7 Steps to Begin Integrating a New Level of Work-Life Balance
Does a work-life balance sound appealing to you? If you’re like any other American out there, of course it does! But if we’re being totally honest with ourselves, it also sounds very unrealistic.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American is working more than 50 hours a week, many clocking in at 60 hours or more! Obviously, that leaves very little time to relax, unwind, and restore your emotional, spiritual and physical health.
When we're able to find true work-life balance, not only do we restore our inner and outer health, but we're also happier, more productive, more successful, and less sick.
We’re about to go over 7 simple steps to aid you in the seemingly impossible task of maintaining a perfect work-life balance. Let’s jump in!
1. Let go of perfectionism
Perfectionism is an unbalanced and unhealthy need to achieve a certain amount of perfection in your work and personal life. But this unnecessary pressure on yourself can create undue stress, unrealistic expectations, and an unhealthy amount of worry.
And when we try too hard to be perfect in either our work life or our personal life, this leads to immediate imbalance in our work-life balance. And it will only get harder to manage as your personal life grows (whether that’s through changing relationships, more children, retirement, etc.) or your work life grows (through job changes, salary raises, increased responsibilities, etc.).
If you expect perfection in your work life, your personal life suffers. And vice versa.
Work on being okay with what is, and you’ll slowly get better at being okay with everything else.
2. Set boundaries
Just as it’s important to set boundaries with yourself in terms of perfectionism, one must also set boundaries with others in order to achieve work-life balance.
“Establish non-negotiables,” suggests Juliana Breines, Ph.D., a social and health psychologist. “When you think of all the things in your life that are important to you, work-related and non-work-related, what are the things that you absolutely cannot sacrifice (or could only sacrifice under rare circumstances)?”
Non-negotiables might include important events in your child’s life, such as birthday parties and graduations, or self-care foundational principles like exercise or meditation.
“Not all non-negotiables need to be temporally rigid—for example, it may not be realistic to exercise every day, but you could make a commitment to exercise at least three times a week,” explains Breines. “Being clear and upfront about non-negotiables can help us structure our lives to make room for the things that matter most, without letting others’ down. If an employer is not comfortable with your non-negotiables, that may not be the right place for you to work.”
This leads us to the next thing…
3. Learn to say “no”
Learn to say yes to what’s right for your work-life balance and saying no to things that jeopardize that balance.
By saying no to the wrong things, you open yourself up to saying yes to what truly revitalizes you, energizes you, and empowers you to achieve the right equilibrium between your professional life and personal life.
Psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, in an interview with Forbes magazine, says: "It isn’t selfish [to say ‘no’]. It’s that whole airplane metaphor. If you have a child, you put the oxygen mask on yourself first, not on the child. [...] The better you are yourself, the better you are going to be in all those areas as well.”
Forbes suggests looking for the things that pull you away from what's important to you, whether that's social media or unnecessary meetings. Then, find polite ways to get out of these unnecessary commitments.
4. Know that money can’t buy happiness
One reason so many of us struggle with work-life balance is because we think more work equals a better life. But that’s not always, if ever, true.
“Consider choosing quality of life over salary,” recommends Breines. “Contrary to what many believe, research suggests that beyond a certain salary level, money doesn’t buy happiness. In some cases, it can buy greater stress. If you’re in a position that makes the kind of work-life balance you want impossible, it may be worth considering taking a pay cut—or even pursuing a different career altogether—to enable you to focus more on other aspects of your life, provided that the pay cut doesn’t create financial stress. Rather than striving to ‘have it all,’ which is arguably impossible for men and women alike, decide for yourself where your priorities are and what makes you most fulfilled. There is no one right formula for everyone.”
5. Leave work at work
In our always-connected, plugged-in culture, work tends to follow us. At any moment, a colleague can message you on social media. At a whim, your boss could shoot you an email that pings and vibrates your smart phone.
Learn to leave work at work. If you have a pile of paperwork or a briefcase, stash it in a safe spot in your home’s entrance. Once you leave the office, turn off those phone notifications and email inbox pop-ups. Some people even plug their phone in in the foyer of their home and leave their phone there so they’re not tempted to mindlessly scroll through it when they’re with their family, children or friends.
Put the power back in your hands by empowering yourself to check your email or messages when you want to, not whenever your boss or coworkers decide to contact you. Keep that control in your power, and you have a better opportunity to achieve work-life equilibrium.
“One way to avoid being incessantly available is to make it clear to your colleagues that you will reply to emails within 24 or 48 hours,” suggests The Guardian. “You need to make it clear that you’re not endlessly available for work queries outside working hours. Admittedly, that’s easier said than done.”
6. Work smarter, not harder
We often think that if we can just be more productive, we can do more. But that feeds an endless cycle of being overly committed to work and never achieving work-life balance.
A primary example is multi-tasking. You might feel like you’re doing more, but you’re actually doing less.
“Try to shorten commitments and minimize interruptions,” warns the Mayo Clinic. “Most people can sustain a maximum level of concentration for no more than 90 minutes. After that, the ability to retain information decreases dramatically. When interrupted during a task, you need double or triple the time of the interruption to regain full concentration on your task.”
Other ways to work more efficiently include:
Creating your to-do list the day before
Knocking off the most important thing on your to-do list first before checking your email, attending meetings, etc.
Delegating to others. You don’t need to be a martyr who does everything. Others can do it too, and they can achieve the goals you want even if their methods are not exactly as you’d like.
7. Accept the seasons
Finally, accept that life comes in seasons. When you have a newborn child or toddler, it might seem like family life is all that you’re facing. When you have a new job, the demands of career and learning your new job can take up your entire field of vision.
But it won’t always be like this. Sometimes, when we want work-life balance, the answer is simply to wait for this season of life to ebb into the next season. Regardless, it’s a beautiful opportunity to check in with yourself, double-check your priorities and your work, and make changes where necessary.
Work-life balance helps us to carve out time for the things that matter most to us, our sense of purpose, and our joy. Perhaps that means creating more time for a work project that excites us or creating space around self-care moments that restore us.
There’s no right answer! Only you know what you need. Begin realigning your priorities and your time and experience the benefits of improved work-life balance.