Work-life balance is not always easy to achieve. Whether you aim to pad your savings account or obtain a promotion in your career, putting in long hours at work might seem like the biggest priority. But we all know the story of the millionaire workaholic who has loads of money but no free time in which to use it.
You want to do it all. But in the pursuit of ultimate productivity, you often end up feeling like you’re not accomplishing anything. If you feel like you’re failing in every area of your life or are torn between being your best self at work and home, you might want to focus on creating a better work-life balance.
Do You Really Have As Little Time as You Think?
Most of us are guilty of saying that we don’t have enough time. Time is a valuable commodity. As we use it, we can’t get it back.
But you probably have more of it than you think. In her book, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” Brigid Schulte discusses how poor work-life balance affected her. As a journalist and mother of two, she often held phone meetings at doctor’s appointments. She didn’t feel like a good mother, and she would wake up in a panic because she wasn’t fulfilling all of her obligations at work.
Schulte decided to take some time to research this phenomenon of overwhelm. She found that American employees are working for lengthier stretches than they used to. Working mothers have the added pressure of taking responsibility for taking care of the children and managing household chores.
But when Schulte talked to time researchers, they estimated that she probably had more leisure time than she thought. They told her that she likely had 30 hours of leisure time per week. That’s more than four hours per day.
Imagine what you could do with four hours. Do you really have that much leisure time?
If you do, you probably don’t even realize it. When you don’t have work-life balance, you push yourself until you burn out. Only then do you crash and read a chapter of a book before bed—something that a researcher might consider leisure time—or zone out in front of the TV for 20 minutes.
When you’re lying in bed, listening to the radio after the alarm goes off and mustering up the energy to get in the shower, you’re engaged in a leisurely activity. What Schulte learned in her research was that she was getting some leisure time, but she was finding it in snippets between her other obligations.
Moreover, it didn’t exactly feel like leisure time. She wasn’t letting go and enjoying herself during most of these occasions—she was simply putting off other tasks or trying to grab a quick break so that she wouldn’t shut down completely.
Some people refer to this as contaminated time. In our efforts to avoid the frivolity of leisure time, we try to pack our schedules with too many demands. We multi-task ourselves to death, doing chores while we watch TV at night and listening to conference calls while taking care of our children. Then, when we do have a free moment, we’re so wound up that we can’t even enjoy it.
Perhaps you do have more leisure time than you think, but you’re not balancing it well. Being intentional with your time is an ideal way to establish some harmony. We discuss other work-life balance strategies below.
Why Is it So Hard to Find Work-Life Balance?
Our culture is set up to prize productivity. Therefore, your attempt to achieve work-life balance goes against everything that you’ve been taught. Nonconformity can be uncomfortable. It upends the patterns of living that you’ve established.
Even if you do succeed in breaking free of the pressures of modern society, you’re often isolated in your efforts. Taking steps to focus on yourself can feel selfish because no one else is doing it. Moreover, you may feel like you’ll be looked over at work if you’re not pulling all the weight or working the longest hours.
There are many other reasons why it’s hard to manage work-life balance. Many companies don’t value personal time and reward employees who work longer and harder.
In her book, Schulte says that working mothers today spend more of their free time with their children than stay-at-home moms did a few decades ago. They’re giving up social engagements and alone time to contribute to the family, and they are overwhelmed. They don’t have work-life balance.
What is Balance Anyway?
Before we get into the work-life balance strategies, we want you to think about what balance means to you. Balance may be the key to happiness. However, happiness is a balancing act.
Some experts say that life will never be balanced, and you should simply accept the imbalance. That’s not necessarily true. Balance is a juggling act. When you add something to one side of the scale, you have to adjust the other side. It takes effort and deliberate action to seek balance, and the pursuit can be tiring.
If you’re exhausted, do you claim that you want balance when you really need to take a break? Perhaps you’re seeking harmony more than balance. You want the various parts of your life to flow in parallel, nourishing you so that you thrive.
Balance doesn’t necessarily mean that you will devote similar amounts of time to the various areas of your life. If you feel aligned when you work 10 hours a day and spend time in nature on the weekends, that’s probably what you need.
In other words, balance is a feeling. It’s not a measurement.
Balance is a lack of conflict or a streamlined system for managing conflict. In one study, researchers noted that 70 percent of American workers feel like their work and family responsibilities are at odds with each other. This lack of balance can show up as:
- Time constraints
- Missing work activities
- Missing family activities
- Stress spilling over from home to work or vice versa
About 40 percent of employees say that they check up on their work while vacationing. Forty-seven percent of workers feel guilty if they don’t accomplish anything when they’re sick. Many are afraid to disengage because they worry that they’ll struggle to get back in gear when they return. But if you’re always thinking about work, can you really enjoy your free time?
Work-life balance might best be defined as the ability to thrive in everything that you do. If you enjoy the time that you spend in every area of your life and live it to the fullest, you probably feel balanced.
Find Presence In Each Moment
Some experts might recommend that you take care of mundane tasks while doing other things. For example, you could check your emails while you’re waiting for an appointment. You might fold laundry while prepping for work while listening to an inspirational podcast. If you do work and life at the same time, you can find balance, right?
That’s not always the case. Multi-tasking is the ultimate distraction. It’s also a myth. Your brain can’t focus on more than one thing at once.
Devoting yourself to several undertakings at the same time is like trying to watch several TV shows simultaneously. You might catch bits and pieces of each one, but you will probably struggle to keep up with the storyline. As information falls through the cracks, you likely get frustrated that you can’t follow the plot.
While you might be tempted to do everything at once just to fit it into your busy day, that’s not going to help you feel balanced. In fact, multi-tasking can contribute to burnout.
Try to be mindful no matter what you’re doing. If you’re listening to your spouse reading a bedtime story to your child, don’t scroll through social media. If you’re on a call for work, don’t wander through the aisles at the grocery store.
Perhaps you get inspired by listening to podcasts while you drive. Some multi-tasking is ok, but make sure that you unplug regularly. Today’s technology bombards us with information. Sometimes, you need to give your senses a break.
Instead of looking at your phone at the bus stop, consider meditating. Grab a book to read on your next vacation. Flip through magazines at the doctor’s office. Put down the screens and learn to enjoy your own company.
Schedule an End Time for Your Work
Telecommuting and flexible work hours are becoming more popular in today’s professional environment. You might think that working from home or setting your own schedule would help you feel more balanced.
But people tend to have more work-life imbalance when they set their own hours. That’s because the flexibility doesn’t always leave them with clear boundaries for when they should stop working. Therefore, they feel as though they’re always on the clock.
Moreover, employers that work after hours might keep some employees on a string. Technology makes it easy for bosses to contact their employees, and workers might feel as though they must always be available.
Just because your supervisor can access you 24/7 doesn’t mean that they should. If that’s part of the job description, you might want to consider pursuing another position. Here are some employers that are known for encouraging work-life balance.
If you’ve gradually made your boss’ time more important than yours, though, you can reset the rules. Have an honest conversation with your supervisor about realistic working hours.
Be clear, and put the guidelines in writing. Make yourself unavailable at the times that you’re not supposed to be working.
Sometimes, it’s even harder for you to set and follow your own boundaries. A self-imposed connection to work might prevent you from switching gears and spending quality time with your family or yourself. If that’s the case, you might have to commit to a voluntary schedule.
Decide when you’re going to turn off the computer, set your phone on do not disturb and close down your professional life for the day. Schedule it in your planner. Tell your friends and family about your intentions. They can help hold you accountable for enjoying your free time instead of keeping work at the other end of your lifeline.
Setting work hours will also prevent your friends and family from distracting you when you’re supposed to be focused. Doing so will allow you to say no to your friend who wants to meet for a lunch date when you have to finish a project. It will ensure that you dedicate yourself to your priorities and leave time for yourself when it’s called for.
Make Time for Yourself
Your job can’t be your entire life. You have to make time to take care of your physical, psychological and emotional health. The idea of taking time away from your chores, work, and to-dos makes some people feel guilty.
You may think that you should devote your free time to others. You need to spend quality time with your kids and make your spouse feel loved, right? You can’t fill other people’s cups if yours is empty.
Taking time for yourself helps you:
- Recharge your brain
- Increase your productivity
- Concentrate better
- Explore your desires
- Discover your voice
- Think on a deeper level
- Solve problems more effectively
Overscheduling makes it difficult for many people to make time for themselves. You can try to give yourself alone time during those pockets that you might otherwise fill with tasks or making connections with other people, such as your lunch breaks.
If that doesn’t help, you might need to take a hard look at your schedule and re-prioritize. Perhaps there are some tasks that you could delegate or hire someone to do. If items on your to-do list are not important or urgent, ask why they made it on the list in the first place.
Here are some other tips for making time for yourself in a busy world:
- Ask for help
- Use your planner to commit to a schedule
- Schedule “me time” on your calendar
- Use your schedule as your excuse to say no to people instead of taking on endless obligations
- Embrace imperfection
- Make time for things that you truly enjoy
- Get up a little earlier or go to bed a little later
- Put down the electronics
Make Time for Your Loved Ones
Even the most reclusive hermit needs some human connection. Being with the people you love feeds your soul.
We are hardwired for connection even though our culture makes you think that pursuing your personal destiny is more important. Their social environment significantly influences all mammals. We feel physical pain when our interpersonal connections are threatened.
This corresponds with the fact that humans experience pain when their survival is at stake. Apparently, we have evolved to view social interaction as a necessity. We don’t have ulterior motives for wanting to connect with others. We crave strong bonds for the sake of connection itself.
Humans are empathetic and can evaluate other people’s mental states based on cues. This ability lets us drive our behavior through collaboration with others.
Without social connections, we can feel ungrounded. We might have trouble gaining perspective on the world if we only see it through our eyes. We need to interact with others to develop a comprehensive understanding of the world.
Plus, being with others makes us happy. Research shows that one of the most common regrets that people have at the end of their lives is that they didn’t spend more time keeping in touch with friends and family. What’s more, being around people you love is worth more than a $100,000 increase in income for your happiness.
Take Care of Your Health
You may think that you don’t have time to exercise, make well-rounded meals or see a therapist. However, if you don’t pay attention to your health, every other area of your life will suffer. On the flip side, devoting some time to your personal care can create huge shifts in other categories.
Imagine that you’ve been stuck in a rut at your job. You never seem to land the promotion, and the energy slump that you experience at 2 p.m. curtails your productivity. You’ve been taking more sick days because you’ve been feeling under the weather, and you feel like you’re not making any progress.
You might think that you need to put as much effort as possible into your work to turn things around. Maybe if you chug an energy drink in the early afternoon you’ll accomplish more before you clock out. Then, you’ll be able to brag about your achievements at the next review with your boss.
Often, putting more attention on the problem isn’t the answer. Instead of working more, address your rut by paying attention to the other areas of your life:
- How’s your health? If you’ve been taking sick days or feeling poorly, perhaps you should get regular checkups to ensure that a medical condition isn’t affecting your performance.
- How are your relationships? Stress at home can make it difficult to concentrate at work. What could change if you started going to couple’s therapy with your spouse?
- Are you exercising? A sedentary lifestyle doesn’t make you more relaxed; it can contribute to pent-up energy, anxiety, and mental health problems.
- What are you passionate about? If you can’t come up with a thing that you’re interested in, you might feel unmotivated in everything that you do. Finding your passion can help you be happy and share your gifts with others.
- How are your finances? Do you live from paycheck to paycheck? Chronic money worries can lead to ongoing stress that can impact your health and relationships. Focusing on budgeting and saving might re-live some of that anxiety.
The things that you focus on typically grow. Therefore, if you’re trying to resolve your job woes by looking them in the face all the time, you’re just fueling their fire. Consider paying attention to other aspects of your life. As they flourish, you might notice that your entire garden blooms.
Remember Your Dreams
It’s easy to get caught up in the tedious clamor of your routine that you forget the big vision. Once you realize that you’ve steered off course, you can be overwhelmed by the feeling that you have no purpose or have lost your mission.
Plus, when you’re not working toward your dreams or major goals, you might feel aimless in your endeavors. Doing what lights you up makes you feel balanced.
If you don’t keep your eye on your goals, you could even suffer from decision overwhelm. You can make a choice to do anything that you want at any given time. That may feel like freedom, but it’s often a scenario that makes people feel off-kilter.
Think about what happens when you just want to buy shampoo and have to choose from hundreds of options at the drugstore. If you don’t have any standards by which to make your decision, you could be stuck there for a long time deciding which option is the best.
Remembering your dreams helps you balance out the decisions that you make and actions that you take along the way. It ensures that you engage in meaningful activities that fill you up. Focusing on your goals can prevent you from getting so sidetracked that you tip the scales in the wrong direction.
Some goals are more important than others. Perhaps you want to have kids by the time you’re 35. Sky diving and visiting the South Pacific are also on your bucket list. Keep returning to your goals and re-prioritizing them.
You can even work backward from your most essential dreams and decide what action you can take in 10 years, 5 years, this year and today to get you closer to those goals. When you do that, you end up finding time for the important things in life because you stay connected with them.
Stop Living by Other People’s Expectations
What do your parents, spouse, friends, kids, and boss expect from you? If you’ve never stopped to think about that, you might be surprised when you contemplate the answers.
Maybe your neighborhood friends expect you to throw extravagant brunches once a month because that’s the social standard in your area. Perhaps your partner expects you to keep the house clean even though you’re chasing the kids around all day. Your boss may expect you to answer the phone on the weekends.
Even though many women and men share in household and financial responsibilities, there is still inequity in our culture when it comes to child-rearing. Women often assume the duties that are related to the children even if they don’t intend to.
Being aware of these expectations is the first step. If you aren’t mindful of them, you might be succumbing to them unconsciously. If that’s the case, you’re throwing yourself off balance for someone else’s expectations.
Get clear on what others expect from you so that you can set some boundaries. Then, decide what you expect from yourself so that you can say no to others and yes to your needs.
One of the biggest expectations in our culture is that you’ll be a productive member of society. We have taken that to mean that we’re supposed to fill up our schedule and have something to show for it at the end of the day. However, entire civilizations have been created from leisure time. It’s during our leisure that art, music and innovative discoveries are developed.
Take Time to Create Space
It’s difficult to think clearly when you have physical clutter. We’ve talked a lot about de-cluttering your mind in this article. But it’s also crucial to stay on top of your environment.
If you’re always searching for lost items, you’re wasting valuable time that could be devoted to one of your priorities. When you sit down at a messy desk, your brain finds several things to focus its attention on. However, you should be concentrating on the task at hand.
You might not think that you have time to clear your workspace or keep your closets organized. Moreover, you may not realize how important it is to streamline your space.
Marie Kondo, the founder of the KonMari method of tidying up, advises people to start with their closets and drawers. Even though you don’t necessarily see these hidden messes as you go about your day, they can eat away at your subconscious. Clear the cobwebs from your environment and your mind so that you can focus and approach every moment with clarity.
Life is a series of choices. If you do too much of anything—even eating fresh vegetables—you could end up feeling unbalanced. You need to recharge yourself in each of life’s categories to establish harmony in the grand scheme of things. Take control over your situation by nurturing what’s important to you and creating a life that you want.