If there’s one thing we are all experiencing, it’s feeling overwhelmed. We’ve all got too much to do, too many demands on our time, and too many things to watch, read, and enjoy. Whether it’s something we want to do or not, it’s adding to our proverbial plate. When our careers start to take up too much of that plate, we seek work-life balance.
But what is the balance between work and life–is it achievable in our modern world?
What Is Work-Life Balance?
“Work-life balance” is the idea that you feel an equilibrium between your work and personal life. Each has equal importance and room in your life.
Many people believe that work-life balance means that each side is balanced 50:50, but the reality is that keeping such a specific balance is rarely achievable.
Instead, work-life balance means feeling fulfilled and at ease in both areas. You don’t feel like all your time is being wasted by your job and feel you have time to pursue other interests. You have time to care for yourself properly, both physically and mentally.
Why Is Work-Life Balance Important?
Imbalance drags down your mental health.
We often see poor work-life balance as a lack of time, which happens when we allow our work lives to take up our personal time, but in many cases, we lack energy, vacation time, hobbies, and time to do the house chores.
Sometimes, this is because our jobs are no longer challenging us. When we get up every day to do the same thing and feel like it’s having little impact on the world or our lives, we will stop feeling fulfilled. Similarly, if our jobs have become too stressful and we no longer feel motivated to handle that stress, we feel burnout under our workload. The deadlines and work schedules drag on with no end in sight.
When we have an excellent work-life balance, we feel happy, healthy, and ready to take on life’s challenges. When we don’t, we feel as though the world is against us, and we often feel as though we’re the camel’s back, just waiting for that final straw.
Is Work-Life Balance a Myth?
Work-life balance isn’t a myth per se, but we often do it wrong. When we feel we lack time for ourselves, it’s usually a mismanagement of energy.
We’re struggling to live up to the expectations we or others have placed on us.
We feel a lack of work-life balance, regardless of whether they’re our own expectations, someone else’s, or a combination of both because we are pushing to reach a version of ourselves we cannot be.
For example, if you are a doctor, you may feel that working 60-hour weeks is entirely unavoidable, and you should be able to do your job to the best of your ability during that time. If you also feel you should keep up an intense workout schedule and give plenty of time to your friends and family, you’ll quickly feel overwhelmed and out of balance.
Your expectations are unrealistic: you should be able to be everything to everyone. Life work balance is possible, but you need to change your mindset, and you may need to make some changes in your family life, too.
Here are a few scientific discoveries supporting the need for work-life balance:
- An article by the Harvard Business Review found that working long hours was harmful to employees and employers. The team conducted nearly 200 interviews and found that most interviewees described their job as demanding, exhausting, and chaotic. They were constantly looking for a way to maintain a healthier work-life balance for better well-being. The research showed that self-awareness and intentional role definition were critical. Work-life balance should be seen as a cycle, not a one-time fix.
- Key findings researchers from Italy highlighted areas beyond work-family balance that need to be considered. The health domain was considered as necessary as a family in the equation. Balancing work and family helped workers achieve balance in their lives.
- A study by Rescue Time blog studied 185 million work hours and found that 94% of service professionals work more than 50 hours a week. Yet, poor work-life balance was associated with feelings of stress and depression, along with poor communication, reduced collaboration, and decreased productivity. Interestingly, the authors found that the average worker only has 2 hours and 48 minutes of device time each day. More than 21% spend time on entertainment, news, and social media during the workday. Workers checked email and IM approximately every six months.
So How Do You Achieve Work-Life Balance?
First, you must let go of the idea that work-life balance means that 50% of your time and energy goes to your job and 50% to your life. The simple truth is that our work is a massive part of our lives, and there will be times when we are more career-focused. There will also be times when we are more life-focused and allow our work lives to take a back seat.
For example, if you decide to work for yourself, those first few years of your new business will be hard-going, and you’ll likely find your work life takes precedence over some personal commitments and goals. You’ll have lists of tasks that must be completed and endless hours of overtime knocking on your door.
Similarly, you may ease off the accelerator to start a family if you spent your first ten working years climbing the ladder. While you may still work full-time, your focus will be on your home life.
It’s important to note that these different phases do not mean you stop giving your all to either part of your life. Find the balance between work and life that works for you.
Give 100% To Work and 100% To Life.
Giving 100% to work and life does not mean you are going at 100mph on both sides of your life. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that giving your all means taking on as many commitments as possible. This is not the case.
We must strive to be intentional about where we’re putting our time and energy. We can give 100% to work and life and be fully present, but we need to understand that we do not have the time (nor the energy) to do everything all at once. You have to be all-in on both because they’re not separate.
When you stop expecting yourself to be able to do everything (the job, be a parent, a partner, train for a marathon, learn a new language, and learn a new skill) right now, you know to rest and enjoy where you are. You can be present in the moment rather than always thinking about what else you need to do.
Stop feeling out of alignment and unsteady. Learn to make decisions that are best for both. Then give energetically 100% for both.
8 Easy Tips For Work-Life Balance
There are many areas to improve the balance in life. The authors recommended putting down the phone and blocking distractions. Here’s our guide on achieving true work-life balance without giving up anything:
- Learn to prioritize – To achieve work-life balance, you need to have a realistic view of your time and understand that you can’t do it all today. If you find yourself constantly behind, spend a week simply logging your time every 15-30 minutes throughout the day. We often don’t like to see that we have less time in a day or week than we think, but once you understand where your time is going, you can make sure you spend your time doing things that matter to you.
- Be intentional about what you say yes and no to – Think seriously about when you say yes and no. Then analyze when you can say no. Learn to say no if you aren’t all-in or aren’t sure how it will fit into your schedule. Sometimes this will be easy, like saying you can’t take on another project this month. Sometimes it will be hard, like realizing that you don’t have time to finish your novel or to start a new business soon.
- Be intentional about your boundaries – Not only do you need to step boundaries, but you need to be intentional about them. Set boundaries with purpose. Some people are happy to have their work emails pop up on their phones, while others find it impossible to ignore them and end up replying at all hours and feeling energetically sapped because of it.
Remember that you’re the only person who can put boundaries in place. If you constantly feel like you’re being asked for too much, speak up and make a change. Sometimes you need to cut a friend that takes but never gives out of your life. Sometimes you need to look for a job at a company that respects you, encourages a friendly work environment, and offers flexible work arrangements or working from home. Maximize any downtime that you have and take vacation time when you need it. Get the immediate tasks done and worry about the rest later. The job will be there tomorrow.
- Create systems – Many people who have learned they need to be self-sufficient early in life find it difficult to realize that there is no prize for doing it all. Create systems that include healthy habits to support you (at work and home), so you have more time for the things you’re passionate about. Automate little tasks, delegate or outsource what you don’t enjoy, and eliminate anything that doesn’t improve your life.
- Learn to listen to your mental and physical health – Self-care is vital. We are not robots. Learn to listen to your intuition and tap into how you feel mentally and physically to find what brings you joy and makes you feel overwhelmed.
If you’re tired or sick, create room to rest. Not doing so proves to yourself that you are unimportant and other people’s needs come before your own. You can only find work-life balance when you understand that your needs are just as important as your work and the needs of others in your life. Be sure to eat healthily and exercise. Yoga has been shown to improve stress and mood. Recharge in a way that is meaningful to you.
- Plan and minimize distractions – Plan how much work you can get done (on an average day, not on your best day!) and schedule only what you can do in that time. Find balance and productivity by scheduling time to work on tasks without distraction. Learn to put down the phone and stay focused with prodromal timers or working blocks.
Many people lack work-life balance when they fail to schedule realistically. Finishing each day with a finished to-do list will make you feel fulfilled. Only ticking off a few things on an unrealistic to-do list will leave you feeling behind and like a failure.
- Stop comparing yourself – Do you feel you should be doing more? Do you compare yourself to others and feel they are always able to do more than you (and seem stress-free)? Unfortunately, you never know how someone handles their workload or what’s happening in their personal lives. Don’t get sucked into the trap of believing you should be able to do something just because someone else can.
- Clear the clutter at home and work. Clutter is distracting and time-consuming. Remove the clutter to focus on what you need to do. Declutter your home and office to create and aesthetically pleasing environment that you love.
The balance between work and life outside of work is only possible when:
- we have a job that fulfills us
- we seek flexibility and enjoyment
- we’re realistic about our time
- we prioritize what we care about most and dismiss the rest
- aim to be fully present in the moment, no matter what we’re doing.
Stop Burning the Candle at Both Ends
Achieving a work-life balance isn’t easy, especially if you’re used to overgiving. Start by acknowledging you can only do so much. Then determine where you need to spend more time and give it the extra attention it needs for the time you need to do it.
Be conscious of the time you have and what you commit to. Give 100 percent effort to whatever you’re giving your time to, then worry about the other tasks later. Over time, you can cultivate a life that offers you fulfillment and ease in both spheres. In other words, you can find a healthy balance between work and life where you reduce stress and feel happier.
Theresa Bedford is a syndicated freelance home and travel writer with regular contributions to the Associated Press wire and MSN. She helps everyday people love the life they have through simplicity, organization, and prioritization.