Work-life balance, the phrase has become almost as mythical as unicorns and honest politicians. Is there really such a thing? How do I get it? What does it even mean!?
What is work-life balance and what does it mean?
Here is a simple definition to clear things up for you:
“Work-life balance is an important aspect of a healthy work environment. Maintaining work-life balance helps reduce stress and helps prevent burnout in the workplace. Chronic stress is one of the most common health issues in the workplace.” Forbes
Does that help clear things up? Does that help you understand how you’re supposed to maintain a healthy work-life balance? Didn’t think so.
The actual question should be “what does work-life balance mean to you?”. Because in reality, it is completely personal to each and everyone, as we all have different priorities and commitments.
For some, it is the ability to have a full productive workday and then having time to spend on hobbies — if you call binge-watch the newest season of The Handmaid’s Tale a hobby. No judgement here! For others, it’s the ability to balance their busy work schedules with spending quality time with family and friends, and not missing out on the important moments in your loved ones’ lives.
Work-life balance is essentially about having a flexible schedule so that you can focus and be present for whichever occasion, task, project or person you need to be without feeling stretched too thin or completely exhausted.
If that means that on some days you spend more hours working so that you can spend the next day with friends going to a park, or go surfing, then you can do so, guilt-free.
However when you’re constantly spending too much time on one area of your life and neglecting the other – and let’s face it, usually we sacrifice personal time for work obligations – that’s when it becomes a problem.
Signs of unhealthy work-life balance
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that praises being busy. You must “always be closing” and “hustling”. We’re bombarded from all sides with what is supposed to be motivational content on how you must “go get it” and how taking it easy is a sign of failure. We feel ashamed to even admit that we need a time-out. So it’s no wonder that we struggle to recognize when there is an imbalance in our priorities between work commitments and our personal lives. Does this sound like you:
- You often work for long periods without leaving your desk
- You can’t remember when last you had a decent meal
- You can’t remember the last time you didn’t eat a meal at your desk
- You’re constantly checking work chats/emails even after logging off
- Friends and family comment/complain about you constantly being on your phone or working
- You get anxious about starting your workday
- You struggle to switch off when going to bed
- You often work nights and weekends
- You feel overwhelmed by your workload
- You feel emotionally and physically drained
Maybe you’re thinking to yourself: “These are all obvious, but they’re also normal and everyone feels like this, it’s just part of life and I can’t believe I’m wasting my time reading this article!”
Well, my friend, I’m sorry to say that it’s not normal. If two or more of these sound familiar, then your work-life balance is out of whack and you’re headed for disaster. You’re completely doomed!
Just kidding. It’s not that serious, but it could be.
This kind of lifestyle is not sustainable and can lead to burnout. And yes, burnout is a real thing, Karen!
If all you’re doing is living to work, and not living, then it’s time to rest and restore the balance.
Tips on how to improve your work-life balance
We get it, when you’re working for a paycheck and you just want someone to “show me the money!” then it’s tough to set those boundaries and achieve a healthy work-life balance. We’ve put together a few tips that will help you prioritize both your work responsibilities and your personal life.
Manage your calendar
Schedule it in. Work schedules, appointments, due dates, dinner dates, gym classes, friend dates. Write it down. All of it.
By actually adding your personal time into your calendar or your diary, it becomes just as important as any other work commitment. It also gives you something to look forward to when you’ve had a hard day of “hustling”.
Learn to say “no”
Steve Jobs did it. There’s even a famous quote by him about it “Innovation means saying no to 1000 things” Steve Jobs. If you’re constantly saying yes to things you don’t have time for, don’t like, or don’t really want to do, but you’re sure it will impress someone at the top, then you are saying no to other things that are actually important to you.
Knowing your limits, and saying no, doesn’t make you a bad employee or worker. In fact, you’re doing your team or client a favour by not overcommitting and under delivering. The same goes for personal engagements. If you don’t want to stay out all night going to that trendy, Instagrammable and overpriced club because you want to stay in your pj’s and rewatch Friends for the zillionth time, then say no!
Set boundaries and work hours
Just like learning to say no, learning how to set boundaries is crucial to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Set out realistic working hours in your calendar and make sure your colleagues (especially the ones who always text you with “emergencies” after-hours) and clients know when you are available and understand that when you are out of the office, you won’t be answering emails, checking messages or taking calls. You also need to lead by example, if you don’t respect them, no one else will either.
Set goals and priorities
If you’re constantly starting your day all flustered and anxiety-riddled, then it might be good to spend a few minutes at the end of your workday, or just before going to bed, and planning for the following day. By writing down your top priorities and goals for the next day, you can jump straight in.
Some people are morning people — we know, so annoying — if you are one of those people, then make sure you schedule your tasks that need your full attention in the morning when you are most productive. If you struggle to focus for long periods of time, try using the Pomodoro method which is a time management technique that breaks down tasks into short, manageable 25 minute intervals with short breaks in between. Although this method has been around since the ’80s, these days there are many time management apps based on this principle that actually block out any other distractions such as social media etc. allowing you to focus on your task.
You might think that you’re able to juggle it all, but you’re not auditioning for the circus, so if you find yourself dropping the ball on more than one occasion, then it’s time to get help. Small business owners and entrepreneurs often wear many hats, it’s true. But if you truly want to scale your business, you should focus on what you do best, and consider hiring a Virtual Assistant to help you manage the things that you don’t have time for, don’t have knowledge of, or just don’t like doing!
Prioritize your health.
This should be self-explanatory, but you need to make both your health and mental health a priority. You don’t have to immediately subscribe to Crossfit (is that still a thing?). Start simple. Take enough breaks away from your desk. Eat something. Eat it anywhere else but your desk!
Go to sleep at a decent hour, and get up at a decent hour. If you’re not part of the 5 am club, who cares?! As long as you feel well-rested, that’s all that matters.
Get moving — even if it’s walking to work, or up a flight of stairs, or to the shops, moving your body will help clear your mind and release those lovely feel-good endorphins that will boost your mood and your productivity. And remember, put it in your calendar!
Accept that there is no ‘perfect’ work-life balance.
Remember, that there is no one-size-fits-all recipe and you won’t always get the balance perfectly right. You’ll have days where the scale will tip more to one end, and you’ll spend more time working than what you’d planned on, but as long as you acknowledge this and make sure that you’re not falling into old, unhealthy work-life habits, then you’re on the right track.