This post was originally published for National Work Life Week in 2020.
Establishing a healthy work-life balance can be complicated. How much work is too much? When should you stop working and take time for yourself? These are all questions professionals come up against all the time. Work life balance stress can certainly become debilitating if unaddressed for too long.
It can be tricky to navigate a work-life balance because so many of us strive for both professional success and personal happiness. There are, however, certain things you can look out for that signal you are distributing your time is in unhealthy ways. In this post, we will examine some of those signs and then look at what you can do in order to achieve a balance that makes you happy both on and off the clock.
Here are some telltale signs of an unhealthy work environment.
- Feeling unable to spend time with friends and family
- Constantly feeling like you have too much to do
- Having no time for self-care
- Unable to stop thinking about work
- Inability to remember the last time you had fun or a good break
- No obvious hobbies or time for hobbies you once had
- Feeling tired constantly or never getting regular sleep
While some of these concerns might be inevitable at certain points in your career–for example, you might be “unable to stop thinking about work” if you have a big deadline coming up–the persistence of any number of them should raise a red flag.
If you cannot spend time doing things you love outside of your work, then you’ll quickly find yourself less happy, less motivated, and ironically, less able to perform well at your job. In order to be a fully functioning, lively human being, you have to ensure you tailor your lifestyle to all facets of yourself, not just the professional side of you.
Now, of course, all the different ways you spend your time can include work, but your job doesn’t have to be the whole picture. So, if you spot yourself in an unbalanced cycle where work is taking over–what can you do?
1. Reflect on what balance looks like for you
There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for work-life balance, so the secret is recognizing what helps you recharge and makes you happy. For some people, that involves splitting up the day equally between work and home life: 8 hours and 8 hours. Other people work best by pushing hard all week and completely unplugging on the weekends.
2. Take personal responsibility for your work-life balance
Once you have a better intuition into the situations that set you up for success versus failure, you have the power to influence your working environment. If you need a long weekend every two months, communicate that early and often to your bosses. If you’re right that this type of activity helps you, they’ll be impressed by your performance before and after.
This personal responsibility also means you must speak up when work expectations and demands are too much. While great supervisors are aware of where the pressures lie in order to address them, asking for a little extra space now benefits both you and the company down the road.
3. Draw lines between work and play
Maybe this means refining your work to a specific room in your house, or maybe this means allowing yourself to turn off your phone at lunch. I work in a completely different room and establish my own routine to switch between work and non-work modes. How ever you decide to draw the boundaries between work and life, build those boundaries into a habit.
4. Add de-stressors to your routine
Relationships, hobbies and exercise are common ways people de-stress. Nurture your personal relationships to keep them strong, and tend to hobbies and interests outside of work. Make these things a priority, not just something you fit in if you have time.
Exercise is a great example of something you can keep in your daily routine that will release endorphins, make you happier, give you energy, and leave you less stressed. Another tip is to schedule reminders for yourself to catch up with a friend so that it becomes part of your routine.
5. Work smart, not long
This involves tight prioritization — allowing yourself a certain amount of time per task — and trying not to get caught up in less productive activities, such as unstructured meetings that tend to take up lots of time. In many cases, however, this tip is easier said than done. It’s important to recognize that every human has productivity limits — don’t beat yourself up when the real problem might be the amount of work on your plate.
Whether you use these tips or some of your own, don’t forget to continuously check in with yourself on how your work-life balance is going. Make adjustments generously and often. Most importantly, be kind to yourself as you figure out a plan that works for you.