Technology was once thought to make work easier and more efficient. Instead, it made it easier for work to creep into our homes and other non-work spaces. People check email during a child’s soccer game, join conference calls from vacation, and finish presentations before nodding off to sleep.
For many professionals, work and life no longer fit into structured time segments. And usually, it’s work seeping into - or even invading - our personal lives.
People often expect their employers to give them less work to make it easier to achieve work-life balance.
In reality, it’s up to each individual to find the right balance between their careers and their personal lives. You need to define work-life balance for your situation, decide how important it is at your stage of life, and determine the best ways to achieve it.
What is work-life balance?
There are a number of definitions for work-life balance. Some people define it by how one spends their time and/or energy. Others think of it in terms of managing their time, or in how they prioritize certain activities.
Another definition of work-life balance is that your day should include both achievement and enjoyment. There’s also the idea that a person's life outside of work is just as important as their working life. It’s become well accepted that one’s career should not overwhelm their ability to enjoy their personal life.
Why is work-life balance important?
Over time, a lack of work-life balance can affect your physical and mental health, your relationships, and even your career.
According to research compiled by Small Business Trends, employees who work more than 55 hours a week are at higher risk for coronary heart disease and stroke. They are also at higher risk for depression and anxiety.
Imbalance can also cause a lack of focus, missed time with family and friends, missing important life events, fatigue, and poor productivity at work.
It will also make it difficult to keep your mind off work when you should be focusing on life. Even if you’re not working, you’ll be thinking about it. You’ll obsess over the details of a project over the weekend. You may find it hard to spend time with others because you’re worried about an upcoming presentation.
Work-life balance tips: How to balance work and life
1. Remember that tomorrow is another day
Almost every job has deadlines. But deadlines come in many forms. There are the ones that have to be completed on a specific day. Others can be pushed back a few days, and many are actually self-imposed. Treating all these tasks with the same significance usually leads to late nights and weekends at the office or bringing the office home.
Of course, pushing too many tasks until tomorrow can cause a backlog down the road, leading to stress and anxiety.
That’s where the balance in the term work-life balance comes into play. You need to determine and prioritize those tasks that absolutely have to get done. Work on the others until your scheduled day is over or until you feel your energy wane. When you go home or to your favorite hangout, leave your work behind—both physically and mentally.
2. Minimize workplace distractions
The more actual work you put into your work hours, the less overall time it takes to complete those necessary tasks. Yes, it’s important to take breaks throughout the day to stay fresh. But short breaks can often become long periods of wasted time. Avoid spending too much time surfing the Internet, checking email, playing computer games, or non-work-related conversations.
3. Boost your energy to boost your productivity
The more energy you have, the more productive you will be during normal work hours. The greater your productivity, the more you can get done in a shorter amount of time. This can potentially give you more time for personal activities.
Some people think sleeping and resting less means they can get more done. But typically the opposite is true.
Rest is critical to learning and focusing. Establishing a healthy sleep pattern can make you a more productive worker. According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep deprivation costs the economy $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.
In addition to getting adequate rest, you can also boost your energy with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Avoid depending on caffeine and other stimulants, which only provide a short-term energy boost and can deplete your energy later.
4. Take a vacation
According to the U.S. Travel Association, 55 percent of workers did not use all of their allotted vacation time in 2018. Workers did not use 768 million days of vacation that they were entitled to, and 236 million of those were forfeited completely because they didn’t carry over to the next year.
If your employer offers a pay raise or a bonus, you wouldn’t turn it down, would you?
But that’s essentially what you’re doing if you don’t use your paid vacation days. Paid time off is part of your compensation package. If you don’t use them all, it’s like
Employers provide those days for a reason. Everybody needs time away from work to relax, recharge, and recreate. Even if all you do is stay at home and spend time on hobbies, vacations are an important part of having a work-life balance.
5. Completely unplug from work
Whatever amount of time you devote to non-work activities should be dedicated to… non-work activities. This is especially true if you’re on vacation.
It’s impossible to have work-life balance if you’re checking work email during a nice dinner or working on a project while watching TV. Unless your job is a matter of life, death, or national security, you can shut your work phone and computer off every now and then and just focus on you and the people around you.
6. Listen to your body
Getting sick more often can be a sign of your spending too little time on self-care. The same is true if you notice nagging pain, especially headaches. Take note if you have trouble eating or sleeping. If your body is telling you to take a day off or two, it’s best to listen to it before minor ailments become more serious problems.
7. Buy disability insurance
Every employee and business owner should strongly consider having disability insurance, which replaces a person’s income in the event they can’t work due to injury or illness.
If you struggle with work-life balance, disability insurance may come in handy if overwork leads to a disability like depression or a heart attack.
Plus, if you find yourself too sick or hurt to work for an extended period of time, disability insurance will allow you to focus on your recovery without financial burden or feeling rushed back to work.
Joel Palmer is a freelance writer and personal finance expert who focuses on the mortgage, insurance, financial services, and technology industries. He spent the first 10 years of his career as a business and financial reporter.
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