A Helpful Guide To Achieving A Great Work-Life Balance
Overwhelmed by stress from work? Here's our guide to achieving a healthy work life balance.
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In modern times, there is pressure on workers due to an increasingly demanding work culture. This is perhaps the biggest, most pressing, and dire challenge to the mental health of most of the population in the developed world.
The effect of increasing work hours is having a huge effect on the lifestyle of most working people, which is likely having a drastic effect on their mental well-being. Mental health companies and workers are concerned that more and more people are neglecting the factors in their lives that makes them more resilient to the possibility of issues with their mental health.
Statistics say that one in six people will experience a mental health problem in any given week. The cost of unmanaged work-related stress can be fixed up by a better work-life balance, although this is not always so easy for everyone.
A good way to protect mental health against the possible detrimental effects of work related stress is figuring out how you can better juggle work and life, so that your work does not overtake other aspects of your life. This is beneficial to employers as well, as businesses can suffer as a result of the need to combat work-related stresses.
Thus, preventing overworking and gaining a better work-life balance will not only benefit mental health but also the employers and businesses too.
Table of contents
What Is Work-Life Balance?
So, now we need to ask, ‘what exactly is work-life balance’? Well, this term refers to the level of priority between personal and professional activities in an individuals’ life, and the level to which activities that are related to their job and work are present in their home. What the ideal balance is, however, is open to discussion.
There are some that say that happiness is having little to no differentiation between an individual’s professional and personal life. This would be referring to cases in which a person is able to make a hobby into their primary source of income. While this is a wonderful notion, it is not always achievable, so we must look at this from other angles too.
The work-life balance is also a topical issue thanks to the increasing amount of technology that removes the physical location as a vital factor in defining the balance between work and life. If you can work on the go, or your boss can contact you out of hours on your phone, then it is harder to avoid taking work home with you. So mobile phones and the internet, while fantastic, are also culprits as they have made it easier for employees to be ‘permanently’ at work in many cases.
While work may be good, it may bring you a good income and help you pay off that crazy mortgage, isn’t worth risking your mental health over. You wouldn’t risk your physical health for work, so do not risk your mental health for it too. Mental health problems can easily become physical health problems, remember. And this is why a work-life balance is absolutely key.
Why It’s Important
Before we continue, ask yourself how many working people around you are often stressed, agitated by work, and how often you, or those around you have experienced a burn-out. A burn-out is defined as ruining ones of health or have become completely exhausted through overworking.
This in many cases may just seem like stress, but a burn-out is not just a factor that affects mental health, but physical too. This is why if you are burned out, you feel like you could sleep non-stop for a week, your brain is tired and your body with it.
Stress is a very common feature of a poor work-life balance. Mental stress has been noted as being a significant economic and health problem, which causes a perceived need for employees to do more in less time.
The biggest issue faced in the work-life debate are wherein responsibility lies to ensure that employees have a good work-life balance. The general feeling is that this responsibility falls for employers, stating they are responsible for the health of their employees. Why? Because aside from the moral responsibility of this, a stress out employee will be less productive and more likely to make errors. So, it is beneficial for the whole company to ensure that employees are not burning out.
How To Achieve A Good Work-Life-Balance
You already think that a good work-life balance seems like an impossible feat. Technology has us available 24/7, and the fears of job loss reward longer hours. What is crazy is that a survey actually showed that an insane 94% of working professionals report working over 50 hours per week, and a good half said they work over 65 hours per week.
When we consider that there are only 168 hours in a week, and we spend 56 of these hours asleep, consider time to eat and commute, if eating only took up an hour each day, and commuting only an hour each day, this would leave only 33 hours of free time. Which is less than 5 hours a day.
How can you combat this? Here are a few tips to help you get out of the rut you are stuck in.
Track Your Time
When you work from home, it’s easy to blur the line between “being on the clock” and being off. It’s easy to fall into the trap of procrastinating by doing home chores instead of work. Some professions and positions require you to actively monitor your time, while others, such as being a freelance writer, don’t really have the same standards.
Before you combat the work-life balance head on, start by better understanding the time you are spending. Analyze your present situation.
For a week or two, note everything you do and the time it takes, this includes work, personal activities, and even required activities such as washing, eating, and sleeping. After this, look at the time, and you can understand better where you are losing time and how you are using your time.
Getting in the habit of tracking your time can be a great way to see where most of your day goes.
This can serve as an eye-opener.
If you find that you’re spending far too much time in your inbox, for example, you’ll be able to adjust your day – and your work processes – in order to minimize “low output” activities and focus on the things that will make the most difference in your efficiency for the day.
Social Media is another time sink.
Today’s remote worker faces an unending stream of distraction in the form of status updates, pictures, memes and everything else that floods your social media profiles every day. Then they start to feel stressed because the time they have for themselves has disappeared.
But Steven Key recommends giving those up during your work day, at least during your main work hours. “Check before work and maybe then again at lunch. If you wait until the end of the day to follow up, you’ll find you’re more productive,” he writes.
You can also use something like Freedom, a website and social media blocker that helps you keep your focus when it matters most.
Tracking your time like this can help you pick up on any bad habits you may have like such, as well as helping you manage your minutes better, so you have more time for you.
Set Your Priorities
Prioritizing your life is a key skill that everyone should practice. For a healthy work-life balance that includes everything and will not only benefit you, but your family too, starts with prioritizing certain aspects of your life. You can start off by making a list of your no.1 priorities at work, and at home.
Analyze your time audit by asking yourself what you need to start doing, stop doing, continue, do less or more of, and what you may need to do differently.
For example, you may cook for your family, and you may find that it takes up a large chunk of your free time, so instead you can look at faster meals you can cook, there are plenty of cookbooks that give recipes you can make in just 30 minutes, and they are still healthy.
Another example would be doing laundry. You may do 2 or more loads of household laundry a week. And while this is ideal for many people, you can look to see if there is a way you can cut this down to only doing one per week instead. If you use a launderette, you could try to see if there was a way you could get your own washing machine, so you could cut down on the time taken, and have the washing on while you do other things instead.
There are plenty of ways that you can alter how you prioritize your time. Sometimes you just need to get a bit more creative with how you do these things.
Set Specific Goals
Once you have prioritized certain aspects of your life and your work life, turn them into concrete and measurable goals, setting a foundation for routine.
Block time into your schedule, much like you would for meetings, or appointments. This means setting important times, such as selecting an hour or so for personal time, but blocking it and prioritizing it much like you would a doctor’s appointment. Doing so can often prevent you from needing a doctor’s appointment in the future, because, bad mental health can often lead to bad physical health too.
Plan Your Work/Time
Keeping a diary sounds like a cliché, doesn’t it? Well, even if it seems like a cliché, it can be very useful, and many successful people will plan their work and then work that plan. You have one life, so for it have one calendar, one date planner. Be it on paper or electronic, such as a Google Calendar, this is the cog that will help you turn your priorities and goals into reality and real world achievements.
Help yourself out as well, by setting aside 10 or 20 minutes each day, or evening, to plan out your tasks and activities for the next day and evening ahead. Thus making sure that you have plenty of time. It also is useful to visualize time. Doing so can help you to physically see when you are taking on too much, so that you can reorganize your time and prevent this from happening.
Boundaries. Something that is becoming more and more important in modern life.
It may be tempting to mix your personal life and business, but keeping a focus on your business during work hours is key to a successful, productive day at home. And the way you spend your days, of course, is the way you spend your life. So instead of worrying about how to focus on the big picture, take each day as an opportunity to practice and hone your focus on work.
You need to set fair and realistic limits on what you can and will do at work and at home.
For many at-home workers, balancing family and work is a continuous challenge. If you have kids in the house, consider making them as aware as possible of your work situation, letting them know what the guidelines and boundaries are for when you’re working.
You should clearly communicate the rules to those around you, including your supervisor, coworkers, partner, and your family. You may commit, for example, to never working late on certain days unless there is a crisis at hand. Also, set a time at home where you will not check or respond to work related emails or messages.
One work-from-home mom told Working Mother that she “used a red light, yellow light, green light system when my kids were little, which indicated to them if (and how) I could be interrupted. …This system worked great when my daughters were younger!”
This is not only true for work but also for out-of-work life too.
Having time for oneself is also important, and this needs to be communicated to work and family.
“As much as possible, avoid answering personal phone calls or doing your laundry during the workday,” writes Lisa Evans, at Entrepreneur.com. If you have kids or a family, it may be even harder to do, but resist the temptation to comingle while you expect to work.
Some people may enjoy a trip to the spa, or perhaps hiking or fishing. Ensure to set aside time for these things, and ask those around you to respect the time you spend doing these things for yourself. They are important as part of you keeping a healthy balance in your life and keeping your mental health on track.
If it’s easier, set aside breaks and a lunchtime pit stop at specific times in order to minimize personal-life distractions.
Put Your Family and Friends As A Priority
We often forget the importance of those around us when we are wrapped up in keeping a good job, or working hard. But it is the surrounding people who support and love us that we need to appreciate. They are the greatest source of satisfaction, and humans are biologically pack animals.
If you find that your work is damaging your personal relationships, then both areas will start to suffer for you.
There may be days when you must work overtime, however, this can become a problem when these days become the rule and not the exception. Make your personal relationships a priority, and your productivity and effectiveness will increase.
And do not forget that jobs are always temporary, the surrounding people can be permanent. If we lose a job, we can replace it, we cannot replace our family or our close friends.
Leave Work At Work
Visualization is important. When you leave work, visualize an off switch, turning your brain off from work when you are home. This can help to establish a transitional activity between the two.
For those who commute, the time spent commuting can be a good transition between work life and home life. For those who work from home, listening to music can be useful, much like you may switch on the radio or pop on an audiobook on your way home. You could even hit the gym, run errands, or keep some personal appointments.
The idea of scheduling in activities immediately following your work hours will help you from spending that extra twenty minutes at the office, which can quickly transition into a few hours.
Doing so can also give you something to look forward to at the end of the day. For people who enjoy music, listening to music after work, or during your commute can be very therapeutic, and can therefore serve as a form of motivation. Thus increasing your productivity for the day so that you can get to your music therapy at the time you scheduled.
Make Some Time For YOU
Briefly mentioned above, it is key to make time for yourself as well. As much as work, health, and relationships are important and priority. You are more of a priority. You need to schedule time for yourself. Only you can manage your time, and only you can look after yourself. You deal with the consequences of your actions, and therefore you need to be mindful of your actions. You need to take a minimum of 30 minutes of uninterrupted time for you. Be it reading a book, laying in the bath, taking a trip to the spa, the gym, or indulging in a hobby.
Meditation is also highly recommended for this, it is much like charging up your internal batteries, or hitting the reset button. You can come out of it feeling renewed and fresh. If you are religious, spend some time with your higher power, draw inspiration, guidance, strength, and inner peace from this.
Indulging in a weekly day of rest is also very helpful, and it can help to heal your inner self from the stresses of the week. Many cultures will treat Sundays as the day of rest, if you cannot, choose another day and take this as your rest day. Lounge around, watch some TV, take a walk, or go on a family trip to the zoo. Do something relaxing for yourself, and rest.
Check Your Options At Work
As you try to figure out a schedule that works best for you, check to see what options your workplace has in motion. A few more forward-thinking companies have policies and programs that help to facilitate a decent work-life balance. So it is worth finding out what your company can offer you in terms of flex-hours, telecommuting, compressed work weeks, job sharing, or even part-time employment.
There may be a different arrangement that is better suited to you, allowing you to work more productively, while cutting stress and opening up some time for you to spend with family or indulge in some personal time.
If your company does not yet have a flexible scheduling program, you can always consider proposing one. Hopefully the company will see the benefits of this, allowing the employees to be happier, and therefore the whole company more productive.
Use Your Time Efficiently
Ever heard of the phrase ‘work smarter, not harder’, well this truly does apply to working life. Hard work does not always pay off the way we would like, but smart working does. Using our time more efficiently is part of this. Everyone from the lowest ranking employee to a company’s CEO needs to learn effective time management skills.
This can be from taking advantage of technology to further develop organization, group emails, voice messages and such.
As well as avoiding procrastination, and learning that it is okay to say ‘no’. You do not need to agree to everything in your job, and using your time most effectively will make everything easier for everyone as long as it is done as a team unit.
Know When To Ask For Help
If you are starting to feel overwhelmed, on the verge of a burnout, and it is causing you undue stress, you will suffer from it. It can not only affect your activities and relationships outside of work, but also other aspects.
You may be snappy and irritable, you may be restless and find sleep difficult, your appetite may plummet, or you may find that you indulge in fattier or sugary foods. Spots, acne, and pimples are also signs of stress, stress decreases our immune system.
And so, if you feel this way, do not suffer in silence. The strongest thing you can do is talk to your boss or supervisor about this. An untenable work situation can often be alleviated, however it does take some assertiveness on your behalf.
If a balanced life eludes you, or if you experience chronic stress, seek out a professional, be they a therapist, a mental health worker, or a clergy person. Take full advantage of all the services offered by employee assistance programs, and those around us in society and day to day life.
And remember, it is okay to say ‘no’. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and no job is worth killing yourself over, so prioritize your mental health over all, and seek out that work-life balance.
Tips For Maintaining A Good Work-Life Balance
If we were all independent business people, it would be so much easier to maintain a work-life balance, right? You can so easily switch off, and work the hours you are happy to. But when you aren’t in control of your hours, and can’t simply switch off, it is not so easy.
In fact, many independent business people actually struggle in this area too, the lines between work and life are so blurred in these situations that it can be painfully tempting to work way more than they should. And financial management is not so easy, especially when you are going at it solo and trying to make enough money to cover all your work expenses and your bills.
There are a few ways, aside from what we have already mentioned, to help you on the path of a better work-life balance. Sometimes we can get stuck in the rut we are in, simply because it is what we know, and changing it can seem scary, especially when we are taking a chance and hoping that it will work.
But we do not know until we try.
Have A Set Work Hours
If you are an independent business person, then this can be one of the toughest challenges of all. It can be so tempting to work from breakfast until bedtime when you run your own business and are eager to ensure you make enough sales. But this isn’t healthy. If this sounds like you, you can change this. Depending on the type of business you run, you could do one of two things.
- You could set your work hours to be active when your customers/ clients are most likely around, i.e. The traditional 9-5.
- Or, if your job is more creative, you can work around what you are comfortable with. Heard of circadian rhythms, well some people truly function better in the evenings- especially the creative types. If you are like this, and you do not have to engage with customers all day, why not schedule your work hours for when your brain is at its best. Even if this is at 7pm.
If you work for a company. This can be a little more challenging as you are typically not in charge of your own work hours. However, you have selected work hours. So, in this case, you must manage your time so that you do not work outside these hours. Ensure that if you work 9-5, you are ONLY working 9-5 and not regularly tipping over to 6pm. Set your hours and stick to them, unless the situation is absolutely dire. Working outside these hours should not be a regular occurrence.
Let Go Of Always Stepping In To Help Out At Work
If you work for a company, you will know that oftentimes, management will call upon you to help out. Perhaps if someone calls in sick, or if someone is struggling to complete an assignment, you will often swoop in like the almighty hero, here to save the day.
Stop it. You are not the only person able to help cover required work, if situations like these arise, stop jumping in.
While it feels good to be appreciated as the person who always helps out, you can not only burn yourself out and take on way more than you should, but you become a go-to-guy, and may end up being taken advantage of in these situations.
It is important to accept that your workload is enough for you, and while helping out every now and again is okay. It should not be a case where you are the superhero saving everyone else. That is not what teamwork is about.
Take Care Of Your Health
It’s easy to focus on work performance when talking about productivity, but your physical and mental health and well-being is just as important. So many people forget that mental/ emotional health are in tandem with physical health.
A healthy body and mind is the foundation of clear thinking, which is key to setting goals for work and achieving them. When you have physical and mental challenges, it can slowly begin to erode your productivity and output.
In fact, the National Committee for Quality Assurance found that “depression results in more days of disability than chronic health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.”
While you’re not working, then, be sure to eat right, get sufficient sleep and take time to unwind and focus on what’s important in your life. Work may be a priority, but it should also be taken as one aspect of a healthy, holistic lifestyle that you enjoy.
This also means taking care of your diet.
“Make sure you eat a good breakfast so you don’t have to stop working when the hunger pangs kick in, and schedule yourself a reasonable lunch break,” writes Julie McCormick at Lifehack.org.
With a good diet, schedule and some activity before and after work, you’ll have a much better opportunity to stay focus and productive during work hours.
Exercising also helps, why not cycle to work if you can, get some fresh air and some vitamin D from the sun. Exercise helps to alleviate stress, and it will also improve your mental clarity, immune system, stamina, and it is one of those things that releases the happy hormone dopamine. There’s an exercise for everyone, find the one that suits you and give it a go, it can even be as simple as yoga, or having a quick jog around the block.
Take full advantage of technology, why drive to a meeting when you can use Skype, Zoom, or Google Teams. Use these to cut down hours you waste commuting, it does you good, saves you time, and is good for the environment too. If you do use these, remember to switch them off after you are done, though.
If your company does not use this method yet, discuss the possibility of implementing it, to save time as a whole, and increase productivity this way.
Book Some Time Off Work
We all get leave time from work, so do not be afraid to take some. Book in breaks, even if it is just one day to give yourself a long weekend. Take a holiday, and relax in a place with new scenery.
Just one extra day off each quarter can give you the boost you need, and a change of scenery on a vacation can do you wonders. Sometimes we love our homes, towns, and workplaces, but seeing something different for a while can give us a much-needed energy boost and refresh our minds.
If you are in doubt about booking that vacation, this is your sign to do it.
Achieving a great work-life balance is a key factor in happiness for any person. Work should not take over our family lives, time with friends, and personal time. In the modern working world, it is getting harder and harder for people to achieve with the increasing work expectations of the many busy industries worldwide. However, employers and employees need to work together to ensure all have a healthy work-life balance.
A healthy work-life balance is not only important to individuals, but also to the overall productivity of a company. Managing time, taking advantage of what technology has to offer, scheduling your days, and staying social with loved ones are just some of the many ways you can improve your work-life balance.
If you feel overwhelmed, and are afraid that you are starting to burn-out, do not be afraid to speak up and talk to your employer. If you are seriously struggling, specialists and mental health professionals can help you to improve your mental health and help you better manage your work and home life.
Finding a defining line between the two is key in living comfortably and avoiding being overwhelmed. It may seem impossible, but it is achievable.
For more work from home tips, check out our Ultimate Guide to Working From Home