Work-life balance is a key part of self-care when juggling the responsibilities of a workday, home life, and relationships with family members and other loved ones.
In today’s world work-life balance can seem like an impossible feat. With technological advancements, workers are accessible almost round the clock. Fears of job loss incentivize longer hours. According to a Harvard Business School survey, a whopping 94% of working professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly half said they worked more than 65 hours per week. Experts agree that the compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness.
Work-life balance means something different to every individual. We would explore the benefits, both for individuals and organisations of working toward a better work-life balance. Health and career experts share tips to help one find the balance that is right for you.
Also, we would look at some practical tips for improving if there is any imbalance
It is okay not to be perfect at times – According to executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, PhD, who wrote The Office Survival Guide, a lot of overachievers develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on their time are limited to school, hobbies and maybe an after-school job. It is easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as a youngster, but as one grows up, life gets more complicated. As one climbs the ladder at work, as your family grows, your responsibilities become even more. Perfectionism becomes out of reach, and if that habit is left unchecked, it can become destructive. Thus the key to avoiding burning out is to let go of perfectionism. As life gets more expanded it is very hard, both biologically and psychologically, to keep the habit of perfection going. The healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence.
Unplug –Technology has helped our lives in many ways – from telecommuting to programs that make work easier. But it has also created expectations of constant accessibility and thus the workday never seems to end. Experts suggest that at times one should just shut the phone off and enjoy the moment. Mobile connectivity allows constant phone notifications to interrupt one’s off time. This injects an undercurrent of stress into the system. One should try and avoid reading and replying to work emails while they are spending time with family. Quality time should truly be treated as quality time. By not reacting to the updates from work, one would develop a stronger habit of resilience. It is seen that resilient people feel a greater sense of control over their lives while reactive people have less control and are more prone to stress.
- Prioritise your health: Exercise and meditate – Recognizing the importance of maintaining one’s physical health, emotional well-being, and mental fitness is the first step to making it a priority in your life.
Use the concept of habit stacking to build simple, supportive actions into your day. Consider habits like:
- Daily meditation
- Social connection
- A gratitude practice
- Committing to using your paid time off
With an ever-increasing workload, we somehow make time for the crucial things in life like eating, sleeping and the like. Yet one of the most crucial needs – is often the first thing that we skip as our schedules get filled – exercise. It is even sadder as exercise is an effective stress reducer. It pumps feel-good endorphins through the body. It helps lift your mood and can even put you in a meditative state.
Thus it is recommended to dedicate some time each week to self-care, whether it is exercise, yoga or meditation. When one is really pressed for time, he should start small with deep breathing exercises during times of commute, a quick five-minute meditation session morning and night, or replace drinking alcohol with a healthier form of stress reduction.
These exercises require a minor effort but offer major payoffs. According to psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, who is also professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of the book Chained to the Desk, the human autonomic nervous system includes two branches -: the sympathetic nervous system – our body’s stress response and the parasympathetic nervous system- our body’s rest and digest response. The key is to find something that one can build into one’s life that will activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Short, meditative exercises like deep breathing or grounding the senses in the present surroundings, are great places to start. The more one does these, the more chances are that the parasympathetic nervous system would be activated. This can be put in as it would calm everything down. With regular practice and over time one would start to notice that in his life, the parasympathetic nervous system would start to trump the sympathetic nervous system.”
- Limit time-wasting activities and people – The first thing for every individual is to identify what is most important in his life. Definitely, priorities will differ for everyone. One must make sure that his priorities truly reflect himself and not someone else. Next, he should draw firm boundaries so he can devote quality time to these high-priority people and activities. Then it becomes easier to determine what needs to be trimmed from the schedule. If an email or internet surfing sends you into a time-wasting spiral, establish rules to keep you on task. That may mean turning off email notifications and replying in batches during limited times each day. If one feels that he is mindlessly surfing Facebook or unnecessary reads when he should be getting work done, he should try using productivity software like Freedom, LeechBlock or RescueTime. Also, he should try and find ways to diplomatically limit these interactions. People should politely excuse themselves from office gossip to speed up and complete work on time. Rather than hanging out with the work gang the night before a busy, important day one should excuse himself and get a good night’s sleep. Focusing on the people and activities that reward one the most is the key.
To some, this may seem selfish. But it actually is not selfish. Like the aeroplane metaphor, if one has a child, he puts the oxygen mask on himself first, not on the child. When it comes to being a good friend, spouse, parent or worker, the better he is himself, the better he is going to be in all those areas as well.
- Change the structure of your life; learn to delegate
Sometimes we fall into monotony and assume that our habits are set in stone. At times it is important to take a birds-eye view of life and introspect: What changes could make life easier? If one feels that some activities in his daily life were adding too much stress to his life for a considerable time, maybe it is time to change the habit. It is natural to feel worried that such change might disrupt the surroundings but if he wants to reduce stress, this structural change could accomplish just that.
So instead of trying to do it all, focus on activities you specialise in and value most. Delegate or outsource everything else. Delegating can be a win-win situation. Experts recommend talking to the “key stakeholders” in different areas of your life, which could include employees or colleagues at work, a spouse or a partner in a community project. This would help to find out what you can do to let go of in ways that benefit other people by giving them opportunities to grow. This will give them a chance to learn something new and free you up so you may devote attention to your higher priorities.
- Start small. Build from there.
Healthier behaviours can support a sense of personal well-being. These could be behaviours like staying active and or improving eating habits. But those habits can be difficult to establish. Just as crash diets fizzle out and New Year’s resolutions are forgotten by February, it’s the same with work-life balance when we take on too much too quickly. Many workaholic individuals commit to drastic changes: cutting their hours from 80 hours a week to 40, and bumping up their daily run from zero miles a day to five miles a day. It is a recipe for sure shot failure.
- Learn to say “no”
Learning how to say no can be one of the hardest soft skills for any dedicated professional to learn and put into practice. But it is an important part of setting boundaries.
To start, one must first assess the typical demands of a workday and learn to articulate and prioritise what is needed to be worked upon.
A great tool to use for this exercise is the Eisenhower Matrix. It can be helpful to recognize that saying “no” to things that are less of a priority frees up time and energy to say “yes” and attend to other things that are important to you.
- Take breaks
Studies reveal that even a 30-second microbreak can:
- Improve concentration
- Reduce stress
- Keep you feeling engaged
- Make your work feel more enjoyable
It is especially important to be mindful of this when one is working from home which makes work even more demanding.
MIT senior lecturer Robert Pozen recommends taking a break every 75–90 minutes for 15 minutes. This will allow your brain to consolidate and retain learning. A study by The Energy Project found people naturally go from complete focus to physiological fatigue every 90 minutes.
- Seek Help; flexibility is sometimes the key
High-achieving professionals are often guilty of taking everything on themselves. They do not want to “bother” anyone by asking for help. Sometimes this is tied to identity or feelings of obligation.
Instead, consider that asking for help gives other people the gift of giving — and being part of a solution and support system. This builds the benefits of mutual relationships for all involved.
Also, having an open honest conversations about your needs as an employee and those of your employer and team can lead to productive solutions. Those can include flexible working hours, a compressed workweek schedule, job sharing, and other creative options.
As discussed above, one of the most important ways to achieve a work-life balance is to let go of perfectionism. The approach of perfectionism may have brought some success in an early career, but the stress it causes accumulates over time. The strain on our system and emotional resources increases as our responsibilities increase.
It is important to recognize that life is not always easy. Everyone struggles and you will not always get it “right.” Recognizing this truth allows one to create a shift toward a more compassionate growth-and-learning approach to work and life. This can help to support a sense of balance. It can also provide an inspiring model for others who also need to hear this message.
Creating work-life balance and integration is an ongoing and fluid process. One would constantly be learning and adapting as the interests and circumstances change over time. This process should be fun. Also one must not forget to periodically revisit the priorities to see what has changed. A timely assessment might be needed to ascertain whether the priorities continue to align with how time and energy are spent.