How To Strike A Better Work/Life Balance

For many of us, the endless weeks and months in lockdown are starting to take a toll. This third time round, it’s become even harder to know where work ends, and your personal life begins. Whether you’re struggling to get going in the morning or feel your concentration and patience waning midway through the afternoon, we asked a range of career and mental health experts how to stay the course by finding a better work life balance.
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Consider the cost

When it comes to how you’re currently working it’s worth thinking about how your existing habits might be detrimental, and what it’s costing you in other areas of your life. “If you're spending most of your time working, your work and your home life might be negatively affected,” agree the experts at the Mayo Clinic. “Consider the consequences. First, fatigue. When you're tired, your ability to work productively and think clearly might suffer — which could take a toll on your professional reputation or lead to dangerous or costly mistakes. Second, poor health. Stress can worsen symptoms related to many medical conditions and put you at risk of substance misuse. Then there’s lost time with friends and loved ones. If you're working too much, you might miss important family events or milestones. This can leave you feeling left out and might harm your relationships.” 

Start by asking yourself some key questions. “Look at how you work now and decide what balance looks like to you. Second, do you manage your workload within normal working hours? If not, could you achieve the same results with better time management and prioritisation?” asks Christine Wright, senior vice president at Hays US. If you need further help in understanding your working patterns, keep track of your working hours over a period of weeks or months rather than days. Take account of hours spent worrying or thinking about work too – a good indicator of work-related stress.

Ask for some additional flexibility

As a result of the pandemic, employers are now more open to flexible working than ever before. “While working from home presents obvious benefits and reduces the time taken to commute, it’s not for everyone,” admits Christine. “There are various jobs where face-to-face interaction, presence in the office or sensitivity of information means it simply isn’t an option. Staying motivated is also a big challenge for those working from home. It’s easy to get distracted by things around the house or be interrupted by family. One has to have self-discipline to structure their day and establish an effective routine. It can also be very isolating, and people should be aware they can feel lonely.” 

The solution? Consider moving your hours around to best suit your various at-home pressures and demands. “Flexi-hours can allow you to plan your schedule more effectively and result in increased productivity and less hours lost,” agrees Christine. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach as the balance is different for everyone. Decide what suits you best and talk to your employer about what options are available.”

Set boundaries

“In our 24/7 culture where everyone expects us to constantly be accessible at all times, it’s important to put some boundaries in place,” says Janice Haddon at Glassdoor. “If you promise family members you will finish work at a certain time, don’t then sneak off to do a few more emails later in the evening.

If you need to work outside of ‘normal’ hours, then have a conversation with loved ones as to how this will work. If you won’t be accessing work emails during certain time periods, put an ‘out of office’ message on so people know when they are likely to hear back from you. That way you won’t get multiple emails chasing you for a reply.” Setting boundaries will also help you detach at the end of the working day, add the Mayo Clinic team. “Working from home or frequently using technology to connect to work when you're at home can cause you to feel like you're always on the job. This can lead to chronic stress. Seek guidance from your manager about expectations for when you can disconnect.”

Be fully present 

“Whatever you are doing or whomever you are with, try to be fully present,” says Janice. “If you spend your time thinking about other things rather than what you are meant to be focusing on in the moment, you lose clarity and focus. People know if you are not interested in them or what they are saying and that is how relationships fracture. You can’t ‘demand’ people do things for you either – in work or your personal life – so try to work on your communication and engagement skills.” According to the Mayo Clinic team, you might find it helpful if you work from home, to dress for work and have a quiet dedicated workspace, if possible. “When you're done working each day, detach and transition to home life by changing your outfit, taking a drive or walk, or doing an activity with your kids,” they add.

In our 24/7 culture where everyone expects us to constantly be accessible at all times, it’s important to put some boundaries in place. If you promise family members you will finish work at a certain time, don’t then sneak off to do a few more emails later in the evening.
Janice Haddon

Stay organised

“Developing your time management skills means things won’t drop between the cracks,” says Janice. “Check emails at certain times. Your inbox is not a thing to be dipped into frequently – it distracts you from whatever else you are working on or doing, which will then take twice as long to complete. Also, keep a written ‘to do list’. Holding everything in your head just overloads your brain and depletes the resource you need for clear thinking.” Where possible, try to shorten your to-do list add the Mayo Clinic experts. “Cut or delegate activities you don't enjoy or can't handle – or share your concerns and possible solutions with your employer or others. When you quit accepting tasks out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you'll have more time for activities that are meaningful to you.”

Prioritise your own health

When it comes to coping with stress and achieving work-life balance, a healthy lifestyle is essential. “Regularly set aside time for activities that you enjoy, such as practicing yoga, gardening or reading,” suggest The Mayo Clinic team. “Hobbies can help you relax, take your mind off work and recharge. Better yet, discover activities you can do with your partner, family or friends — such as hiking, dancing or taking cooking classes. Research also shows that volunteering to help others can improve your connections with others, as well as lead to better life satisfaction and lower psychological distress.” It’s also important to develop a support system. “At work, join forces with co-workers who can cover for you — and vice versa — when family conflicts arise. At home, enlist trusted friends and loved ones to pitch in with childcare or household responsibilities when you need to work late,” add the team. 

“Get plenty of exercise,” agrees Janice. “Even a brisk walk at lunchtime will raise your endorphin levels, your body’s natural happy hormones that will help counterbalance any stress chemicals. Eat a healthy balanced diet and drink plenty of water, too. Caffeine and sugar will give you an instant energy surge, but you will crash back down just as quickly, so replace the bar of chocolate or coffee with a handful of nuts and a herbal or green tea.”

Take time off when you need it

“Vacations are not a luxury, they are a necessity,” insists Joe Wedgewood from The Happiness Index. “A break from work will provide you with the chance to switch off and enjoy yourself, and it’s also a great opportunity to recuperate and recharge.” There are several studies which show that time off actually increases company productivity and reduces stress, too, with a larger number of vacations leading to a decline in the psychological distress of employees. But if a full holiday is out of the question, it’s still important to factor in breaks throughout the day, at the very least. “If taking time off isn’t an option, then it is important to encourage small breaks throughout the day,” agrees Joe. “The human body was not designed to stare at a bright screen for hours on end. It is not good for our health, or our mental wellbeing.”

Know when to seek professional help

Sometimes, with all the good will in the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by world events, work and demands in your personal life. “If your life feels too chaotic to manage and you're spinning your wheels worrying about it, talk to a mental health provider,” advise the Mayo Clinic team. “If you have access to an employee assistance program, take advantage of available services. Creating work/life balance is a continuous process as your family, interests and work life will change. Periodically examine your priorities — and make changes, if necessary — to make sure you're keeping on track.”

For more information regarding careers, work and balancing it with a personal life, visit MayoClinic.org, Hays.co.uk, GlassDoor.co.uk and TheHappinessIndex.com.

 

DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a mental or medical condition, and before undertaking any health-related programme.

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