How to Improve Work-Life Balance
Being “busy” has become a status symbol nowadays. Just listen in to conversations with your peers and you’ll hear many of them often talking about how busy they are, almost as a humble brag.
On top of that, there’s a lot of pressure from several angles on employees to start side hustles while working their full-time jobs.
Some feel financial pressure and are forced into a side gig; some see the wonderful lives entrepreneurs have (whether they actually live wonderful lives or they just show off to hide something) and feel pressure to live that lifestyle.
Still, others just want to seem more busy than everyone else.
No matter what, though, there’s pressure.
Now, being busy isn’t inherently bad, whether at work, your business (dog sitting/walking, blogging, IT, you name it), or balancing the two if that’s your situation. Every job or business has one or more times of the year when work might pile up or sales might increase, so periodic busyness is to be expected.
In addition, working hard to build wealth and secure your financial situation for you and your family is a noble goal to have.
But chronic busyness, artificial or otherwise, can be harmful to your life.
To combat this, you need to strike a proper work-life balance.
What is Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance is a term that represents an optimal allocation of time between work and the rest of your life.
What work-life balance actually looks like is defined on an individual basis.
For example, let’s say we have two employees: John and Jim. Both are in the office Monday-Friday, 8am to 5pm and both commute 30 minutes each way.
John is single and has no dependents. Outside of work/commuting, he has one hobby, let’s say restoring a car. He works on the car an hour a day. The rest of that free time is spent watching TV, among other routine daily activities.
Jim is a married father of two children. 3-4 hours of his time outside of work/commuting is spent carting kids to appointments/activities, handling chores, and of course hanging out with his spouse.
Right away, you can see that John has about 4-5 hours of free time before a reasonable bedtime. He could take on a couple more hours of work and still have work-life balance if he wanted to.
Jim doesn’t have that privilege. If work suddenly needed him an extra hour each day, that’d be encroaching on his family time. At this point, he’d no longer have work-life balance.
In fact, work-life balance proves elusive for tons of parents, which can indirectly and negatively affect children and the general family dynamic at home.
Yet even for non-parents, a lack of work-life balance has a ton of negative affects too.
Thus, it’s all the more important to cultivate a healthy work-life balance.
Benefits of Proper Work-Life Balance
Greater Motivation at Work
We won’t lie: money motivates.
Beyond a certain point, however, you get diminishing “motivation” returns.
Think about it: if you work 40 hours per week, would you double your hours if it meant you earned time and a half for all 40 additional hours?
Probably not. Most people would rather work their lower-stress job for their current salary than work around the clock for double.
So if you wouldn’t do it for a life-changing sum of money, you definitely won’t be motivated at work when you’re doing extra for free.
It’s pretty hard to be motivated to go to work in the morning when you know you’ll be buried in endless work for 10 hours+, only to go home, crash in bed, and do it all again.
Develop An Interesting Life Outside Work
When you’re always working, you never have time to pursue passions and interests outside of work. You’ll be heaping boredom and boringness on top of all the stress of being overworked.
You’ll be too tired and have too little time at the end of each day to do anything fun, leaving you in a paradoxical state of being bored but not having the energy to do anything.
Also, no one wants to be boring, yet working all the time and doing nothing else is a great way to become boring.
As a famous fictional writer once said, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.
Better Physical Health
Working too much has actually been shown to be detrimental to physical health.
Various studies have shown that overworked employees are at a higher risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.
Now, why is that?
- Lack of sleep – Numerous health consequences, can lead to heavy dependence on caffeine, higher risk of dying in a car accident
- Stress – Stress is a silent killer, contributing to many diseases plaguing modern society
- Poor food choices – Being tired makes your body crave different foods and lowers your willpower. There’s also stress eating, which definitely doesn’t help
- Alcohol/drug use – Some people cope with stressful, overworked lives with alcohol or drugs, which of course are harmful to your health
Ways to Improve Work-Life Balance
Never fear: there are a ton of ways to improve your work-life balance.
Certain fields such as accounting have busy seasons where you have to work much more than your standard 40 hours. Some jobs, such as investment banking, are working way more than 40 hours per week all year.
There’s not much you can do to avoid those completely.
However, you can claim more of your free time back using some of these tips in even the most desperate of job situations.
Carve Out Specific “Me” Time
Most important in your work-life balance pursuit is to designate time for yourself. During this time, you do whatever you want to decompress. That can mean exercise, TV, a soak in the tub, a visit to your local watering hole, you name it.
Whatever it is, focus on the activity itself and don’t think about anything work-related. Doing so will help you recharge so you can attack your work with new vigor the next day.
Set Boundaries Between Work and Home
Tech’s making our world ever more connected, but that’s not always a good thing. Nowadays, your boss can email, text, or call you while you’re trying to have dinner (or worse, during your “me” time).
You spend 8+ hours a day in that office – you don’t owe the company a second more of your time, unless they’re giving you some overtime pay!
In all seriousness, close your work laptop and ignore texts and calls from your boss until the next day. Just because your boss can reach you, heck, just because your boss KNOWS you’re available doesn’t mean you have to answer them.
Wield the Power of “No”
Saying no can be hard. Saying no to your boss can be even harder. After all, you’re supposed to do everything they say, right?
Not necessarily. You’re a full adult; it’s well within your right to tell your boss no if something would impact your work-life balance.
Don’t get this confused with laziness. You still should strive for high performance at work, even going a bit above and beyond your job description at times.
But that “hey could you stick around for 20 minutes after work” can quickly escalate to an hour or even two hours. Suddenly, you’re in AND out of the office at the same time, the only difference being AM and PM.
The sick irony is that your performance will then suffer and you’ll be blamed for it, not your boss.
If you have a good boss and work for a decent company, they’ll probably understand. They might even respect you for sticking up for yourself.
Not to mention that you have plenty of other coworkers for your boss to bug.
Use Your Vacation
Attention 9-5’ers: if your employer gives you vacations days (and we hope they do), use them!
It’s hard to wind down from work during the week when you’ll be back in around 12-14 hours. Even the weekend doesn’t seem long enough.
An extended break in the form of a vacation may be the answer to proper decompression.
“But what if I don’t have the money to travel”?
Who said you needed to travel?
A good staycation can do the trick.
Waking up without an alarm clock, taking in the fresh morning air outside instead of the stale office kitchen smell, slowly sipping a warm cup of coffee instead of running it to your next meeting and spilling on yourself… a couple days of this won’t permanently fix work-life balance issues, but a break from the hassle of the office could be enough to kickstart your motivation again.
Oh, and we didn’t forget about entrepreneurs and the self-employed. They have it tough in a different way – they might not think they can afford to waste time on vacation without their whole business going under. When you aren’t allotted vacation days by a boss, it’s hard to tell yourself “I’ve done enough and deserve a break”.
Unless you’re launching some massive initiative, it’s ok: you can take a couple days off. You might even come back with a clearer mind and ideas on how to improve your business!
Get a Different Job
When all else fails, it’s time to jump ship. Sometimes, that means taking a slight pay cut to get your life back.
However, you can always earn back money. You can never earn back time.
Parents: If that slight pay cut means you can spend more time with your children instead of watching them grow up from your cubicle, you should do it. You can’t put a price on raising your own kids.
If you aren’t a parent, do you want to be spending increasing amounts of your life in a cubicle?
There’s so much more to life than putting your nose to your desk and working, so use these tips to reclaim your work-life balance.