How to rediscover your work-life balance

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While the term ‘work-life balance’ was only coined in the 70s, people have been doing work in what would otherwise be their leisure time for far longer. While originally that may have been a necessity – crops needed to be tended to in order to eat, or an employee had to work an inordinate number of hours to make ends meet – modern day working conditions in industrialised countries are now regulated and run in such a way that no one should be forced to give up a healthy personal life in order to compensate for a demanding work life.

These days the issue is less of necessity, and more of ability. Thanks to the internet, we’re now able to do all manner of work from pretty much anywhere. That means that we might find ourselves replying to uni emails on our phones over dinner, or doing that job for a client on our holidays because they really need it. This connectedness can blur the line between work life and home life, making it harder than ever to find a healthy work-life balance. As a result, our society is more stressed and anxious than ever before. But the balance can still be struck. It’s just a matter of keeping a few things front of mind.

Prioritising

You’re probably well-versed in the art of prioritising work or study, but in order to obtain and retain a healthy work-life balance, you need to take a moment to prioritise everything. A great way to do this is through the use of a life wheel. Get a pen and paper, and note down five to ten key priorities in your life. You might have something like: career/study, health, family, friends, spirituality, romance, and finance. Draw a circle, and divide it up into segments and label each priority. Then give each one a mark out of 10 for how well you’re doing in that area.

This diagram will serve as a visual aid. You’ll quickly work out which bits of your life are currently on hold and where you spend most of your time. Maybe you’ll be happy with the balance of your life, or concerned that you are neglecting a few aspects that are important to you. This will help you decide what things you want to make bigger priorities in life.

Learn to say no

Yes-people are stressed people. Taking on unrealistic amounts of work is a sure-fire way to ruin a healthy work-life balance. While you may feel guilty or unsupportive when saying no to someone who asks you to take on extra work, it is in your best interests in the long run. Saying ‘no’ to overworking means saying ‘yes’ to the things that you have already pinpointed as lacking attention in your life.

You also may have noticed that many of the most productive people are often those who get out of the office for a full lunch break and then leave work on time. They have figured out how to work happier rather than harder. The person who stays late or takes their work home is the one who is often stressed, tired and unproductive during office hours. What’s more, doing 15-plus hours of weekly overtime is linked to a 33% greater likelihood of stroke, and a 13% greater likelihood of heart disease.

Time accountability

For many of us, however, leaving work on time is easy to say but hard to do. There is an expectation that you’ll do a certain amount of work, and won’t clock off until it’s done. When productivity is key, you need to ensure that you’re accountable for your time.

Put in place a stringent time plan that will keep you focussed on what you need to be focussed on. No more wasting an hour on Facebook. You can also bring this sort of time plan into your leisure time, to ensure you’re giving enough time to each of the neglected aspects of your life. Set your illusive gym time in stone. Lock in a weekend dinner with family.

Included in this should be some untouchable leisure time. There should be some portions of the week that are times when you simply don’t work, no matter how desperate the boss may be to get a hold of you. Whether it’s the weekend or past a certain hour of the day, it’s tools down no matter what.

Work-life balance is different for everyone

Work-life balance is a tricky subject, because it varies so much person to person. Some will value their family way above all else, and will want to switch off at five o’clock each day. Others will be passionate about their career, and want to commit most of their day to it. Perhaps you’re the sort of person who likes to work in one or two hour segments throughout the day, rather than eight hours straight. It’s all about finding a system (or job) that works for you, while being sure to give yourself time to decompress.

A work-life balance isn’t just about the amount of time devoted to different aspects of your life, but the quality of that time. But as long as you’ve got a clear handle on your priorities, you’re in the perfect position to find the best balance for yourself.