Updated 26 February 2021
What Is Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance is a concept that allows us to find a happy balance between our work and personal lives.
In 2020, 77% of Americans experienced burnout because of their work, and 66% lack a work-life balance.
Demotivated or disengaged employees cost organizations $550 billion a year.
Many organizations are, therefore, introducing wellness programs in the workplace. Sadly, only 20% of employees take part in these programs unless incentivized.
Yet, the benefits of this balance are paramount:
- Improved health and wellness
- Your productivity will increase
- You might actually enjoy your work or take action to get a job you enjoy
- You’ll have time for the things you love doing
- You will become a happier, more satisfied person
However, this balance doesn’t just come from your employer. It is something that you should want for yourself, and that you create for yourself.
So how can you improve your work-life balance?
Let's find out...
Time Management Tips
1. Set Personal and Professional Goals
Do you want to spend more time with your family or dedicate more evenings to your hobbies?
It may seem odd to consider these personal aspects as goals. But if you do not make a conscious effort to do the things you enjoy, your life becomes more work-oriented.
As a society, we often hear the statement, 'I wish I had made more time for...'
People wish they had learned an instrument or a language. Expats wish they had explored their new surroundings more before relocating again.
There are endless personal goals people wish they had worked on. Take the time to enjoy the things you love by making them a non-negotiable part of your week.
For professional goals, make sure they are achievable and time-specific.
Use your goals to help establish a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly routine.
2. Make a Schedule
Make a schedule the same way you make goals.
Start with a 12-month calendar and mark in all public holidays and vacation time you have booked. Then look at the projects, assignments or targets you need to complete over the month and make a weekly schedule.
Once you are clear on what you need to finish by the end of the week, schedule your daily routine.
This ensures that you have all your essential tasks scheduled ahead of time and nothing is left to the last minute.
Keeping on top of your to-do list avoids having to go to work early or stay late.
If you receive a salary, then you want to finish your job within working hours. Generally speaking, you are not paid overtime, so you do not want to be sacrificing your personal time.
For freelancers, making a schedule in this way allows you to manage your client load efficiently. You can see where you have gaps and where you have oversold yourself.
3. Schedule in Downtime
When filling in your weekly or daily schedule, make sure to include a long lunch break and small breaks away from your desk.
You should also schedule your relaxation time every evening. This time can be to read, watch television, be with your family or any other activity that you consider relaxing.
Knowing the exact time you are scheduled to stop helps you plan your day efficiently.
Of course, small adjustments can be made if necessary. But psychologically speaking, when you see that you have assigned a particular task for a specific time of day, you are mentally prepared for it.
For those who travel to the workplace, keeping a schedule that includes dedicated downtime is more manageable than for those who work from home, as there is more structure to your day.
When working from home, you eliminate the key motivator that makes you leave: travel.
The temptation to work ‘half an hour more’ is greater than if you were in the office, making it harder to switch off fully.
If this is the case, keeping a schedule, dedicating time to relaxation and sticking to that schedule are all extremely important.
There are many benefits to being a freelancer or digital nomad, one being that you get to choose your entire schedule.
If you consider yourself a night owl, schedule your downtime in the mornings with a short period before bed.
4. Take Vacations
Taking vacations may sound obvious, but statistics show that millennials do not use all of their allocated vacation time.
There are a couple of common reasons for this:
- They cannot financially afford the trips they want
- They feel guilty or nervous about asking for time off
However, taking vacations is essential for avoiding burnout.
In a structured organization, you receive a certain number of vacation days. Use all those days.
To maximize your entitlement, book off periods that coincide with public holidays.
For example, if you know you’re out of the office over the Fourth of July weekend, use four days of your vacation allowance either the week before or the week after.
Doing this will give you ten days off (including weekends) and you will have used a minimal amount of your allocation.
For digital nomads, taking a vacation can mean a loss of income. The concept behind being a nomad is that you can travel and work at the same time.
However, it is still essential that you take time out during the year to rest and recuperate.
The biggest benefit of working for yourself is that you can take as many vacation days as you like, when you like.
Take advantage of this perk.
Assign yourself seven days off (minimum) every three months.
A week or two before your vacation period:
- Let your clients know the dates you will be away and an alternative person they can contact.
- Don’t start any new projects that can’t be finished before you leave.
- Set up an out-of-office autoreply for your email account.
When on vacation, remove your work email from your phone so you aren’t tempted to check in.
5. Set Boundaries
Ensure that there is a distinction between your work time and your downtime.
Your clients need to respect your personal time the same way your friends and family know not to bother you when you are working.
If a client or boss is pushy and demanding when they know you are taking time off, you have to consider if they are right for you. Your boss should not be sending you emails at 11 p.m. and your clients should not be contacting you on the weekends unless they have agreed this with you first.
If they choose to work during those times, that is their prerogative. You’ve told them about your working hours. Be firm with your time. Set the boundaries and stick to them.
6. Explore Flexible Working
Do you always need to be in the office or can you negotiate some remote-working days with your boss?
A 2019 survey found that more than a third of workers would take a 5% pay cut if it meant they could have flexible working.
The concept of flexible working featured above wellness programs and parental leave in order of importance.
Flexible working is considered to reduce stress, improve focus and productivity, and reduce the amount of time spent commuting.
Those one or two hours that someone would spend driving or on a train can be used to catch up on sleep or to work on a personal goal.
Flexible working doesn’t always mean having the option to work from home.
Depending on your profession, flexible working could be starting at 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. so you have time to go to the gym. It could also include working three or four long days so you can take a three-day weekend.
Make the time to speak with your manager or HR department about your company’s flexible working policies.
7. Make Exercise a Must
Exercise should be included in your daily schedule as a non-negotiable item.
Not only does exercise keep you fit and healthy, but it also helps keep stress levels down and provides a much-needed escape from life's responsibilities.
Studies show that exercising helps people to manage their work-life balance better as it is a guaranteed period of the day when you can lock away your phone and spend quality time with yourself.
You don’t have to spend hours each day lifting weights. As little as 30 minutes a day is considered adequate.
Over 80% of Americans have desk jobs. Spending all day sitting at your desk comes with a host of health problems.
Dedicating time to your fitness helps prevent those problems, improves your mood and gives you more energy. So, when it comes to getting back to work, not only do you have the energy for it but you are also in the right mood.
8. Nurture Your Relationships
A lack of intimacy is the second most common reason for divorce in the US.
Dedicating all of your time to your work means less time for your friends and family.
Making time for your loved ones shouldn’t be forced and it should not cause more stress.
Once in a while, if your workload gets too much, those around you will understand you canceling on them. But they will eventually give up if you do it all the time.
Carve out time in your schedule for those you care about by:
- Having a dedicated date or family night
- Attend workout classes or the gym with your friends and leave time for a coffee afterward
- Be the one who takes your kids to their sports games
- Arrange big family dinners once or twice a month
- Schedule in calls to friends or family who don’t live nearby
- Make Sundays a family-only day
9. Maintain a Healthy Diet
It is very tempting to snack while sat at your desk. But these small snacks add up, especially with the lack of movement during your day.
Nearly a quarter of Americans skip breakfast which may not seem like a concern, but what we eat for the first meal of the day is important.
Ideally, you want your breakfast to be high in protein with a slow release of energy and sugars.
Cereal and cereal bars are full of sugar, which causes a mid-morning slump. Likewise, you don’t want anything heavy that will leave you feeling lethargic.
Oatmeal with some nut butter is the best breakfast choice. It is also easy to make, suits all diet types and doesn’t have to taste the same every day.
You should also consider a light, well-balanced lunch with a source of protein to get you through your afternoon.
Of course, everybody is different with their own eating habits.
If you do need to snack, choose a handful of nuts or a portion of fruit instead of chocolate and chips.
Drink plenty of water. Hydration is the most important thing for your health, wellbeing and ability to work.
10. Embrace Power Breaks
No one can concentrate all day.
Taking a 10 or 15-minute break away from your work every 90 minutes will help your overall attention levels.
Walk around, refill your water bottle, visit the restroom. But for 15 minutes, make sure you are moving and not looking at any screens.
11. Create a Dedicated Workspace
While not everyone has the space for a home office, it is important to have a dedicated workspace if you are spending time working from home.
Sitting curled up on your sofa with the television on while working on your laptop does not provide ideal working conditions.
It also confuses your brain.
Usually, when you are on your sofa you are relaxing, so your brain automatically tries to wind down.
Find a section of your house or apartment that you can call your home office. It can be one end of the dining table, your breakfast bar or the corner of your living room.
Try to avoid setting up in your bedroom – that should be a tech-free, work-free space at all times.
If the sofa is your only option, sit on the opposite end.
Having that designated space tells your brain that when you are there, it is time to work.
12. Learn to Say No
There was a point in time when we were encouraged to be ‘yes people', to say 'yes' to every opportunity that came our way, to never turn anything down.
As we move to more mindful practices, we need to learn to say no.
We are not superhuman and we cannot do all the things presented to us.
If a client or your boss asks you to do something that you don’t want to because it:
- Will take up too much time
- Means you will have to cancel a personal commitment
- Takes your workload over your ideal limit
...politely decline. Explain that you would be willing to do it another time or attend an event on a different day.
Saying 'no' is difficult at first. You may be scared of the repercussions or concerned that no more opportunities will come your way. But it will get easier.
13. Set a Routine
While working from home has many benefits, it can sometimes be challenging to stick to a productive routine.
There is the temptation of the television or of getting distracted by housework.
It isn’t always easy to stay in a work mindset when you aren’t in a work environment.
Setting a routine and ensuring you stick to it will help you keep focus.
Start work at the same time you would if you were in the office. Align your breaks and lunch to match your office schedule.
Most importantly, finish working when you would leave the office.
The purpose of working from home is not so you have more time to work. It is so you have more time for your personal life. Your working hours do not change.
For your office days, start and leave at the same time. Take your lunch at the same time every day.
These simple routines tell your brain when you need to be alert, when it is time to eat and when it is time to stop working.
It creates consistency and helps you get all your work done during working hours.
14. Embrace Technology
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that that meeting could have been an email.
We’ve also seen how effective video calls can be.
When planning a meeting, consider using Zoom or Skype instead of traveling to the location. Sure, some meetings do need to be face-to-face. But if this is not essential, try video-calling.
Set reminders or timers on your phone and follow them. If you have a reminder telling you it is time for a break, go for that break.
Several wellness apps have coffee-break meditations or ten-minute refocus meditations. Download one and use the reminder functions they have.
Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, so use it to your advantage.
- Video calls
- Wellness apps
- Time-tracking apps
- Habit trackers
- Screen-time function on iPhones
- Interactive to-do lists
15. Set Realistic Goals
When it comes to your professional goals, make them realistic.
Yes, the higher the goal, the more you may achieve. But there is also the chance that you may demotivate yourself instead.
There is also the possibility that you are so determined to reach that goal, you put all your time and energy into it.
Set yourself goals that push you, but not to the extent that you neglect your life.
While there is a temptation to set tight deadlines in the hope you achieve more sooner, consider giving yourself longer to reach your goal, so you have time for your personal goals also.
General Work-Life Balance Tips
16. Know Your Energy Patterns
If you know you are an early riser, then work to that schedule. Set an early alarm, work out first thing and take care of any personal matters such as bills and errands before starting work.
That way, you won’t worry about having to do those things after work when your energy is at its lowest.
For those who work exclusively from home, you have the option to choose your own schedule.
If you find that you work better in the evening, don’t push yourself to wake up early.
When it comes to your eating habits, if you find you can go most of the morning and early afternoon without slumping or getting hungry, then take late lunches.
There may be an element of your working-day structure that you are not able to control. Choosing when to take your lunch break may be far easier than asking if you can work a non-existent late shift. But, so long as your argument is logical and delivered correctly, there’s no harm in asking.
17. Play to Your Strengths
Do work that you are naturally good at. Do workouts that you enjoy. If you are a night owl, ask if you can remote-work so you can work in the evenings.
If you are unhappy in your job, consider a career change.
You cannot have a complete work-life balance if you don’t enjoy either the 'work' part or 'life' part.
Find your strengths, discover what you enjoy and fill your time with those things.
18. Have a Social Life
Many forget the ‘life’ part of the balance.
Work dominates so much of our lives that it becomes an achievement if we make it home for dinner every night, or if we can go a whole weekend without being worried about a deadline.
It is so important to enjoy your leisure time.
Take up a hobby or two, meet up with friends, go on dates.
The balance isn’t only about not spending all your time working. The balance is that you enjoy your work life and your personal life equally.
19. Vocalize Your Plans
If you are leaving the office at 4 p.m., let it be known to your colleagues.
You are more likely to leave on time or have that special lunch order if you tell someone about it.
They will either remind you about it or get excited with you, making you more inclined to go ahead with your plans.
20. Take Care of Your Life First
If a bill needs paying or chores need completing, take care of them before work.
This could look like doing the cleaning and laundry on a Sunday before the start of the working week.
It could involve scheduling half an hour every morning to ensure all your finances are up to date and you have everything you need in the house.
As a general rule, dedicating 30 minutes a day to ‘life admin’ is good practice. Not only will you know if and when bills need paying, but you can keep on top of otherwise-forgotten household chores.
A work-life balance is about more than minimizing your overtime and learning to cope with the stress of your workload.
It is about finding fulfillment in every part of your life.
Throughout history, there have been many options for ways of working. Some believe that putting in extra hours at the office is the secret to success. Others believe that life is to be enjoyed and work is a means to an end.
Whatever option you choose, balance is essential.
To achieve this:
- Work to your strengths and natural body rhythm
- Treat professional and personal goals with equal importance
- Make time for the things that make you happy
- If there is a part of your life you don’t like, take steps to change it