15 Secrets to a Better Work-Life Balance
Last Updated: Jun 25, 2014
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With every gadget available to keep employees plugged in 24/7, work-life balance can seem like the stuff of fairy tales. Though they may have a hard time achieving it, Americans value a rewarding life outside of the daily grind and are happier in jobs that allow them some freedom. A March 2013 study by management consulting firm Accenture found that work-life balance contributed more to happiness and job satisfaction than factors such as money or titles. You may not be able to make drastic changes in the amount of time you’re on the clock, but small changes may help you feel better about your situation.
DETACH FROM TECHNOLOGY
Turn off your smartphone and power down your laptop or tablet. Unplugging from the constant barrage of messages, distractions and updates can be freeing. An October 2009 study from Harvard University found that when individuals refrained from checking work email and voicemail just one night a week, they felt more positively about their job situation. Participants also reported feeling more effective at work. Determine what part of the day or evening is “safest” to power down and commit to just 30 minutes a day of technology-free time -- job-related or other. Work your way up to an hour or more per day if you like the results.
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Work can leave you depleted when you constantly feel like you’re giving of yourself all day long and into the evening to meet expectations. Make an effort to give back to yourself to create balance. You may be more likely to stick to some “me time” if you actually put it on your schedule. Whether you use an electronic calendar or do it the old-fashioned way with pen and paper, block out time to decompress every week and stick to it. Even if you can only devote 15 or 20 minutes a day to stepping back from the demands of work, family and social obligations, carving out this time can be refreshing and gratifying.
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JUST SAY NO
You may not always be able to say no to new projects at work, but you do have control over many of your after-work commitments. Free time is a precious commodity, so take stock of your leisure-time activities and determine what's actually enriching your life -- and what isn't. Perhaps you have a habit of saying yes to social outings that give you little to no pleasure. Or maybe you find yourself volunteering for time-consuming tasks like leading your kids soccer team fundraiser or serving on the condo-association board. When deciding to participate in a non-work-related activity, ask yourself if it's a “must do,” a “can wait” or a “can live without” experience.
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SPREAD OUT WEEKEND CHORES
If you're working long hours during the week, you may find yourself stockpiling chores and errands to tackle on the weekend. Cramming a list of tasks into days off can feel similar to work. If possible, try to squeeze a few chores into the nooks and crannies of your weekdays so that you're able to relax a little on the weekend without feeling like you're punching the clock. An October 2013 study by Stanford researchers found that Americans' emotional well-being increases notably on the weekends. Take advantage of that re-energizing weekend boost by minimizing chores and things that feel like work.
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EXPLORE FLEX TIME OPTIONS
Flextime gives employees the option to vary starting and departure times as long as they work an agreed-upon number of hours per week. Some companies also allow employees to vary the length of their workday -- putting in longer hours some days and shorter hours on others. “More companies are offering flextime,” says Paige Hall Smith, an associate professor of public-health education and director of the Center for Women’s Health and Wellness at the University of North Carolina. “Flexibility with work hours is especially important for parents who need options in order to balance demands with children.” Ask about your company’s policy on flextime. If it doesn’t have one, ask your supervisor if it’s a possibility.
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You can’t add hours to the day, but you can help make the existing hours count more and feel less stressful. Meditation can be good for the soul and the schedule. A 2012 study from the University of Washington found that meditation helped participants concentrate for longer periods of time, work more productively and experience less job-related stress. Give office meditation a try. If you are more effective during the day, you will get more done, and that will allow you to leave the office sooner and prevent mistakes that cause you to have to redo work.
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Instead of just negotiating compensation after you’ve landed a new job or during annual reviews, negotiate for more vacation time, the option to work remotely, flextime and other work-life balance assets. “Also, consider very carefully where you work if you have the choice,” says public health educator Paige Hall Smith. “When interviewing for a job, investigate the company’s policies about working remotely, pregnancy leave and more to see if the company is really family-friendly and committed to work-life balance.” Look at reviews online and do some digging to gather clues about the work culture. You can find out a lot on your own without actually asking these questions in an interview.
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OUTSOURCE YOUR CHORES
Sometimes throwing money at a problem is worth the benefit to your state of mind. Pay for a little help and you’ll knock a few items off your to-do list and open up your schedule to participate in enjoyable activities during downtime. These days you can get just about anything delivered to your door -- including groceries. Housecleaning and landscaping services are abundant and often reasonably priced. There are even organizations that allow you to pay individuals to run your errands. You can set a price for professional errand runners to do everything from picking up dog food and filing your papers to doing your laundry and raking your yard.
MAKE YOURSELF INVALUABLE
Make yourself indispensable before you start setting boundaries at your work. “Do such a good job that they can’t imagine living without you,” says Leni Miller, author of “Finding Right Work: Five Steps to a Life You Love.” “Then have really clear, calm, direct lines of communication about what you need to stay healthy and productive.” Offer rational reasons for cutting back on overtime or unplugging from work email after a certain hour. If the culture is such that you feel your job will be in jeopardy for having these types of conversations, it might be time to start searching the job boards for positions that better align with your values.
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DEVELOP CREATIVE SOLUTIONS
Depending on your work culture and particular situation, schedule a meeting with your supervisor to discuss ways to alleviate burnout and obtain a better work schedule. “It’s best to come up with a solution before you ask your manager to fix the problem,” says author and consultant Leni Miller. For example, team up with a co-worker on a pressing project and swap out which days you stay late. Ask if you can leave a couple of hours early a few days a week to pick up your kids from school or take care of other matters, but agree to be available via phone for emergencies and to work from home two hours in the evening in exchange.
Carving out time in your already-busy schedule for exercise may sound like a tall order, but the benefits extend beyond just physical health and are worth the time commitment. A 2013 study by Russell Clayton, an assistant professor of management at Saint Leo University in Florida, found that exercise not only lowers stress, but also helps individuals feel more confident and more equipped to deal with family and work issues. Exercise created an overall feeling of better work-life balance in participants. Hit the gym, run the stairs, ride your bike to work -- the key is to get moving.
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RANK YOUR PRIORITIES
Decide what's most important to you outside of work. Rank your outside-of-work activities and values in order of importance. If family makes the top of your list, commit to family dinner every night. If exercise is a de-stressor that you don’t want to live without, put the gym at the top of your non-negotiable list. Determine how you would most like to fill your downtime and commit to these priorities first before you engage in others. If you’re working long hours, you’ll likely need to drop some of your leisure activities and chores from time to time, but if you have a couple of important pursuits that you always fit in, you may feel less cheated of your time.
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DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Ask yourself if you’re putting unnecessary expectations on yourself. If you’re working long hours and still trying to fit in family, friends and “me time,” letting some of the small stuff slide may improve your state of mind. Maybe dusting or the dishes can be postponed for a few days. Perhaps getting the car washed or going through your mail can wait until the weekend. Your job puts enough demands on your energy and time, so try not to compound the problem by putting pressure on yourself at home. Be good to yourself and take a break now and then.
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TUNE INTO YOURSELF
Pay attention to when you feel most productive during the day and when you feel tired or irritated. You can track this by jotting down brief descriptions of how you feel hour by hour for a few days. Knowing when you are at your prime and ready to tackle the most pressing tasks can help you plan your day effectively. Though this approach won’t give you more hours in the day, it will curb some of the stressed-out feelings that come with trying to accomplish a hard task when you have limited energy and concentration. You’ll feel more balanced and make the most of your time.
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STRIVE FOR WORK-LIFE INTEGRATION
Ask yourself if your current position is aligned with your core values, skills and talents. The reality is that many jobs place demands on time beyond the standard nine to five. If you're in a career that fulfills you, these demands might not feel so intrusive. Author and consultant Leni Miller likes to use the term “work-life integration” rather than work-life balance. “When people are clear about the parameters of their right work, they are able to integrate the demands of work into their daily lives happily and without resentment,” she says. “If their work is right for them, they want to be in it.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What's the biggest challenge you have maintaining balance between work and the rest of your life? What helps you better achieve this balance? Leave us a comment below and let us know.
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