8 Steps to Improve Work-Life Balance
It was not until 1971 the term ‘workaholism’ was described by psychologist Wayne Oates as “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” The term applied to those employees that worked more than fifty hours a week, hence creating the phenomenon of a career-driven generation.
Later on, when the percentage of working women reached seventy-four percent in early 1990 (Brookings), the image of the work-life changed drastically, with imbalance and preference for the former and disregard for the latter.
Frankly, not much has changed in the twenty-first century. Today’s workforce expects not only devoted workers but extended hours from those who invest as much time and energy in their jobs as possible. According to Business News Daily, “Often, work takes precedence over everything else in our lives. Our desire to succeed professionally can push us to set aside our own well-being.”
While career pursuits, no doubts are desirable and deserving of one’s time and energy, they are not worthy of sacrificing all the rest of what life has to offer. A friend of mine once explained it from a psychological perspective. She said a human’s existence can be observed as a tumbler which we fill up with energy driven from various sources. If those sources are not properly balanced, for instance, if the tumbler is only filled up with a career, one day when it overflows it might destroy the owner of the cup, because there is nothing else to balance it off.
The importance of equilibrium between work and the rest, such as relationships, family, mental and physical well-being, hobbies, children and friends is undeniable. However, many passionate workers do not realize that harmony between two important parts of life directly affects career growth. When work-life balance becomes a habit it brings a line of benefits, including stress relief, reduction of burnout risk and increased productivity.
Another important factor to remember is that work-life balance is not a final destination, but a lifelong process. Just like establishing an exercise routine and keeping up with it, the ability to consolidate professional and non-work roles is a process. Yet, before you put any thought into a necessity to change your lifestyle that would allow more space for parenting, volunteering, travelling or anything else besides work, ask yourself those questions.
What is the conflict between work and post-work hours? Do your roles take away from one another? Are you ready to decrease your workload in order to take a vacation or spend more time with your kids? As Psychology Today noted, “enhancing work-life balance for one employee might require letting him go part-time for a while, while another employee might need to start earlier and leave earlier two days a week. The “right” work-life balance is even variable for a given person, changing depending on things like the age of one’s children or parents, or a new health problem.”
We all desire work-life balance. Fortunately, there are certain steps you can begin with and continue to establish a lifestyle where harmony is present among the most important aspects of it. A few of those work-life balance habits include abilities to delegate, and set your priorities right, while others help to prevent depression or even make more dramatic changes such as switching job environments.
1. Expectations of perfection are deceiving
The sooner you accept the fact that there is no ideal work-life balance, neither there is one formula for everyone, the easier the process would be. Although there is an idea that eight productive hours of solid work can spare you eight hours at the end of the day for self-care, entertainment, friends and family, it does not always work that way.
On the contrary, realistic expectations of your work, capabilities, and family members’ schedules, have more benefits. If some days you plan to focus on work primarily, others could allow more leisure time to spend on hobbies or loved ones. Considering your workload, whether it changes day to day or stays steady, remember to take it week by week, achieving balance gradually, rather than changing your whole routine drastically at once.
For instance, you can begin by separating and identifying your professional goals from your priorities. (If your kids are still too young for you to be constantly on work-related trips, you could switch to an office-based position, keep emerging in your career, yet give your children the presence of a parent they need.)
2. If necessary, change jobs
Many hours are spent at the workplace. Five work days versus two days of the weekend basically mean that majority of our time and attention is devoted to our professions. Hence, a career should not be an exhausting restrain. Loathing your workspace, colleagues, or tasks could not increase productivity by any means. On the contrary, it drains your energy and makes it difficult to find excitement outside the workplace.
According to Global News, “Researchers at the Université de Montréal, interviewed more than 2,100 employees at over 60 companies about their personal and professional lives and focused on a series of factors that may lead to the development of psychological distress, depression and burnout. Cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone,” levels were also measured in participants. The scientists found that psychological demands from work, conflicts in the workplace and job insecurity were key factors of mental health problems.”
At the same time, if you find some joy (while it is not required to love every single minute of your work) in your profession and work environment, your projects promise to be more successful. Meanwhile interactions with people outside an office will be satisfying and agreeable. Let’s be honest, it is a vicious cycle so many are trapped in: frustration gets passed from an executive to an employee, from that employee to his or her partner or children.
3. Make space for resting
Depending on the rise of your career and your position it might be challenging to almost impossible to take a proper vacation. However, it is essential for mental and physical recharge, (not even talking about family and friends’ reunions).
The major concern for employees who decide to skip on two-week vacation is the disruption of workflow. Yet, understanding that rest time is well-earned and deserved, (plus can contribute to further productivity upon return) should change one’s mind. After all, there is a reason behind teams and management delegations of responsibilities.
4. Do not neglect your health and hobbies
I do not only speak of physical well-being but also emotional and mental. All three elements are interconnected and when neglected can affect your work-life balance. You probably have noticed that a simple headache can put you into agitated mood swings, which in the end, if escalated, can slow down work progress, and even ruin relationships.
Yet, it is not only about doctor’s checkups, but also workouts, dance classes or simple jogging in the afternoon. Do not bypass exercises, or phycologist sessions to make sure you stay on top of your health.
An undeniable fact is that spending time at your favourite craft, a library, or playing sports, can make you feel more peaceful and satisfied with life. Although it might be tempting to run errands instead of painting or reading, it is as essential as doctor’s checkups. Favourite activities can help with clearing your head and reducing stress. The trick is to get emerged into a pleasant activity as remote from your work as possible. I used to take my baby to an art gallery since he turned two months old. Such an outing did not only benefit my mental well-being but also helped to find a balance between my roles, house chores and work.
5. Take one day (or at least one hour) to unplug
At first, you might be anxious thinking of all calls or emails you might be receiving during social detox. However, if you let the feeling pass you will be surprised by how grounding it feels and how quickly you will be able to recover from stress. Those that practice unplugging swear that they notice ideas flow, and clearer thoughts than while constantly scrolling.
6. Set boundaries
It is a notion I live by: if I feel burned out it is a result of bad time management, where my boundaries in terms of work hours shifted, and not in my favour. Before leaving the office, do not forget to leave tomorrow’s projects there, (as well as the part of your brain that is responsible for continuous thinking of emails, and deadlines.) In reality, using a separate email, a phone or simply closing work tabs after clocking out could help to take time and unwind after work.
Basically, determine which hours would be devoted to working, then schedule time for chores, rest, family and anything nonwork-related.
Notifying your team members or manager about preferred boundaries, and hours when you would not be accessible, could also help. The main advantage of our modern age is that more and more workplaces start understanding that after-work time of unplugging contributes to the mental well-being of their employees.
7. Make time for loved ones
It can sound like the most obvious thing that family or loved ones should matter above anything else (because unlike careers they cannot be substituted), yet it is true. Achieving a work-life balance is impossible if you will bypass phone calls, meetings, birthdays, football games of your children and dates with your partner. It requires effort to keep a relationship thriving.
Hence, set that time in your organizer to remember important dates or even a simple pizza movie night with your kids. In that case, work-life conflict could be avoided and you would not have to sacrifice one for the other.
8. Master overlapping
Everyone is talking about the benefits of multitasking, and delegating tasks, yet what I found the most advantageous is overlapping. Working as a writer I endeavour to read as many books and articles as I can fit into my schedule, however, as a parent, it is not always possible. It was a while ago I found the solution of overlapping house chores and podcasts or lectures listening. In that case, two tasks get done at the same time.
While it might not be possible during focusing on work, you can easily implement the same idea to your house chores. (Some suggest turning cleaning or laundry folding into games or involving your kids in your favourite hobbies. By doing that you spend time with loved ones and get things done.)