The Importance of Work-Life Balance

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 their personal and professional lives. Advancements in technology mean we can pretty much work from anywhere, which makes it even harder to separate these two area of our lives.

But, what does it mean to have work-life balance?

It’s difficult to say, as everyone has their own version of what work-life balance means to them and what they need to do to achieve that delicate balance. What’s more, the right balance for you today will likely be different tomorrow, as life is fluid and ever-changing. As you go through life changes (changing careers, getting married, having a child, retiring, etc), your ideal work-life balance will shift – so there really isn’t any magical formula that will always work.

So, how do you find the right work-life balance that will work for you right now?

“It’s a matter of honouring what’s right for you. Knowing what your real priorities are and why. Committing to your non-negotiables. Questioning your assumptions. Doing things differently to get a different result,” explains career coach Sally Anne Giedrys.

Shift your mindset

The first thing you need to so is shift your thinking. It’s near impossible to achieve the thing that you have convinced yourself is impossible. If you believe other people’s ideas about “balance” being unachievable, then you won’t do anything to achieve it. If you believe there’s no other way to work, even if  your current method is killing your soul, you won’t implement ways to change it. If you believe that working to burnout levels is the only way you’ll get ahead, you’ll almost always fall back to that behaviour.

Your first step is simple: Adopt a mindset and beliefs that support what you want to achieve, not ones that cut you off at the knees before you even begin. Start looking for the evidence to support your new thinking and you will find it.

Get your priorities straight

“This world we live in is filled with choices that nourish us and choices that will eventually deplete us. Smart choices are ones that are based on your true priorities,” Sally says. “Sometimes this means making decisions that will disappoint others, changing your game plan or letting go of what you’ve been told you “should” do. It absolutely requires getting clear on what you what you crave for yourself, your family and your career.”

Map your life

We only have 24 hours in a day and our days are often packed with a bunch of things that showed up on our to-do list without us really knowing how they ended up there! It’s time to decide what you want to do with your days and why.

The Wheel of Life is a great tool to help you map out the areas of your life that are important and to what degree. You can fill it out right away and then again whenever a shift takes place in your life and you have to reevaluate. In fact, you can do it as many times as you want throughout the year, to make sure you keep your life in balance.

Choose how you spend your time

Now that you know how you want to spend your time, the next step is putting that into action and consciously choosing those things.

Career coach Benedicte Flouriot suggests you start your week by reflecting on your list of actions and draw a weekly planner:

  • What needs to be done?
  • Who should take action to complete this step?
  • When should this step be completed?
  • What do I need in order to complete this step?
  • Are there any potential challenges that may impede completion? How will I overcome them?

Decide the following things for each week: What do I wish for? What is my intention? What do I want to see happen by the end of the week?

Use the time-blocking technique (scheduling blocks of time designated for specific actions or tasks) to take control of your schedule.

Look at your weekly objectives from a meaningful place by asking yourself:

  • What is the best use of my time right now?
  • What do I want to achieve this week to improve my quality of life, at work and at home?
  • What can I do this week that would make me feel satisfied?

Give the same importance to your personal and professional projects. Place them together on your weekly planner.

Repeat the same exercise every Monday, first time in the morning to set the tone for the week.

Start out small

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.

Identify one small, realistic and meaningful tweak that you can make right away. When you’ve done that successfully, add another. Build on your successes. Maybe this means:

  • scheduling two non-negotiable workouts each week
  • carving out one hour a week for strategic thinking/journaling
  • developing your strengths so you can better harness your natural energy
  • taking a technology break at night
  • eating a healthy breakfast
  • committing to a good night’s sleep

Communicate your needs

If the imbalance in your personal and professional life 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.”

Set boundaries

When you talk to your employer about your schedule and commitments outside of work (picking up kids from school, PTA meetings, exercise classes, etc.), it is important to set boundaries. This doesn’t necessarily mean being set on only working the standard Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 am always and forever, but it’s 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.”

Use mindfulness to maintain work-life balance

Here are some of the ways to improve work-life balance using mindfulness:

Meditation and breathing exercises

Meditation is an important concept that we need to embrace in our lives. It is accessible to everyone and is a great tool to help us relax and bring the mind and the body into unison. Similarly, breathing exercises give us a way to get rid of the negative energy accumulating in our body. Even with a busy lifestyle, small sessions of 30 seconds each can greatly help us overcome work stress. Breathing exercise will calm the senses and enable us overcome the more stressful situations in life.

Focus on job at hand

Focus is the key to implementing mindful best practices. There are all sorts of distractions around us that may impact our productivity. Sometimes, our mind tries to trick us towards distractions under job stress.

It’s also important not to put today’s work off until tomorrow. When we put urgent tasks on a back burner, it creates more work for us down the road and increases the pressure on us to get it done. Therefore, always try to finish the tasks according to the nature of their urgency. Similarly, if you feel a task is too complex, try to break down into simpler steps.

Finish work on time

Remaining focused on our work makes us more efficient and productive. One of the reasons for being edgy and uncomfortable about work is not being able to finish assigned tasks in a timely fashion. When we are not able to get things done on time, it has a snowball effect in others areas of life. We can sometimes become overwhelmed by the number of tasks that we need to complete. It can lead to late sittings in the office, resulting in less time spent with family and friends.

Habits that prevent work-life balance

Many people have bad daily habits that negatively affect their lives and prevent them from keeping that work-life balance. And while it can take some time to break these bad habits, being able to identify them is the first step towards gaining the right balance for your personal and professional life.

Here are some daily habits that prevent you from keeping a work-life balance:

  • Eating on the go - Modern day professionals are pressed for time, so many are often forced to eat on the go. However, this habit can have a negative effect on your health. Not only does distracted eating lead to weight gain, but eating on the go often means you are opting for poor food choices over healthier options for the sake of convenience.
  • Checking your email first thing - If checking email is a part of your hourly routine, it’s time to break this habit, as it decreases your productivity. When you shift attention between completing tasks and replying to emails, you can’t stay productive. In fact, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully refocus your energy on a task after you’ve been distracted!
  • Not having a work routine - Daily routines help to automate processes and help you get more things done in less time. Sticking to a schedule helps you stay focused on completing work duties, as you don’t have to waste time thinking about the priority of tasks or shifting between them
  • Multitasking during meetings - Research has shown that multitasking is a bad idea. Multitasking can’t make you productive unless you’re Shiva – with multiple arms that emphasize the immense power and ability to perform several acts at the same time.
  • Working too much overtime - To achieve success at work, you need to stand one step ahead of your competitors and, therefore, you’re ready to work overtime if needed. While it’s a chance to stand out from colleagues, it won’t help you find a work-life balance and being overworked will decrease your productivity and create the opposite effect.

Thinking of hiring a career coach to help you achieve a better work-life balance? Browse our directory of career coaches and get a FREE consultation or request a personalized coach recommendation!