Work-life balance is a hot topic these days.
For a long time, people seemed to think that the only way to be truly successful in their careers was to make huge personal sacrifices. Many thought they had to wait a long time to start a family, miss important obligations and events, or never take a day off in order to prove that they were committed to their future in their field.
Now, however, an emphasis is being put on achieving balance. This mindset can be confused with the “have-it-all” mentality, but the goal is to reach a place where you get to enjoy life rather than being consumed by your job.
Companies are starting to recognize that their employees perform better when they have more of a balance and are actually more productive when they don’t spend as much time in the office or aren’t on a “traditional” schedule. This has led to many companies prioritizing work-life balance, making them more attractive for employees.
For those of you who have to work a regular 9-to-5 schedule, there is still hope! Many strategies are available to help you achieve better work-life balance.
Even if you love your job, work still typically functions as a means to an end. The end might differ for everyone, but most of the time you don’t want to reap the rewards of hard work through working harder.
Below I’ve included some strategies I use to encourage work-life balance in my everyday living.
Technology has made many things so much easier in my day-to-day. And as a web designer, I obviously love gadgets.
The ability to get so much done from home has been a boon for businesses that rely heavily on telecommuting—as well as my employees with colds.
But the immediacy provided by technology is a double-edged sword.
Being equally available to everyone all of the time breaks down the barriers between work and personal time. If you have a family, it can also be difficult for them. No one wants to feel like the person they’re spending time with is prioritizing something else in the same moment.
Because of this, I set aside a certain amount of time every day when I don’t have my cell phone with me.
Most of us work jobs where any “emergency” can wait until the next morning. And turning my phone off allows me to be truly present for my children and my wife.
I don’t want to feel that I missed out on their childhood because I was emailing someone about a brief or texting a coworker about a question I could have answered another time.
I can’t overstate how important it is for me to make it into the gym a few times every week. The boost I get in mood, clarity, and energy is invaluable. But the fact of the matter is that when things get busy, most people compromise on exercise first.
Despite this, prioritizing your physical needs is hugely important.
Are you making time to eat? How much sleep are you getting? When is the last time you ate something you didn’t have to microwave? Being conscious of your body’s messages to you will make you healthier on and off the clock.
Pushing yourself beyond your limits isn’t going to make you a better employee or boss, and will likely take a toll on your mental and physical health in the long run.
Plus, spending hours and hours per day sitting at a desk doesn’t do great things for your body or your mood.
When you build in time to move—whether you’re jogging outside, getting pumped up in a kickboxing class, or slowing down with some yoga—you can combat the negative effects of your daily grind.
I mentioned that physical activity can help with your mental space, but I find it super helpful to also make time for meditative exercises. I’ve talked a little about how meditation can help break negative thought patterns, but it can also be helpful if you’re just looking for some balance.
Sometimes our day-to-day work is so focused in on minute details that we forget what we’re really trying to achieve. Meditating helps me achieve clarity. This clarity gives me perspective and makes it easier to prioritize according to my big picture goals.
On the other end of the spectrum, meditation also helps me be present in the moment when I’m working myself up about long term projects.
Meditation cuts down on mental interference and gives me a chance to consider the “now.”
So whether you’re experiencing anxiety about a work project down the road, or you’ve lost sight of your endgame, meditation can center you and get you ready for whatever your day has in store.
So many demands are placed on our time, in and out of work, sometimes it can feel like your day belongs to everything and everyone but you.
What do you wish you had more time to do? Leisure read? Hike? Travel? Cook with your family? Think about the things that you truly prioritize and make a conscious effort to cut out the stuff that takes your time away from them.
Distractions can come in the form of social media, work tasks that you ought to delegate, or even acquaintances that have a less-than-constructive presence in your life.
When you pare down on the things that suck up your time, you can be more productive at work and more relaxed at home.
Sometimes the biggest obstacle to reaching the ideal work-life balance is old habits that are hanging around.
Our lives change as our careers do, and things that may have worked for you when you were a 20-something just starting out might not work for you as someone with an established career and family.
Don’t be afraid to step back and assess where you’re wasting time or creating stress through your regular schedule. This could take the form of work happy hours or even home responsibilities.
For you, it might make sense to cut these things out.
Sometimes the solution is as simple as learning to say “no” to after-work invites from coworkers. In other cases, the answer might lie with outsourcing or delegating things like lawn care or grocery shopping.
This could mean a shift in responsibilities within your household or even making peace with the fact that you need to order in dinner a few times per week.
We live in a society that demands availability and that instills a fear of missed opportunities every time we have to say “no.”
But you want your free time to be constructive and relaxing, not overbooked and stressful.
It can feel counterintuitive to make yourself less available in order to feel more fulfilled, but being comfortable with telling people you really can’t do lunch can do wonders for your work-life balance.
This principle doesn’t only apply to social obligations. You need to learn your limit with work tasks too.
You want to do your job to the best of your abilities. And that means saying “no” when you have too much on your plate. There are obviously going to be limits to this, especially when you work for someone else.
But no one wins when you’re rushing or stressed. Which makes establishing boundaries for your workload beneficial for you and your boss.
This goes back again to knowing what you actually want to do with your time. If your hours are spent meaningfully, your life as a whole will feel more meaningful.
I’ve blogged at length about how important planning can be to managing your time properly. It can also be a great tool for finding a solid work-life balance.
Planning your week and month out can tell you a lot about where the hours in your day go. Plus, If something is skewed too far in one direction or the other, planning can get you back on track.
If you’re intentional with blocking off your time according to your needs, you can refer back to it when things get hectic.
It’s a lot easier to say “yes” to a work obligation when you know you’ve blocked off time for unwinding later that day. And it’s a lot easier to say “no” to people’s demands when you see how much of your week is devoted to others.
It’s key that you not look at strict routine as a means to achieving work-life balance. Be aware of what you need on a daily and weekly basis.
The “balance” in “work-life balance” doesn’t mean 50/50, it means finding out what works for you. What works for you will usually change depending on other factors happening around you—or within you.
Sometimes that’s going to mean spending longer hours at the office when it’s less-than-ideal because you have a big project coming up. Other times you’ll have to set work aside even if you don’t necessarily want to because your health demands you take a break.
Work-life balance isn’t as tricky as it may seem. These are just a few of the strategies that help me find my blind spots and be present—whether it’s for work, my kids, or just some time to myself.
Remember that work-life balance is not just for people with established careers or kids at home. You deserve a healthy relationship with your job and a dynamic life outside of work, even if you’re at the bottom of a business right now.
The most important thing is to trust yourself and know that it will take a little while to find out what works best for you.
Your time belongs to you. It’s time to treat it that way.
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LAWYER & ONLINE ENTREPRENEUR
After graduating from law school and passing the bar, I struggled to find work, pay my bills, and make ends meet. That's when I decided to take control of my future and start working for myself. Now, several years and a handful of companies later, I'm sharing how I launched a successful business, and how you can do it too.