Ever heard the phrase work to live, not live to work?
During a traditional 9-5 working week, that means a large percentage of hour waking hours will be spent within the workplace. In fact, the average person is likely to spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime.
That’s a lot of time.
As technology has developed over the last 15 years, many of our job roles have changed and the lines have become more blurred as to when our working day ends and our personal life begins. Do you check your emails as soon as you wake up? Have you left the office and spent the evening worrying about an upcoming deadline? Taken work home with you? Been on your cell during the evening and weekends with potential new clients?
While our priorities will differ according to each individual, creating a healthy work/life balance is important.
What does a healthy work/life balance look like?
This will be different for each person. It could mean:
- Not thinking about work when you aren’t working
- Being able to enjoy your time at home with your family
- Having time to get a restful night’s sleep
- Being able to exercise – going for a run, a swim, going to the gym etc
- Meeting friends for a nice meal or a night on the town
- Enjoying new experiences, visiting new places or indulging in a hobby
- Reducing stress levels in the evening and weekends
- Getting some quality self-care time
Here are some useful tips to create a work / life balance:
Reflect on what you want
The first step in creating a work/life balance is identifying what isn’t working for you. Are you working outside of your hours? Having difficulty sleeping? Feeling stressed and irritable all the time? Work out what it is that is attributing to the things that are negative, and what a better quality of life would look like.
Have set working hours
If you have contracted hours within your workplace, those are the hours you should do your best to stick to. This isn’t always easy, but if you stay for that extra hour after the end of each working day you will end up doing five extra unpaid hours a week. Over 10 weeks? 50 hours. It all adds up – think of what you could be doing during those extra 50 hours in your own time. This is also extremely relevant if you work from home – set your hours, stick to them and once you have done for the day put your phone and tech away. Don’t check your emails.
Change your hours and working environment
If you feel you’re struggling to handle your current work hours along with everyday life, then look at reducing or changing them. Maybe you could move to a flexible contract or maybe it’s just a case of making sure you use all of your annual leave. Speak to your employer about potential remote working opportunities.
Take meaningful breaks
How many times have you worked through lunch and finished the day feeling physically and mentally tired and completely ravenous? You are legally entitled to breaks at work so make sure you are getting them. The amount, frequency and length of these breaks are dependent on the hours you work but you can check online to see what the government standard is for your specific hours and see what is applicable to you and your employer. Eat lunch, keep yourself hydrated and go outside for some fresh air and a walk. If possible, spend your breaks not discussing work with colleagues – try and give yourself a mental break, even if it just for a few minutes.
Reduce your task list
It can often feel like we have 101 things to do on any given day and if you’re like me you will make an enormous list of every little thing that you want to achieve. It’s time to take a step back and start being realistic – recognise that you aren’t going to be able to do everything, instead prioritizing your task list to the things that are urgent. Avoid feeling like a failure if you don’t get everything completed – remember that you’re only human!
Work smarter, not harder
Similarly, plan out your working day according to your task list and prioritize in a way that will allow you to play to your own strengths. If you’re a morning person, schedule the big tasks early in the day. If it takes you a while to find your rhythm, ease into your working day by doing some quick and easy tasks that will provide a sense of accomplishment. Avoid multitasking – doing multiple things at once will take far longer and may result in each task being rushed. Don’t forget to turn off your notifications and, if necessary, switch your phone off
Have something to look forward to
Whatever your interests, if you have something to look forward to it is less likely that you will be inclined to stay at work after hours. This can be anything: spending time with the family, going to an art gallery, meeting friends for drinks, watching your favorite show or reading a good book. Plan things in your personal time that make you happy – this will help you to de-stress and counter-balance difficult working periods during the day.
Learn to say ‘no’
This is difficult in a working environment (particularly if you are a people pleaser), but remember that you are allowed to say ‘no’. Developing the art of saying no is definitely a skill, but it is one that can be learned with practise. Rephrasing it to something like “thank you for thinking of me but I’ve got… to finish” is much more polite than just “no, I’m busy.”
Once you are out of the workplace, do your best to leave your issues there. Don’t check your emails or answer calls, try and avoid thinking about work, focus on being present where you are and be mindful of what you are doing. Have fun, laugh, be spontaneous and make your home time be meaningful, including if that means doing absolutely nothing.
Whatever your job is, having a clear work/life balance means being able to separate the two areas of your life from each other. Set boundaries, learn to say no, prioritize your task list and remember that you should be working to live, not the other way around.