No matter how dedicated you are to your career, having a good work-life balance is important. When you get it right, you get to enjoy both your work and leisure time more. Your stress levels feel more manageable, you have time to nurture your relationships in and out of work, and you are more productive during the hours that you are working.
Plus, your physical and mental health will also benefit.
There are plenty of good reasons to make achieving a good work-life balance a priority. Yet it is still a skill that many of us struggle to learn – and this struggle is only getting harder.
The shift to increased hybrid working has brought many positive changes. The greater flexibility is often helpful to those with caring responsibilities, who can more easily fit their work around their families. Time saved on the commute gives us back some of our leisure hours, while also saving money. And greater control over where and when we work should, in theory, give us a better work-life balance too.
While this may be the case for some, the statistics indicate that the shift to more homeworking doesn’t inevitably lead to a healthier work-life balance. While 65% of professionals say they had a good work-life balance in 2020, this had dropped to 60% by 2021.
When your home is also your workplace, it can be harder to maintain the boundaries between work and leisure time. So, developing a good work-life balance takes both thought and intentional action – especially for those of us who are passionate about our careers and find purpose in our work.
In this blog post, we’ll take you through some of the tactics you can use to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
1. Identify What Is Within Your Control
Most of us know that work-life balance is important. Indeed, 72% of us say that work-life balance is a significant consideration when choosing a new job.
However, knowing something is not the same as living it, and many of us also struggle to achieve the balance that we want.
We check emails after hours, stay in the office later than we planned, and log on at the weekends just to tick off a few items ahead of our working week. We accept calls from colleagues when we are on vacation, and we let late-running meetings disrupt our after-work plans.
From time-to-time, our workloads may demand some extra hours from us. But in most cases, we do these things because we are dedicated to our jobs. We want to give our best and to develop our careers.
Unfortunately, this personal perfectionism is the biggest barrier in developing a healthy work-life balance. And in the long term, it actually hinders our success and, consequently, the success of our organization. To combat it, we need to spend some time really examining our current working patterns and identifying where we need to make changes.
That means taking an honest look a the times when you are working longer hours, interrupting your weekends, or skipping lunch breaks. Does your workload genuinely need you to take these actions or is it your sense of perfectionism that is making you think that you need to put in these extra hours?
If the former, it is time to look at your workplace culture – we have some tips here for employers who want to foster a greater work-life balance for their employees.
But if it is the latter, you have just taken a valuable first step on the journey towards better work-life balance. Now that you know that at least some of the issue falls within your own control, you can start to make some concrete changes to achieve a better balance.
Just to clarify – we aren’t suggesting that you go too far the other way and start to neglect your work tasks. Having a good work-life balance means finding that sweet spot between delivering what you need to at work and also having a fulfilling life outside of work – whatever that might mean to you.
2. Set Some Reasonable Boundaries
One of the first steps to take when trying to achieve a better balance between life and work is to put some separation between the two. In our modern lives, when technology and hybrid working patterns mean there’s little physical barrier between us and work, this means setting some firm boundaries around work hours.
Fortunately, there are plenty of tools to help you do this. For instance, you can also use your calendar to schedule in your lunch break each day, so you and your colleagues can see that you have some dedicated time set aside to take a breather in the middle of the day.
Your email signature and out-of-office message can also be valuable allies in communicating your working hours to both internal and external contacts, so you know they won’t expect a reply from you outside those times.
When possible, it can be a best practice to keep the computer and phone you use for work separate from your personal technology. Then, you can shut them down at the end of your working day and put them somewhere out of sight until it is time to log back on the next morning.
If you work from home, it can be helpful to have a dedicated workspace set up. Make it a practice to only work there and not anywhere else in your home to help you maintain some mental (and physical) distance between work and home life. Ideally, make this a separate room so that your work tools are out of sight during your non-working hours.
Remember too that boundaries are only useful if you respect them yourself. If it helps, you can make a list for yourself of situations where breaking them may be justifiable – such as if there is an emergency or for a short, pre-planned period when you know a project will require all hands on deck for a few days.
Plus, be sure to craft some clear yet appropriate and professional responses to colleagues who may request items that may cross your pre-set boundaries. And it’s always a good idea to have an open 1:1 conversation with your leader about areas that you’d like to protect from work, such as evenings, and weekends. Being on the same page helps everyone know where those boundary lines are.
3. Minimize Distractions
Sometimes, the reason we’re tempted to work longer hours than we should is that we aren’t being as productive as we should be during our actual working hours.
Again, working from home can exacerbate this issue, as can the easy access to technology. There are many distractions that can keep us from giving our full attention to our work – whether that’s the urge to run a quick load of laundry or the siren call of our social media channels.
The more you can resist these temptations and remain productive during work hours, the less you are likely to get to the end of the day feeling like you have many tasks left to do.
Being in the office can help here since you are then surrounded by your colleagues and in a dedicated work environment – both of which encourage you to focus on work. But distractions can creep in even in the office.
Even work itself can get in the way – the constant ping of a new email or a call from a colleague just as you are trying to focus on a trick task.
Some tactics that can help you resist distractions include:
- Installing a focus app on your phone to stop you from opening distracting apps (such as social media) during working hours.
- Asking a colleague to be an accountability buddy during periods when you need to focus.
- Time blocking your day so that you know what you are working on when.
- Only checking emails at certain times of the day.
- Muting notifications from instant messaging tools like Slack during “focus” times.
- Setting aside focus time on your calendar when you are not available for calls or meetings.
- Taking regular breaks to help you concentrate.
4. Prioritize Self-Care
So far, we’ve focused mainly on what you can do during your working hours to give yourself a better work-life balance. But it is equally important to think about how you use your time away from work.
When we feel tired or stressed, it can be tempting to spend our non-working hours slumped on the couch. And there are certainly days when a few hours in front of Netflix is time well spent.
That said, a good work-life balance should mean that we are making the most of our time both inside work and outside it. Using the time when you aren’t working to spend time with loved ones, pursue hobbies, exercise, and enjoy some rest and self-care means you are less likely to feel tempted to log back into work out of hours.
Having a weekly routine around your non-work activities can help you make them more of a priority. If you know that you go to a gym class every Monday, go to book club every Wednesday, and meet friends for a meal every Friday, you don’t need to make any decisions about how best to use your time on those days.
Of course, this can be easier said than done, especially for those of us who have caring responsibilities. Parents and those caring for relatives or loved ones have extra calls on their time, which makes self-care difficult to prioritize, despite it being even more vital.
A useful concept for those in this boat is “sites of mutual fulfillment”. Coined by parenting writer, Lucy AitkenRead, this is the idea of finding spaces and activities that both you and your children enjoy, so you can fill your self-care cup while spending valuable time together. Examples could include going to the beach, walking in nature, reading together, or playing a family sport.
A final point on self-care – something many of us overlook is the importance of sleep. Getting enough rest is vital to our mental and physical health and helps us be more productive at work too. How much you need depends on your individual sleep profile, but all of us should consider getting to bed at a reasonable time part of achieving a healthy work-life balance.
5. Communicate Honestly with Your Line Manager
As we’ve seen, one of the major barriers to having a better work-life balance is our own ability to switch off and focus on life outside of work.
However, we also need to acknowledge the pressures that can come from our employers.
Many businesses genuinely want to help their employees find a good balance. After all, people who are stressed and burnt out are bad news for company morale, productivity, and retention.
But companies also want to get the most from their staff members. And engaged and enthusiastic employees don’t always let their managers know when their workload is creeping too high. If you are dedicated to developing your career, you are likely to put your hand up for any new opportunity – without considering the toll this might take on your work-life balance.
That drive to develop your skills and impress those higher up is a positive. But it does need to come with some realistic expectations around what you can reasonably achieve in your working hours.
This is where communicating honestly with your line manager can make such a difference, especially if you have a good working relationship. They can help you make sure your workload is reasonable and allows opportunities for development without being overwhelming.
You should also speak to your manager about what you are trying to achieve, so they can help you. If they know that you want to improve your work-life balance and will be logging off at a set time each day, they will hopefully support your efforts.
If you are a manager yourself, you also have a great opportunity to model a good work-life balance with your own direct reports. Let them know the hours that you’ll be available and keep your calendar up to date so they know when they can contact you and when you are focused on other tasks.
Explain why this is important to you and encourage them to develop good practices around their own working hours too.
Learning how to balance work and life is a vital skill, but one many of us fail to prioritize. By intentionally setting some boundaries around our work and making the best use of your leisure time, we can feel less stressed, avoid burnout, and be more productive too.