25 Ways to Achieve Work-Life Balance
If you’re reading this, chances are you'd like some fresh ideas on balancing all the jobs you have in your life. The challenge of balancing work and home is an issue for men and women - especially if you add kids to the equation. Here are a few friendly suggestions for adding some order to the chaos of work-life balance.
On the Clock
- Set realistic limits at work. A challenge for workers of both genders is being seen as a "hard worker" and "team player" while still having a life (and added layer: family). Take opportunities at work to talk about flexible work models and redefining what hard work really looks like in your company's culture. You might be surprised what you find out.
- Track where your time goes. When life feels out of balance, try writing down how you are using your time (in 30-minute blocks) for a few days or a week. Time management author and researcher Laura Vanderkam points out that we often lie to ourselves about not having enough time for things we enjoy. Tracking your time will help you find the truth about how balanced your time is between work and play.
- Be your own vacation advocate. Let's be honest, it's unrealistic to expect your boss or family to feel sorry for you and suggest a vacation. Make it a priority to sit down every three to six months with your vacation days in hand, get out everyone's calendar and plan some time off, even if it's just a few long weekends or a mid-week break to do a favorite hobby.
- Be prepared for imbalance, like when work adds more work. The bottom line of work-life balance is that when you add more to one side of the equation (more work or more life), it can feel chaotic until you settle into a new normal. When work adds more, it's time to communicate MORE, not less. Let people who have a stake in your life know that you are in a busy season at work and provide specific ways they can help.
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- Put a pause on the quick "yes." Often a boss or co-worker will casually ask you to add something to your workweek that's not your responsibility but would be nice to get done. You might be guilty of the quick "yes” here. Instead, start practicing "let me check my calendar," which will give you time to see if it is really a good time to add more to your plate.
- Touch base with the outside world. When you have a break in your day, sending a text or writing a quick note to a friend, spouse, child or other relative can help maintain relationships in your off-the-clock world. Instead of asking questions that need more response, just a simple, "Thinking about you today" or "Hope your test went well" can be very meaningful.
- Don't be perfect. Some weeks you will need to spend more time at work and might neglect your family or friends a little. Give yourself a break. Your work life is a marathon, not a sprint, so let balance be more about the long haul.
- Clock out of work. Why is happy hour so happy? Happy hour tells the working world that the day is done. But for those workaholics out there, it would be wise to think of quitting time as your personal happy hour and stick to it. Tell yourself at the beginning of the day that you are leaving on time, remind co-workers you'll be leaving on time and then do it.
Off the Clock
- Leave work at work. Never off the clock? Houston, we have a problem. When I taught school, it seemed like I was constantly thinking about my classroom, which I thought made me a better teacher. When you are constantly thinking about work-related tasks, you may believe this makes you an ever-so-committed employee. But in reality, you may be constantly distracted from the people and moments outside of work where you want to be fully engaged.
- Open yourself to a new community of people. Community can be anywhere you get out of your routine and grow. Building relationships with people outside work will help you have that balanced perspective with the outside-of-work world. If you have a family, add them to the mix and you will all have a chance to grow.
- Add to your village of helpers. If there are jobs you despise, make room in your budget to hire people to help ease your load. Like gardening but hate mowing? Get that done by someone else so you can maximize your time off the clock.
- Add to your day, but only 15 minutes at a time. It's a grand goal to want to get up an hour earlier. But to really make it a habit, Kat Lee, author of the blog Inspired to Action, recommends that you get up no more that 15 minutes early to encourage sustainability. Spend it doing exercise, reading or planning your week. Make it something you will look forward to.
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- Add something you love. When work gets chaotic, it will actually help you feel hopeful and energized to add an activity that you know will refuel your tank like volunteering at a soup kitchen, playing a pick-up game of basketball, joining a book club or taking a hike with an encouraging friend.
- Put a time and purpose on social media. Sometimes social media can be like a bad movie — 90 minutes of life you can never get back. Try giving your time on social media a purpose (just go on to wish people a happy birthday or to encourage a friend or relative) or set a time limit to help you rein in wasted trolling time.
- Guard your weekends. That seems like a no-brainer, but with kid and church activities plus family get-togethers … you see where I am going with this. Be as careful about your calendar on the weekends as you are during the week so you can make sure you have room to rest and play.
- Be prepared for imbalance, when life adds more life. I find this most true with family illnesses, car accidents and home projects — they can easily end up sucking time (and money) that just weren't in the budget. These are the times to scale back on commitments, tighten up the finances, ask for help and be mindful of your own need for stress release and self-care.
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- Remember, family leave matters for you, too, Dad! If a baby is on the way, start to gather time off or address the issue with your supervisor. More fathers are letting their workplaces know that time off around the birth of a child is a priority.
- Prepare your family’s schedule. Newsflash: Your family can't read your mind. If you need help with a house project, getting ready for the day or running errands on the weekend, sit down with the people you love and tell them you need their help. If you are a single parent, it's time to let your kids, friends and even neighbors know that in order to have more sanity, you would appreciate those who can help lighten your load.
- Build a sense of team with your family. When your family feels like you are more like a roommate than a family member, work is getting out of balance. Prioritize family dinners when you can talk to them about life and your job — both the challenges and the rewards.
- Coordinate calendars with your family. The quick "yes" (mentioned above) can have ripple effects. Checking your calendar is also a great time to check with your family to make sure that your yes doesn't cause stress because you have forgotten another commitment.
- Let the kids help. Take time to research age-appropriate chores and give your kids more responsibility. We can be tempted to give kids too much down time after school (trying to help them with work-life balance, I suppose), but having them pitch in at meal times, with laundry and cleaning the house helps them learn important skills and lighten the load.
- Use technology to help you remember. Start putting reminders on your phone to help remember things the kids need for school, to call for an appointment or even to ask how a conflict with a friend had gone. These "little things" matter, and technology can help.
- Prioritize older children. Big kids need love, too. Middle schoolers and teenagers don't stop needing (and wanting) a little of your time. Just going on an occasional "date" with your child to let them talk about life will help them feel like they are on your radar along with your job.
- Keep your partner in mind. Studies have shown that workers are more creative and dependable when their families are thriving. At the center of that is the parent relationship. Be sure to schedule regular evenings out with your spouse. Even if you are a single parent, striving to maintain peace and communication with the other parent can help your productivity at work as well.
- Be "off" after nine. People say parenting is a job that never ends, but good advice is to be "done" by a certain hour of the night and let yourself have some down time before going to bed. This means the kids are in bed, the washer is stopped and all is calm. Even if you can only manage 15 minutes, let yourself be "off" from what's left to do. It can probably wait until the morning anyway.
And at the end of the day, work-life balance is not about trying to keep a true equilibrium (impossible!). It's about keeping the ebb and flow manageable for a more fulfilling life. Try implementing just one piece of advice, and you may find your life both on and off the clock more balanced and satisfying.
Julie David lives in Charlotte, N.C., with her husband and three daughters.