5 Tips to Creating a Healthy Work-Life Balance
A poor work-life balance is not unusual. Many Americans work more than they want to and feel they are missing out on time with family and friends and in doing non-work activities they enjoy. Work-life balance is important for a life that is not just happy and enjoyable but also for good physical and mental health. You can create better balance in your life by minimizing time spent working out of the office, by prioritizing other areas of your life and, if necessary, by finding a new job.
Work-life balance is a term that refers to a state of equilibrium between your work life and the rest of your life. Working just enough to enhance the rest of your life—with an income, purpose, friends, and other benefits—but not so much that stress becomes overwhelming or you have no time to do other things you enjoy, is a tough balance to achieve. Getting it wrong can have serious consequences. Researchers have found that over 120,000 deaths each year in the U.S. can be attributed to work stress. If you struggle with balancing work with the rest of your life, there are some things you can do to make improvements.
Work-Life Balance Is Personal
It’s easy to feel pressured to conform to trendy ideas of what a healthy lifestyle is. While there are some basics everyone should adhere to, like eating well, getting enough exercise, and managing stress, some elements are highly individualized. Working too much is a relative term.
Some people truly enjoy devoting themselves to their work. It may provide purpose, a social network, and self-confidence. Others like to work less and get stressed out when their hours on the job creep past 40 per week.
You may find it easier to get some work done at home on weekends, while another person gets into arguments with their spouse when they bring any work home. Everyone is different, and that means finding a work-life balance is a personal pursuit. Your perfect balance may look very different from someone else’s.
What Happens When the Balance Is Out of Whack
There are some telltale signs that your work and life may be imbalanced. You can’t rely on counting the hours you work, but look instead at the consequences of working more than you should:
Fatigue and illness. If you feel physically or mentally fatigued, if you get sick more than normal, and if you just feel run down, you may be working too much and not enjoying life enough.
Social isolation. Some people get a lot of their social interaction from their jobs and like it that way. But if your relationships with friends outside of work or with your family are diminishing and you are becoming isolated, it can be a problem.
Stress. Some stress can certainly be healthy. It pushes you to succeed and achieve goals. But too much stress can cause anxiety and irritability, poor focus, a feeling of being overwhelmed, substance use, chest pains, muscle pain, difficulty sleeping, and gastrointestinal distress.
Poor mental health. A poor balance between life and work and the stress that causes can trigger or worsen mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. It can also lead to a substance use disorder.
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How to Balance Work and Life
What is most important in finding your work-life balance is being aware. Many people get into imbalance, never realizing what it is that makes them so unhappy. Look at your work hours, how you work at home, and what the rest of your life is like. Use a critical eye to decide if you are out of balance. Then take these steps to rebalance your life.
- Set Boundaries. Today, with email, instant messaging, texting, and mobile devices, working outside of the office is more possible and common than ever before. This has been useful in many ways, but it is also a leading cause of work-life imbalance. Working outside of work hours has become all too easy. If you miss time with family or are at home but distracted by work all the time, set boundaries. Set specific times when you need to work from home and make all other times off-limits to any work-related activities. Don’t even look at your email during those times.
- Practice time management and avoid multi-tasking. If you can work more efficiently, you can work less, both on paid work and on chores and errands. There are a lot of distractions to take you off-track, but with good time management skills you can avoid the pitfalls. Delegate tasks, both at work and home. Make lists for each day and weekly and monthly schedules for work and home to stay organized and get more done. Minimize interruptions so you can focus solely on one task at a time for up to 90 minutes, about the length of time anyone can concentrate effectively. Avoid multi-tasking, although it may seem like an efficient way to work. It actually reduces your ability to be productive by about 40 percent.
- Make the rest of your life a priority. If you feel that your life outside of work is getting short-changed, you have the power to change it. This is all a matter of priorities. Pick out a few areas of your life, such as family time, going to the gym, or making home-cooked dinners, and prioritize them. Schedule time to spend with your children, uninterrupted by work; go to the gym instead of working through lunch; leave early enough to make your own dinner. Part of prioritizing is knowing when to say no. You can’t take on every project or task asked of you at work. In order to make the rest of your life more important, you will have to say no more often.
- Choose a job that promotes work-life balance. In some cases it is the workplace that is most to blame for forcing you into an imbalance. If you cannot make your current situation better, it may be time to look for a new job. Employers with policies and programs that promote work-life balance have happier, healthier employees. Look for companies that offer flexible working arrangements, childcare assistance, benefits for family and partners, financial education or support resources, and flexible leave options.
- Take care of yourself. Self-care is one of the first things to get neglected when your work-life balance is out of equilibrium. Take time to eat well, get enough exercise, and sleep six to eight hours every night. Learn how to manage stress too. Use yoga, meditation, working out, breathing exercises, and any other strategies that help you reduce or cope with stress. These are all important things to do in order to optimize physical and mental health. Doing so will help you enjoy a better balance in all areas of your life. Self-care also means taking some time away from work. Studies have found that more than half of Americans don’t take all of their vacation days, and yet those who do take time off are happier both at work and in the rest of their lives.
A good work-life balance does not have to be a pipe dream. In fact, you are putting yourself at risk for mental and physical health problems if you don’t find that balance. Take some of these tips to heart and try different strategies until you find the balance that makes your life fulfilling, productive, and enjoyable.
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