Too many people today are workaholics and they’re sick, tired, unhappy and stressed out. We’ve heard this story before, or some variation of it. Someone is tragically diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, quits his or her job, goes on a bucket-list trip around the world, rekindles lost love and starts something new. Sometimes a miracle even arises and he or she is cured. But what if—in some cases—this could have been avoided?
What if our bodies didn’t have to go to such great lengths to bring about real work-life balance? What if we were happy, healthy and stress free to begin with?
What does real work-life balance mean?
To me, real work-life balance requires a kind of proactive productivity that doesn’t necessarily equal being busier, working longer hours, or having no life except the one that revolves around work. It means that you truly value your time and want to avoid burning out.
To me, work-life balance means getting s*** done at work in a timely and proactive fashion. Because once it’s done, you’ve earned the time to be choosy with what you do next. You can start tipping the balance scales toward life rather than work. You can prove to your employers (or bosses, clients and colleagues) that you’re accountable, self-motivated, disciplined, but also good with your time management.
Here are five things you can start doing right away to add a little more life onto your scale, and bring about more balance at work.
Keep a realistic schedule
The busier are you are, the harder it can be to juggle everything you have to do. Work-life balance is often the first thing to take a backseat if you’re not careful—and even precious—with your time. Sometimes this means saying no to projects or pushing back on timelines. But the only way you can realistically do that, especially without feeling guilty, is if you can clearly see your schedule and you know exactly how much time to spend on each project.
Here’s a tip: try mapping out your entire day. Set aside time for breaks and lunch, block in meetings and schedule the time it will realistically take to finish your various tasks. This should include administrative tasks, such as answering emails and updating your schedule. Block time and set notifications for yourself so you know that you’re not spending too much time on one project—and eating away at your precious “me time” or “outside time”.
Use your schedule to find time for you
Now that you can clearly see where you have blocks off free time, schedule in time for you and whatever makes you happy. For example, if I know that most of my Friday is free, then I might say yes to a lunch with family, a walk with a friend, or block time to finish a personal project. Having a comprehensive schedule will give you more confidence in saying yes or no to projects, or pushing back on timelines. Don’t schedule everything into one week if you’re already swamped—push back and spread out your time.
On the other hand, say yes to things that will help alleviate stress, clear your mind and make you happy. For example, do yoga at lunch, walk to work, eat with colleagues and friends and take some calls outside.
Avoid multitasking mania and focus on one thing
One of the easiest ways to feel overwhelmed and very busy is to multitask all day. Here’s an example: let’s say you check your email every 15 minutes. But you’re also trying to finish one particular project, while jumping in and out of meetings and fielding online chats from colleagues. Suddenly it’s lunch and you still haven’t finished the morning’s project. Now you’ll have to eat a sad desk lunch to finish everything before the afternoon kicks in. That sounds like a crazy, but typical morning.
Now the other scenario relates back to our point about creating and sticking to realistic schedules. Let’s say you’ve blocked out an hour at 9am and 15 minutes at 12pm, 3pm and 5pm to answer emails. By 10am, you’ve been notified to start your morning project. By the time it’s noon, you’ve done your project and follow up on the few new emails you received. Because you blocked time this morning for your project, no one booked meetings with you until the afternoon. As a reward, you ordered a team lunch from Foodee to share with colleagues outside in the sun. It’s social, healthy and stress free.
Your time management and organizational skills pay off with greater work-life balance and less stress. In short, multitasking isn’t for everyone.
Cut down on needless meetings
Instead of having three meetings throughout the day to discuss various projects, why not get everyone in the same room to tackle a week’s worth of projects all in one. Everyone has a few minutes to say something, someone takes notes and by the end of it everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to do for the week. If there’s any confusion those people involved can continue chatting. No more meetings. Try having one or two days a week where no meetings are allowed to be scheduled— just wait until you see just how much time this frees up.
Don’t work in bed or on the weekends
By setting boundaries for where and when you can work, you may just find that you have more work-life balance. For example, the second you wake up, you don’t need to check your email. Try writing in a journal, reading a book or spending time with loved ones. Wake up slowly with a great cup of coffee. Sometimes that just means getting up earlier or scheduling time for yourself.
Once you’re back at home after a day at the office (wherever that may be), do something other than work. Go on a date, see friends, go for a workout or do something different or out of the ordinary. Same goes for the weekend. If you have a 9-5 career, but are working on the weekends, you might want to look at your schedule again.
Work-life balance requires working smarter, not harder or for longer. Once you’re working smarter, don’t take on more work to fill the gaps. Refocus your time and energy into something you’ve always wanted to do, something that makes you happy, or even just something that gets you moving. Do something that makes you happy. If it has to be work-related, do something new, creative and innovative.
Extra hot tip: Consider where you’re spending your down time. Are you person who scrolls through the lives of others in envy? Or are you the person who’s out there in the world, sharing adventures?