you love, and gradually increase the amount of family dinners as weeks go by. Do you want to start exercising more? Start by making it a priority to get up 30 minutes early once a week to get a walk around the block in. Eventually, start increasing this to get up an hour early three times a week to do more strenuous exercise. Whatever it is you want to improve upon, master the small steps first.
- Set boundaries and say “no” without the guilt
If you’re unsure what your availability should be outside of regular working hours, sit down with your employer and make your expectations of one another clear. Make sure you both understand what your job requirements are and the time necessary to complete them in a given week.
Make it a priority to discuss your availability on being able to take calls/emails outside of normal work hours. Depending on your role, you should be able to come to an agreement about what types of situations warrant after-hours phone calls and which ones can wait until you’re back in the office. You may find you can both agree upon a strict no-contact policy after a certain time (like 7 pm), or on certain days (no Sundays). Whatever your plan is, make sure it is realistic for your role and you are both in agreement.
If you don’t already know it, take time to review your company’s overtime policy and requirements. Some organizations require their employees to work mandatory overtime during certain times of the year, especially if their business is seasonal. Other companies might cap overtime hours at a certain point to avoid extra expenses, while others may not allow overtime at all. If you are salaried, the expectation may be that overtime hours are worked until your projects are complete. No matter how your company handles overtime, it is important that you clearly understand the expectations and plan accordingly.
If you and your employer have mutually agreed to certain times that you are off and unavailable, then do NOT check into work. Make sure you are actually taking that time off without any guilt.
- 52 minutes on 17 minutes off
The most productive workers don’t work the longest hours, instead, they work smartly and efficiently in relatively short periods of time and take frequent breaks to completely remove them from the work they are doing. Desktime did a study and found that the magic ratio for the top 10% most productive people within any given company was 52 minutes of work and 17 minutes off.
You may not have the flexibility to follow this 52/17 rule, but you can increase your productivity by staying intensely focused while you are working and allowing yourself to take short breaks to completely remove your mind from your work for several moments. Maybe get up from your desk to stretch your legs for 5 minutes, get a drink of water, or listen to a song you enjoy while taking your eyes off your computer screen. A small break can be enough to make you feel refreshed and refocused when you return to the task at hand.
- Leave work at work
Before you leave work, take a few moments to write down any unfinished tasks you need to complete and what you need to accomplish the next day. Then mentally check out and start focusing your thoughts on what you have planned for after work hours. Don’t think about your job when you’re not working. It can wait. Be present with what you are doing.
- Remember the big picture
Imagine yourself at the end of your life, what is going to matter most to you? Whatever it is, make sure that it matters most to you now. It is important to appreciate your job, and work diligently and proficiently while you are there, but make sure to keep work in its proper place and not let it consume your life. Take time to eat healthy, sleep, exercise, vacation, and most importantly be present with the ones you love. If you do, you won’t have regrets at the end of your life.
The key to finding balance is knowing yourself and understanding what is important to you. Also, don’t get caught up in perfectionism. Life isn’t perfect. There are going to be times where you check your work email when you’re on vacation and there will be times you check your social media accounts five times within an hour while you’re supposed to be working. That’s okay, just don’t let these habits become your typical patterns.
If you have a clear understanding of your priorities, work hard while you are working, and are present while you are off, then you will rest easy knowing that you have achieved a healthy work-life balance.
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