9 Tips to Improve Your Work/Life Balance
It feels like our work and home lives are steadily placing more and more demands on us with each passing year. And this, along with many people now working from home, is making our work/life balance feel more fragile than ever before. So if you’ve found the scales tipping a bit too far in one direction recently, you’re not alone. Here are 9 tips to help you improve your work/life balance.
1. Consider your priorities
Does how you spend your time reflect the things that are most important to you? This is what work/life balance is, at its essence. If the balance doesn’t feel right for you at the moment, then start by thinking about what you’d like to have more time for—or what you’re missing out on—and where you might want to make a change. Not really sure where the day goes? Keep a diary of how you spend your time for a few weeks. You may find you’re sitting in meetings, travelling, or scrolling social media more than you realised!
2. Work smarter
Work smarter, not harder—it’s a bit of a cliché, but prioritising your time at work is about more than just making to-do lists. If workload is your issue then start by maximising the time you have within the working day to actually produce work. Block out time in your diary and try to step away from time-suckers like unproductive meetings, office gossips and online chat.
Next, use Eisenhower’s Principle to ditch or delegate (or at least ask for help with) as much of your to-do list as you can. Of your remaining tasks, set a time allocation for each and try to stick to it. Remember—results are more important than time spent and while you may want to aim for perfect, sometimes you have to accept that ‘good enough’ will do.
3. Leave work at work
Another one that’s easier said than done, but when you’re not working…don’t work! And try not to think about work. If you need to be contactable and/or check your email outside of your working hours then set some boundaries so you’re not available 24/7. If needed, set an out-of-office explaining when you’re contactable and when you’re not.
If work still plays on your mind after you’ve logged off, then use the last few minutes of the day to write a list for the next day, to get it out of your head and down on to paper, then switch off, both literally and figuratively. If you work at home and don’t have a commute, then it’s especially important to do something to signal to your brain that work has ended—like going for a walk or listening to music. And if possible, work in a different area of your home to where you relax. This will also help to keep things separate.
4. Take breaks
You’re not more productive simply for working longer. Research has shown our brains can only focus for 52 minutes before our concentration and productivity begin to wane, so taking regular breaks will help you get more done, not less. Taking your lunch break is also important. Whether at home or in the office, it can be useful time to run errands, phone family and friends or have some much-needed time to yourself to relax. Yes, there will always be times when you’ll need to work through at least some of your lunch break, but that shouldn’t be happening every day.
5. Speak to your manager
It’s not always clear to managers when an employee feels their work/life balance is out of sync. They may not be aware of everything on your to-do list, or all your commitments outside of work. Different people also have different stress thresholds, so they won’t necessarily realise that things have become an issue for you. If you have an honest conversation they may be able to relieve you of some of your work, help you set clearer boundaries with your team, or suggest other adjustments. You could even ask about flexible working opportunities if you need to.
6. Learn to say no
Often find yourself over-committed? It can be particularly hard to say no to things when you work at a charity, but saying yes to everything is a one-way ticket to burnout. The more you practice, the easier it is to say no. A simple, ‘I’m sorry, I’d love to help, but I’ve just got too much on at the moment’ can work well. Or, if your line manger continually overloads you, try saying, ‘I can do that for you, but I’ll have to drop XYZ. Is there someone else who can pick that up?’ If you find this hard to do in the moment, then buy yourself some time by saying you need to think about it.
7. Ask for help
How did you feel last time a colleague, friend or neighbour asked you a favour? You were probably only too pleased to lend a hand and glad they asked, rather than struggling on their own. Many people don’t like asking for help because they don’t want to bother others or look like they can’t cope. But everyone needs help sometimes and there’s no shame in asking for it.
8. Look After Yourself
Eat right. Get enough sleep. Maintain social relationships. Exercise. Pursue your hobbies. These all add to the growing list of things for us to juggle. It sounds exhausting! But the time you invest in looking after yourself will really pay off. These activities will help you to focus, replenish your energy and build resilience, so you can get more done, and cope better, in the long run.
Ultimately, your work/life balance will never be perfect. It’s an ongoing process—there’s always a trade-off—and your circumstances will change over time. So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t always get it completely right. Be kind to yourself and keep trying the strategies above to find your optimal work/life balance.