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Between digital business models, remote working, and hustle culture, our work is pushing its way further and further into our personal lives every day. If we are not intentional, it will easily take over, leading to burnout, excessive stress, poor mental health, and deteriorating relationships. Work-life balance is a personal goal that suggests that working is not our highest responsibility, but instead being whole, healthy people is. Developing work-life balance is an ongoing practice that involves prioritizing our values, creating boundaries, taking care of ourselves, and being accountable for how we spend our energy and our time – with the overall goal of feeling healthier and more stable in our everyday lives.
Work-life balance is incredibly personal. It is based on individual priorities, values, and intuition, which means that all advice will not apply equally to all people. The first step in building a better work-life balance is to assess your current situation, as well as your priorities and values. Make a quick list of where you think most of your time and energy goes. Then, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and picture the life you want – where are the major incompatibilities?
An excellent starting priority is your body. With technology, social media, and our rapidly shifting culture, it can be easy to lose track of your body – as impossible as that seems. Take a moment to consider your body. Where are you taking great care of it? Where could be doing more? Between sleep, hydration, nutrition, movement, substance use, health concerns, and mental health, there are a lot of areas that need attention.
Boundaries are thresholds that help us to contain different parts of our lives and they are a massively helpful tool when it comes to developing work-life balance. Consider where you may be overspending time and energy; could a boundary help you to contain that area?
If you have a commute that takes you outside of your home, you already have one big, physical boundary between your work life and your home life. For those that work remotely, you can create physical boundaries to help maintain the separation of these two parts of life. Simply closing your office door or putting your laptop into a drawer can add a physical layer of separation that helps to detach your mind from your work each day.
Boundaries can also be experiential. One example is a short walk around the block – it not only creates a break in your mind at the end of the workday but it gives focus and attention to your physical and mental health. It offers movement, fresh air, sunshine, a change of scenery and other unseen benefits like the release of positive hormones.
One of the great benefits of having good boundaries is they allow you to fully focus on what is present. Try dedicating 5 minutes at the start of your workday to prepare for work. Take a few deep breaths, wrap up any personal communications or thoughts if possible, and set an intention for your work day. This practice recognizes the boundary between home and work and gets you focused for the “work” portion of your day.
Do short bursts of focused work where you can lock into your task. Schedule blocks on your calendar that are dedicated to “focus time” or “deep work.” If possible, close your email and other notifications during these times and put all of your energy into the focused task. Similarly, schedule your personal and self-care time. Block off 30 minutes every day for lunch. Block off your evenings on days when your end time is non-negotiable.
You can also communicate these times of focus and balance. Labeling your lunch hour or end of the day generally as “unavailable” can help you hold your boundary without feeling like you need to explain or defend it. It also helps you validate that your boundary and effort toward balance is valid.
The biggest separation most people get from work is time off. There are small, regular doses of time off in the evenings and weekends but there are also opportunities for sick time, long weekends, and vacations. Take your time off! Many people resist taking time off, thinking it makes them look good to always be working. But this is a detrimental approach that will break down your boundaries and your health.
Take your sick time, take your vacation time, or take a mental health day. This time is designed to create separation from work, to engage in the things that matter most to us, to restore our mental well-being, strengthen our relationships, and allow us to be our fullest selves. If you are working in a place that discourages, shames, or bullies you about taking time off, you may need to consider if the culture is compatible with the work-life balance you are trying to build.
Remember, work-life balance is highly individual, and your priorities and goals will be different from other people. It’s important to do some self-reflection: to get acquainted with your values and priorities and your temptations and pitfalls. Identify activities that drain and refuel you. Make a list of small, measurable goals. Start by prioritizing your body. Create some boundaries around work (like removing email from your phone!) Ask for help or extra accountability.
As you embark on this journey, you may realize you need to ask for some changes in your job structure. You may seek extra support or accountability. You may need to consider finding a new job. All of that is reasonable. Work-life balance is about understanding what you need to be a whole person: physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, financially, and spiritually. You are the only one who knows what that looks like.