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Work-life balance is one of those things that’s easier in theory than in real life.

In real life, you have deadlines and interruptions, and requests from others. Plus, you have the inner drive to succeed and elevate your career.

The result is that you often spend a lot more time doing work and a lot less time doing other important things, like spending time with loved ones.

But there are strategies you can use to help bring more balance into your life.

That’s what this guide is all about.

What is work-life balance and why does it matter?

Let’s start by making sure we have a clear understanding of what work-life balance is and why it matters. Work-life balance is the idea that you don’t overly neglect your work or personal life to make time for the other. In other words, you spend an appropriate amount of time at work while also still having a life outside of your job.

And while this balance will look different for each person, depending on their circumstances and desires, having some semblance of work-life balance really matters.

Why does it matter? Because without this balance, multiple areas of your life can suffer. Your health can suffer, as well as your relationships with family and friends. You could end up feeling burnt out at work or feeling exhausted even before you start the day.

If you want to enjoy both your personal and professional life, then you need to think carefully about how you spend your time in and outside of the office.

Now, with that being said, let’s look at some specific ways to improve your work-life balance.

Accept that there is no ‘perfect’ work-life balance

Ultimately, you have to first accept that you’ll never have the perfect balance between your work and personal life.

Sometimes you’ll have to devote more hours to work in order to finish an important project. Other times, you’ll need to devote more time to your personal life in order to strengthen relationships, take care of loved ones, etc.

Plus, work-life balance flows out of your priorities. If you’re in the beginning stages of your career and aren’t married, work will probably be a very high priority. As you meet new people and develop new relationships, your priorities will probably start to shift.

The key is to constantly be aware of the balance and make adjustments as necessary.

Determine your priorities

Work and life get out of balance when you lose sight of your priorities. In the end, what we do will always be influenced and driven by our priorities. Anything that is truly important to us ends up shaping the actions that we take.

For example, let’s say you’re a huge sports fan who always finds time to watch your favorite team play. That means that you schedule your appointments around when they usually play and reschedule them if there is an overlap with a game day. You may stay back from going out with friends in order to be able to watch the game.

Actions always flow out of priorities. 

In order to achieve work-life balance, you must do the hard work of evaluating your priorities and then determining whether your actions reflect those priorities.

What are your priorities regarding:

  • Relationships?
  • Health?
  • Career?
  • Finances?

Take a few moments to reflect on the different areas of your life and what you value most.

Once you’ve established what your priorities are, consider how well your actions reflect those values.

If your relationships are a priority, make time for them by scheduling blocks of unhurried time with friends and family. If you prioritize health, you need to schedule time for exercise and eating nutritious food. If you want to advance in your career, work hard to learn and improve your skills. If you want to save more money, get a side gig or cut out some of the smaller expenses that can add up quickly.

Work-life balance is the result of clearly knowing your priorities and then taking action on them.

Find a job that you love

This may seem a bit cliche, but it really is true that work-life balance becomes much less of an issue when you have a job that you truly love.

If you hate your job, it won’t matter how hard you work at achieving balance. This doesn’t mean your job needs to be the most thrilling thing ever. But it should feel like meaningful work that challenges you and taps into your skills.

We’re not going to spend a ton of time on this point since it’s fairly straightforward. Just be aware that if you despise what you do, then work-life balance probably isn’t your main problem. You probably just need to find a different job.

Plan your week in advance

Scheduling your days ahead of time can also help you find work-life balance. But it’s not just about time management here. The idea is that if you plan out your week, then you can be more intentional with what tasks to tackle on a given day and when to take breaks.

You can ensure that you give yourself sufficient time to work on your most important tasks, while also making time for less important work, as well as time off.

Planning things in advance allows you to be in control of your time and not at the mercy of what others want. You can use your calendar to make sure you do the things that are important to you.

For instance, if you need to exercise, you can commit to showing up at the gym several mornings per week. If a coworker asks you to come in early on those days, you can tell them about your commitment and reschedule accordingly.

In his book Essentialism, Greg Mckeown says, “We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agendas to control our lives.”

Making deliberate choices about your schedule and agenda are great ways to ensure that you’re keeping your life and work in balance.

How granular should you get when it comes to mapping out your schedule? It depends on your circumstances and personality. Some people find that literally scheduling out every hour of the day is best for them. Others prefer to leave things a little more open and just block out certain times of the day.

What matters most is that you’re in control of your schedule and that it allows you to keep things in balance.

Let go of perfectionism

The pursuit of perfection can be a significant contributor to an imbalance in your work or life. You feel like you need to get something just so before you can let it go.

If you’re someone who has a lot of drive and ambition, you may have developed perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on your time were limited. Maintaining perfectionist habits gets a lot harder as you get older and have more and more responsibilities.

If you constantly pursue perfection, there’s a good chance you’ll get burned out.  The reality is that there’s no such thing as true perfection, personally or professionally.

Let go of perfectionism by learning when something is good enough. There comes a point of diminishing returns when the amount you’re getting back doesn’t match what you’re putting in. When you hit that point, it’s time to move on.

You may be surprised to find yourself accomplishing more with the same amount of effort, even if not everything is perfectly executed.

Unplug

It’s really hard to find work-life balance when you’re constantly plugged in. When your boss and coworkers have unlimited access to you via email, text, chat, etc. Sometimes you literally need to unplug to get work-life balance.

Whenever possible, leave work at work. Shut down your email, close your chat apps, turn off text notifications, and make a concerted effort not to respond to work-related messages outside of normal work hours.

This helps to put a clear distinction between parts of your life that are work versus personal time. When you work, work. When you’re not working, it’s time to be off the clock and enjoy other parts of your life, like family, friends, and hobbies.

There may be times when you absolutely have to respond to messages outside of normal work hours, but that should be the exception, not the norm. If you regularly respond at all hours, it teaches your coworkers to expect immediate responses no matter what time of day it is.

Prioritize your time

Many times, work-life balance is lost due to a lack of prioritization. When you don’t prioritize your time, you end up working on the wrong things at the wrong time and then being forced to work longer to make sure you get everything done.

Prioritizing means being intentional about how and when you use your time. Identify the times during the day when you’re most productive and make sure you use that time to work on the most important things. For example, if you’re most energized and focused in the mornings, don’t waste that time on low-value tasks like email. Instead, use it to work on your most important task for the day.

When you start each day (or the previous night, identify 1-3 most important tasks (MITs). These are the tasks that will have the greatest impact on productivity and produce the biggest results for you.

Don’t let anything else distract you until you’ve knocked out your MITs. No email. No social media. No chatting (if possible). This strategy ensures that even if you get nothing else done throughout the day, you’re confident that you’ve worked on what really matters. This allows you to bring more balance into your life because you don’t have important tasks weighing on you when you’re not working.

Have hobbies outside of work

If you don’t have any hobbies outside of work, it probably means that your work-life balance is way out of whack. Hobbies offer you a change of pace and provide an outlet for creativity. They help you become more rounded as a person and can even make you more effective at your job.

How do hobbies make you more effective? First, they give your brain a needed break from work, allow you to refresh and recharge. When you come back to work, you have more mental energy available for the tasks at hand.

Second, hobbies often allow you to develop skills that you can use in your job. For example, say you struggle with confidence at work. A hobby like rock climbing can provide a real boost to your self-confidence.

Plus, hobbies are a great way to relieve stress, and you always work more effectively when you’re less stressed.

Take a vacation

Don’t let your vacation days go unused. If you want a better work-life balance, you need to occasionally get some extended time away. Whether you’re taking a staycation in or traveling to Hawaii, it’s important to take time to recover, both physically and mentally.

Don’t buy into the mentality that you must never take time off if you want to succeed. Eventually, you’ll burn out and your performance will suffer.

During your vacation, it’s really important to unplug from work-related responsibilities as much as possible. Stay out of your inbox, keep Slack closed, and don’t take work-related calls unless absolutely necessary.

If you’re worried that you may miss something important, give one trusted coworker permission to call or text you. In your email autoresponse and voicemail, direct people to that coworker if something is truly urgent. The coworker can then contact you.

Set the right expectations

It’s important to set the right expectations with fellow employees and even your supervisor. If you regularly respond to emails and messages after normal working hours, those you work with will come to expect immediate responses all the time.

This makes it almost impossible to consistently disconnect from work at the end of each day. As much as possible, try to avoid job-related communications after work. If fellow employees get frustrated with this, tell them that you want to be able to focus on spending that time with family, friends, etc.

You may need to have a conversation with your boss if they expect you to always respond outside of normal working hours. One possible solution would be to create a process by which your boss can alert you if something truly is urgent so that you can address it immediately. Otherwise, you can deal with it first thing in the morning.

Learn to say “no”

It’s easy to take on too many projects, even when that work is not in your job description. And while this might sound like a smart way to make yourself indispensable at work, it actually makes you less effective and results in you working too many hours.

If you find yourself saying, “Yes,” to every task your boss or coworkers give, work will quickly take over your life. Your boss will ask you to work over the weekend, a coworker will ask you to attend an event in their place, etc.

These things, taken individually, aren’t a big deal. But they quickly add up. The more you agree to, the fuller your schedule gets. Pretty soon you won’t have time for yourself and won’t be able to work on your own projects. You might even start resenting the very people you’re helping.

You have to get comfortable telling people no unless it’s absolutely necessary.

This doesn’t mean you never work extra hours or help out colleagues, it just means you need to be very selective about what you agree to do. When makes a request, don’t immediately agree. After considering your schedule and availability, decide whether it’s possible for you to do what they’re asking without compromising your own time.

Make the most of every hour

It’s easy to waste a lot of time at work, looking at social media, or chatting for long periods with coworkers. And while it’s not possible to literally work every minute of every day, being as productive as possible during work hours is helpful for achieving work and life balance.

Getting more done during the day means you can go home after work without tasks hanging over you. You get projects done on time and don’t have to put in a ton of hours in order to hit a deadline.

Some simple ways to increase your levels of productivity are:

  • Block distracting websites using a tool like Freedom
  • Mute notifications on your phone, Slack, etc.
  • Use the Pomodoro Technique to help you work in focused bursts
  • Avoid unnecessary meetings
  • Close the door to your office (if you have one)
  • Listen to focus-enhancing music if you don’t have an office

Balance Is Possible

Though it may not seem possible, you really can achieve a relatively good balance between your professional and personal life.

It takes commitment and the willingness to draw some hard boundaries, but it’s worth it. Your life will be richer, your relationships deeper, and your overall well-being better.

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Last Updated: June 8, 2021

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