14 WAYS TO IMPROVE WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Not long ago, having a good work-life balance meant being able to leave the office on time. For some, it was about spending more time with their kids, while others valued the opportunity to meet up with friends or go to the gym during their lunch break. Companies increasingly offered the chance to work from home one or more days per week in an effort to attract new talent.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have changed the nature of work-life balance. Today, many thousands of office workers are struggling to adjust to working from home full-time, and are discovering that the lines between work life and home life are easily blurred. While the daily commute has disappeared, it has been replaced by other challenges, such as the tendency for work hours to bleed into the evening.
How to balance work and life
1. Identify productivity peaks
So long as the work gets done, it shouldn’t matter when in the day it happens.
While some people are at their most productive and creative in the early morning, others favor a slower start and can best apply themselves in the afternoon. Employees should play to their strengths and structure their workloads around their most productive periods to reduce procrastination and the frustration brought on by a lack of productivity.
2. Take scheduled breaks throughout the day
Whether you work from home or in an office environment, it’s useful to structure the working day to include several scheduled breaks. Taking breaks reduces the chances of being distracted by colleagues, family, or tasks such as housework during allotted work time
The majority of people can only sustain maximum concentration for 90 minutes, so recharging with regular breaks is vital for ensuring continued productivity throughout the day.
3. Keep to strict working hours
Whether it’s 9am-5pm or 7am-3pm, make a decision and stick to it. Once employees get into the habit of allowing their working day to impact their personal or family time in the evenings, it’s difficult to claw back a routine.
If you make a habit of answering emails at 10pm, your boss and colleagues will continue to expect you to do so. Instead, make sure your co-workers understand that you finish work at the same time every day and will not be available again until the following morning.
4. Have a long-term plan
Manage “deadline stress” by creating a long-term plan which encompasses completion dates for all upcoming projects and tasks.
Having a long-term plan will help you spread out your workload realistically and identify at a glance which project you should be working on right now.
5. Pursue passions
Employees with excellent work-life balance know the importance of finding time to do the things they love; whether it’s exercising, reading, painting, yoga, or spending time with their families.
Options are admittedly limited under COVID-19, but it’s still possible to pursue a passion. Try to find one thing to do each day that restores creativity, brings enjoyment, and refreshes the mind.
6. Book a vacation
A 2018 study found that 52% of U.S. employees have unused vacation days left at the end of each year. Opting not to take a break means missing out on physical and psychological health benefits, including lowered stress levels, higher motivation upon returning to work, and decreased burnout.
Again, options are limited during the COVID-19 crisis, but just because you cannot leave home does not mean you shouldn’t take a vacation. Even a “staycation” provides a valuable opportunity to unwind and recharge, switch off from work and reconnect with family.
7. Prioritize the important things in life
Juggling a career and a personal life will inevitably involve some sacrifices. It isn’t possible to accommodate every family occasion, school event, or social activity alongside the work calendar. But just as there are sometimes vitally essential meetings to attend at the office, some personal commitments should also be deemed unmissable.
8. Don’t spend breaks doing tasks
It can be tempting to spend work breaks running personal errands, especially when working from home. A 30-minute break can quickly turn into a whirlwind session of cleaning the house, putting away laundry, washing up, or paying bills.
Instead, take the opportunity to indulge in some “me time” between work sessions to prioritize your well-being.
9. Schedule social activities
When work is especially demanding, it’s tempting to cancel social plans. However, no matter what’s going on at work, it’s worth keeping at least one social event per week in the calendar.
Finding a human connection is especially crucial during COVID-19 lockdown. This might come in the form of a recurring Zoom call with a group of friends or a family quiz.
10. Just say no
Don’t feel pressured to take on every new request from a colleague or manager. Saying “yes” to everything is a sure-fire way to destroy your work-life balance.
Instead, make time to work through the available options with the person who made the request. For example, it might be possible to take on a new, urgent task if something on your existing to-do list can be delegated elsewhere.
11. Ask for help
Never suffer in silence or allow pressures at work to escalate to unmanageable levels. Colleagues, managers, friends, and family are there to help and share the load when things get too much. But they can’t help if they aren’t aware of what’s going on.
Employees in need of professional help should take advantage of mental health support (such as counseling) offered to them by their employers.
12. Take advantage of flexible working
Progressive organizations offer a range of flexible working options to accommodate their employees’ preferences. This might include a shortened work-week, flexi-time, the opportunity to work from home, or job-sharing. Find out what options are available and how to take advantage of them.
13. Separate work and play
Keeping work and relaxation separate is especially crucial for employees working from home. Ideally, try to set up your workstation in a place where it won’t intrude on your downtime.
If possible, consider the use of a separate computer and phone for work that can be switched off at the end of the day.
14. Prioritize mental health and well-being
Now more than ever, it’s crucial to prioritize the well-being of the workforce. There’s a lot of noise on social media encouraging people to maximize their time in isolation by learning new skills or exercising more. But at a time when many people are experiencing heightened anxiety and insecurities about the future, the top priority must be to look after mental health.
Remember, work-life balance doesn’t come down to a single factor. It’s not merely about the number of hours worked or the weeks of vacation taken. All employees require unique support to thrive in the workplace and maintain a happy, healthy, and fulfilling personal life. Make sure you take some or all of the steps above to ensure you achieve your optimal work-life balance, even in trying times.