These days, work-life balance can seem like an impossible feat. Technology makes workers accessible around the clock. Fears of job loss incentivizes longer hours. In fact, a whopping 94% of working professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly half said they worked more than 65 hours per week in a Harvard Business School survey. Experts agree: the compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness.
Work-life balance means something different to every individual, but here health and career experts share tips to help you find the balance that’s right for you.
1. Let go of perfectionism
A lot of overachievers develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on their time are limited to school, hobbies and maybe an after-school job. It’s easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as a kid, but as you grow up, life gets more complicated. As you climb the ladder at work and as your family grows, your responsibilities mushroom. Perfectionism becomes out of reach, and if that habit is left unchecked, it can become destructive.
The key to avoid burning out is to let go of perfectionism. As life gets more expanded it’s very hard, both neurologically and psychologically, to keep that habit of perfection going. The healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence.
From telecommuting to programs that make work easier, technology has helped our lives in many ways. But it has also created expectations of constant accessibility. The work day never seems to end. There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment. Phone notifications interrupt your off time and inject an undercurrent of stress in your system. So don’t text at your kid’s soccer game and don’t send work emails while you’re hanging out with family. Make quality time true quality time. By not reacting to the updates from work, you will developing a stronger habit of resilience. Resilient people feel a greater sense of control over their lives, while reactive people have less control and are more prone to stress.
3. Exercise and meditate
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.
Dedicate a few chunks of time each week to self-care, whether it’s exercise, yoga or meditation. And if you’re really pressed for time, start small with deep breathing exercises during your commute, a quick five minute meditation session morning and night, or replacing drinking alcohol with a healthier form of stress reduction.
These exercises require minor effort but offer major payoffs. The key is to find something that you can build into your life that will activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Short, meditative exercises like deep breathing or grounding your senses in your present surroundings, are great places to start. The more you do these, the more you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms everything down, and not just in the moment.
4. Limit time-wasting activities and people
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.
From there, it will be easier to determine what needs to be trimmed from the schedule. That may mean turning off email notifications and replying in batches during limited times each day. If you’re mindlessly surfing Facebook or cat blogs when you should be getting work done, try using productivity software like Freedom, LeechBlock or RescueTime. And if you find your time being gobbled up by less constructive people, find ways to diplomatically limit these interactions. Cornered every morning by the office chatterbox? Politely excuse yourself. Drinks with the work gang the night before a busy, important day? Bow out and get a good night sleep. Focus on the people and activities that reward you the most.
5. Change the structure of your life
Sometimes we fall into a rut and assume our habits are set in stone. Take a birds-eye view of your life and ask yourself: What changes could make life easier?
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. Talk 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. This will give them a chance to learn something new and free you up so you may devote attention to your higher priorities.
6. Start small. Build from there.
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 quickly. Cutting your hours from 80 hours a week to 40, bumping up your daily run from zero miles a day to five miles a day: It’s a recipe for failure. Start smaller.
If you’re trying to change a certain script in your life, start small and experience some success. Build from there.
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