Anyone with a job and a beating heart knows the stress of balancing an ever-increasing workload with the demands of life outside the office.
A Pew Research study released last year found that more than half of all working parents with children say it’s difficult for them to balance their job and the responsibilities of their family. Of course, parents aren’t the only ones who want or deserve to have a life outside of the office. Non-parents are also becoming increasingly vocal about their desire for more flexibility and having a life that’s not defined by their work.
“Everyone needs more work-life balance, but most people are facing the opposite,” says Jennifer Glass, a sociology professor at the University of Austin who has published more than 50 articles and books on work and family issues. “[There’s been] a grim march forward in work hours over the past 40 years that just keeps going up.”
As companies to try to increase efficiency without expanding payrolls, and as global expansion and mobile technology create an “always-on” culture, it’s not uncommon for workers to find the scales tilting further than they’d like.
Here are 10 ways to rebalance them wisely:
1. Step away from the cell phone. It’s easy to let work interfere with your personal time when your mobile phone is constantly buzzing with messages from coworkers and clients. To achieve balance, you need to wean yourself off the habit of checking and responding to every non-emergency missive. Start slowly: Turn your phone off for just an hour a day (maybe at dinner time). “People get addicted to the importance of always being on call, but everyone needs to have some boundaries,” says organizational consultant Ed Muzio, author of Make Work Great.
2. Hit the gym. You may feel as if you’re already stressed about meeting all your work and family obligations – so that adding time for the gym would just make matters worse. But new research shows that those who carve out exercise time are less likely to experience conflict in their work and home roles and to better enjoy the time spent in both spheres.
3. Schedule your leisure time. In order to successfully find time to have it all, you need to do just that: Find Time. One way is to put everything into a calendar: spending time with your children, having a date night with your spouse, enjoying a hobby. That way, it’s an actual commitment just like anything else. “If you’ve scheduled time to take care of yourself or do something that makes you happy, respect that appointment the same way you would a work meeting,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a site about jobs offering flexibility.
4. Take your hard-earned vacation time. The average American only takes 10 of his allotted 14 vacation days, and in competitive work environments many workers take even less. Remember that vacation time is part of your compensation. Studies have shown that workers who do use their vacation time come back as more productive and happier employees.
5. Ask for what you want. Many companies have work-life policies, either formal or informal, that provide accommodations and flexibility to workers. Think carefully about the accommodations you might need, including non-traditional hours and the ability to work from home, and take your request to your boss or human resources department. During the conversation, explain why you need to modify your current situations, and show her how doing so will benefit the company. Ask for a trial period to see whether the arrangement will work.
6. Relinquish the guilt. It’s easy to harp on the things you’ve missed in the quest to have it all: the Little League game, an all-night brainstorming session in the office, the yoga class you signed up for but never attended. “Guilt is a useless emotion,” says Nicole Williams, a career expert at LinkedIn. “It’s not serving you; it’s not serving your work.” Instead, look for concrete steps to a better balance, and accept the fact that you’re doing the best you can.
7. Get Your Zzzs. There are only so many hours in the day, and the quest to keep up with both work and home life could be one reason 40 percent of Americans get less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. That could be a mistake, as sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce productivity, make it harder to focus and lead to even higher stress levels. Make sure to leave yourself adequate time for shut-eye, and if all else fails, take a nap.
8. Just say ‘No.’ Once you’ve determined your priorities outside of work, whether it’s spending time with your kids or training for a triathlon, be prepared to taper off other obligations that suck time away from those priorities. That means being OK with not joining a PTA committee or attending an obligatory dinner with people you don’t really like.
9. Find a lunch buddy that’s not your computer. Even if you bring your lunch to work, make it a point to step away from your desk for at least 15 minutes at midday to give both your brain and your body a reprieve from hours spent sitting in same position. Lunching with coworkers can forge relationships that make your working hours more enjoyable, and grabbing a breath of fresh air allows you to return for the second half of the day with a clearer head.
10. Hire help. Remember, having it all doesn’t mean you actually have to do it all. If you can afford to, hiring help for time-draining chores like laundry or lawn maintenance can free up more of your non-work time for more enjoyable activities – the kind you really want to do.
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