The phrase work-life balance has been the subject of debate for quite some time and it’s evident many overworked North Americans are in need of a better balance of the two. In fact, creating a better work-life balance for Canadians was a huge part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election campaign last summer. Calling for more flexible work hours and extended parental leaves, Trudeau explained during an election speech that, “The workplace is changed, the families have changed and it’s up to the Canadian government to catch up.”
When the prime minister took a day off in May to celebrate his 11th wedding anniversary, it sparked a massive debate and brought the work-life balance discussion to the forefront.
There are many definitions of what work-life balance is, but it essentially means finding a comfortable state of equilibrium between one’s work priorities and their personal life. Whether it be making time to spend with your family, get your daily exercise in or simply having some downtime, finding the right work-life balance is essential in your happiness, your relationships, your health and even your work ethic.
With the 40-hour work week now a thing of the past, it is a wonder anyone can find this proper balance. With that in mind, we put together a list of ways to help you achieve work-life balance.
The first step to achieving a work-life balance is understanding that it is a bit different for everyone. It’s not about ticking all the boxes or scheduling all your time according to what someone might consider the right balance, it is about what works for you.
“We feel balanced when we know what we truly want in our lives/our days/our work and choose to commit to those things. It looks different for everyone. The reality is that our responsibilities or priorities ebb and flow, and it’s up to us to be in the driver’s seat in how we handle them versus trying to slice our time up into identical pie pieces. It’s not about someone else’s idea of perfection,” explains career coach Sally Anne Giedrys.
While some may need to consider making major life changes (if, for example, they commute two hours each way and work 60+ hours per week), most will only have to make small tweaks in order to achieve a better work-life balance.
“Practical steps like creating an exercise schedule, taking time for lunch every day or setting boundaries around work hours. Sometimes, it is deciding what we need in our environment to support us. Sometimes, it is caring for ourselves better, practicing stress reduction or delegating tasks/reducing our to-do list so that we have more natural energy and focus,” says Sally Anne.
If the imbalance is due to an unforgiving work schedule or a demanding boss, a conversation is necessary to bring about a change.
“It requires a willingness to talk about it and take action,” says Sally Anne. “I recently spoke with a company president who started this conversation (and started being a better example) in his company after his own health scare, and they are starting to identify ways to change company-wide policies to promote a more balanced approach to demanding work. Whether you’re the employee or the boss, you need to be able to articulate what you want to change, and why. Instead of asking to overhaul your work life or environment overnight, prioritize and identify small steps. It also helps to think about potential concerns and address them directly.“
When you set up a time to talk to your employer about your schedule and commitments outside of work (picking up kids from school, committee meetings, aerobics classes, etc.), it is important to set boundaries. That doesn’t necessarily mean being completely set on only working Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 am always and forever, but it is important to set up boundaries for activities that are essential to your life outside of work in order to maintain the right balance.
“Know where to draw the line,” says career coach Mary Kruger. “Being assertive with your boss about how long extra you work (over and above your regular work day) is important to the balance in your career and life. A past colleague Jill (name changed) was an avid soccer player. Her boss often scheduled meetings well after her work day ended and her soccer practices began. Though at first it was hard to say no to her boss, that she wasn’t available due to soccer practices, eventually it got easier and her boss respected her in the long run.”
It can be easy to try to take on as many tasks as possible, both at home and in the workplace. By understanding that you can’t (and don’t have to) do everything on your own, you relieve yourself of this burden too many of us take on.
“At work or at home, enroll others to take on some of the roles or activities in which you participate,” says career coach Reginald Jackson Sr. “Teamwork/collaboration can lighten the load and create opportunities for everyone’s growth.”
Get your partner or older children to help with the housework to alleviate some of your daily duties. Or get your kids to help you with dinner so you get that quality time in while still getting things done.
Understanding that there are options to achieve this balance in our lives and knowing your own personal needs is essential.
“We have to start telling ourselves a different story about what we are in control of,” explains Sally Anne. “Telling ourselves balance isn’t possible might absolve us from having to create what we say we want, but it doesn’t make us happy or fulfilled. The president I mentioned above impresses on his staff to think about what they need and proactively look for ways to make it happen. When I was an employee, I improved my balance by renegotiating my work hours to avoid heavy traffic, scheduling after work commitments, working one day a week at home and organizing an office yoga class.“
“Carving out time for physical breaks creates physical feelings of balance,” says Sally Anne. “I have clients commit to things like: going to the gym or for a walk at lunch, closing the door to the home office at a specific time every day and not opening it until morning, scheduling 15 minutes for afternoon tea with yourself or a coworker, instituting a 10-minute rule for work talk upon arriving home, doing a monthly sanity check on your calendar and canceling/rescheduling what is not critical, device-free Sundays— no Internet surfing, no email, phone.”
“If it matters, put it on the calendar whether it’s for your work or personal life. It’s basically helps you “see” the commitment as opposed to it something being just a thought in your head or on your never ending “to do” list,” explains career coach Kathleen Murray. “I had a client who was trying to get a side business off the ground on top of his full time job. His wife was feeling like she never got to see him anymore. While he was happy with how the side business was going he was upset about what it was doing to his marriage. I suggested that he actually schedule date nights with his wife and put it on his calendar. That way, he knows that time is blocked off on his calendar and he can’t schedule work during those times. It worked! His wife loved the date nights and he felt better that he was better able to manage his personal life with his desire to grow his side business.”
“Just like meetings and other events are scheduled on your calendar, do the same for yourself,” adds Reginald Jackson Sr.
Understanding your priorities and assessing whether or not you are giving enough time to the things you value the most in your life is a great way to re-balance.
When you go on vacation, even for a long weekend, refrain from checking up on work-related emails and phone calls. Set up your automatic response. Take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to anything to do with work. Understand that the business isn’t going to catch fire and crumble with you being away for a period of time.
“A study from Glassdoor indicates that nearly a quarter (24%) of employees on vacation are contacted by a coworker, and 20% were contacted by their boss about something work-related. When you talk to our boss or coworkers while on vacation you end up thinking about work and this takes away from the quality of your vacation. Honour your time away and turn off those cell phones and work email notifications,” explains Mary Kruger.
If you absolutely must attend to something work-related during your time away (and we’re talking life or death here), then carve out a specific time of day when you will deal with it. But keep it short and sweet. Don’t dwell on what might be happening back at the office, your sanity depends on it.
Statistics show that almost half of US workers do not take all their vacation days each year. A study done by Oxford Economics for the US Travel Association, showed over 40% of Americans do not take all of their holidays each year. Recruitment agency Robert Half and Associates, reported 26% of Canadians don’t use their paid holidays either in a 2014 study.
“Why? Often people are concerned by what their work backlog will look like when they return and that they will fall too far behind. Or they may be afraid that they won’t be missed when on vacation and that their role may be eliminated, since they really aren’t needed,” explains Mary Kruger.
“Taking vacation is proven to give you a more positive outlook on life/career, more life balance and reduce your overall stress. So take those holiday days and reconnect with your family or friends. You will come back more refreshed and ready to handle the stresses and challenges that come your way both in career and life!”
As important as it is to take time off periodically, it is just as important to shut off at the end of a work day. Don’t take your work home with you. In this day and age we are always connected, making it even more important to fully disconnect when we get home.
“Disconnect from all electronics when you get home. Turn off the phone, turn off the computer, turn off the TV,” says career coach Marla Williams. “Get back to just living in the moment, enjoying the day. Connect with Nature. Notice and appreciate the view from your home, sit in your backyard and listen to and watch the birds, squirrels. Go to the beach and sit in the sand and watch the waves go in and out. Go for a walk on a trail and tune into the quiet sounds and beauty around you. Nothing is more healing and renewing than unplugging and then reconnecting with the natural world all around you.”
Take it a step further and give you mind, body and spirit a refresh by practicing meditation and getting regular exercise.
“These go hand in hand. You need to refresh your mind, body and spirit. Each morning I start out my day by breathing, grounding and going into a quiet, grateful, reflective time that is a very meditative. I follow with exercise each day to keep my body, healthy, strong and balanced. When you take care of your mind and body your life will feel more balanced,” says Marla.
If you are new to meditating, there are some great guided meditation apps out there to help you get started. Headspace and Stop, Breathe & Think are a couple examples. And when it comes to exercise, a brisk 30-minute walk is a great way to get your blood flowing. This is also an essential for those working desk jobs that require you to sit for hours on end.
Kristen is the editor and community manager at Noomii.com and the Noomii Career Blog. Kristen's desire to ask questions and share information with others led her to pursue journalism. While she has worked at various publications, covering everything from municipal politics to local restaurants, it was her love of self-improvement and sharing inspiration with others that made Noomii the perfect fit. Connect with Kristen on Twitter and LinkedIn.