In a society that lives by the words, “never leave till tomorrow that which you can do today” and in which we are all just an email, phone call, or text message away from the work crisis of the hour, not to mention, in most cases having a virtual office at your disposal no matter where you are, it can be somewhat difficult to stop working and just live for a minute or two. However, experts agree: the compounding stress from the nonstop workday is damaging to overall well-being, and that maintaining a balance between work and personal life is integral for long-term success in and out of the office. Work-life balance looks different for every individual, but here are a few universal tips from health and career experts that can help you continue on the path toward fulfilling professional goals while carving out time for you and your loved ones.
Moderate perfectionist tendencies. The key to avoid burning out is to let go of perfectionism, says executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, PhD, who wrote The Office Survival Guide. Many of us develop perfectionist tendencies during higher education or our first jobs, however, “as life gets more expanded it’s very hard, both neurologically and psychologically, to keep that habit of perfection going,” Puder-York explains, adding that the healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence. Prioritize tasks and time according to what is necessary to accomplish your endgame, and stay focused on the overarching goal instead of the minute details.
Turn tech off. The ease of communication in this day and age has created expectations of constant accessibility, thereby allowing work to seep out of the actual workday and into time and space that should be dedicated to your personal life. “There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment,” says Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life. Brooks says that phone notifications interrupt your off time and inject an undercurrent of stress in your system. So don’t just silence the work phone, actually turn it off. And if that isn’t enough to stop you from checking it, leave it at home. Make quality time true quality time.
Make time for exercise. Even when we’re busy, we make time for the crucial things in life. We eat. We go to the bathroom. We sleep. And yet one of our most crucial needs – exercise – is often the first thing to go when our calendars fill up. Exercise is an effective stress reducer. It pumps feel-good endorphins through your body. It helps lift your mood and can even serve a one-two punch by also putting you in a meditative state, according to The Mayo Clinic. This doesn’t mean spending 2+ hours pumping iron. Even 20 to 30 minutes of walking has major payoffs and can be worked into the busiest of schedules. If the weather is nice, opt for walking or biking to work instead of driving. Take your dog on a walk or stroll through the park with a friend. Even taking the stairs instead of the elevator fits the bill.
Limit distractions. First, identify what’s most important in your life. This list will differ for everyone, so make sure it truly reflects your priorities, not someone else’s. Next, draw firm boundaries so you can devote quality time to these high-priority people and activities. For those sucked into social media or internet surfing while at work, try using productivity software like Freedom or RescueTime. And if you find your time being gobbled up by less constructive people, find ways to diplomatically limit these interactions by politely excusing yourself. Focus on the people and activities that reward you the most. To some, this may seem selfish. “But it isn’t selfish,” says psychotherapist Bryan Robinson. “It’s that whole airplane metaphor. If you have a child, you put the oxygen mask on yourself first, not on the child.” When it comes to being a good friend, spouse, parent or worker, “the better you are yourself, the better you are going to be in all those areas as well.”
Delegate. Sometimes we forget that help is literally just a phone call away. So, instead of trying to do it all, focus on activities you specialize in and value most. Delegate or outsource everything else. Delegating can be a win-win situation, says Stewart Freidman, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life. Freidman recommends talking to the “key stakeholders” in different areas of your life, which could include employees or colleagues at work, a spouse or a partner in a community project. “Find out what you can do to let go in ways that benefit other people by giving them opportunities to grow,” he says. This will give them a chance to learn something new and free you up so you may devote attention to your higher priorities.
Start with baby steps. We’ve all been there: crash diets that fizzle out, New Year’s resolutions we forget by February. It’s the same with work-life balance when we take on too much too soon. Start small, find what approach works for you, then gain confidence from your successes in order to make more drastic changes that secure your own definition of work-life balance.
What strategies do you use to maintain a balanced life? Let us know here, or @gosirvo.