Maintaining a healthy work-life balance requires an active decision and then continually prioritising this decision. It’s something we can learn to do and should get easier as we practice it. There’s lots of advice and thoughts on the importance of a healthy work-life balance. However, the choice is up to each individual and what work-life balance practically looks like, will vary from person-to-person.
Life as we know it in the 21st century couldn’t be more different from those living 100 years ago. Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds. Not so long ago, people were astounded by motion pictures and at first regarded cars as an unnecessary expensive toy. Additionally, the ultimate information source was seen to be a library’s complete encyclopaedia collection. Now we live in a world with smartphones that allow us individual internet access to unlimited information. And we can travel across the world in a day!
Despite amazing technological advances, intended to enhance and make lives easier, people are more jaded than ever. For many, technology seems to be a big contributing factor to a continuous fast-paced modern lifestyle. The result is that this fast-paced lifestyle makes it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Why work-life balance is important
Work used to be seen as a means to an end. A way of funding the life-style one needed to ensure that one was safe, warm, fed and able to have some fun too. For most, the current culture idolises work. Making it the ultimate thing, where working later than others is a badge of honour and admirable. As a result, many arrive at work earlier than required, leave later than they should and then work at home. For those working from home, boundaries between work and personal time have become blurred. One of the main reasons is that smartphones allow employers and employees to have 24/7 instant communication with each other.
3 Realities of an Unbalanced Life:
- Decreased productivity due to mental fatigue and exhaustion.
- Increased risk of illnesses, such as strokes, cardiovascular disease and mental problems.
- Damaged relationships, as a result of missing time with family and friends.
5 Indicators of a Healthy Balanced Life
- When at home, not worrying about work.
- Having time with family and friends while also being able to meet work deadlines.
- Being able to maintain a healthy diet.
- Getting enough good quality sleep.
- Spending time on leisure activities such as exercise and hobbies.
6 Ways to Improve Your Work-Life Balance
1. Create Boundaries
Smart phones have broken down barriers to communication in the workplace. It’s great when you need quick responses or want to coordinate with others on a project. But it can be detrimental to being able to properly unplug from work and relax. Thus, the need to create boundaries which are realistic while remaining fair to yourself and promote all round wellness.
As a first step, decide when you are available to answer work related communication (emails, chat groups, WhatsApp and messages). Then refrain from checking your phone for work messages and emails outside of those hours. Let people know when you will respond and that after hours or while on holiday you are not available. If need be, reinforce your boundaries by explaining that you are doing this to ensure that you properly prioritise family / friends / exercise. You could also add that you have realised you are more productive at work when you completely unplug from it afterhours.
2. Maintain Your Digital Wellness
Digital wellness is measured according to the impact of devices and technology on our mental, physical, emotional and social health. One of the ways to maintain it, is to regularly set aside time to go offline. Plan when and how long you are going to take a break from your communication and social media platforms. Doing so has shown to decrease stress, anxiety as well as improve sleeping patterns and enable people to relax better.
3. Practice Saying No
Being able to say “No” is an important part of life. It’s a powerful word which helps us take back and maintain control within our own lives. Those that say “No” tend to be more focused on what their actual work and personal responsibilities are. As a result, they perform well in their jobs, complete their own work timeously and their priorities aren’t neglected. While you may need to take on extra work or help someone with their workload, this should not be the norm. If you do find that increasing demands are being placed on you, it may be time to speak up.
Time management is an invaluable skill. And being able to do it well requires planning.
- Have a timetable of scheduled and regular requirements.
- Draw up a prioritised task list for ad hoc, short term or once off requirements.
- Divide big projects into smaller tasks that you can manage on a day-by-day basis.
- Reward yourself with breaks when you complete these tasks.
- Be sure to take breaks at regular intervals as this helps to maximise your ability to concentrate and keep motivated.
5. Take a Breath
Executive coach Marilyn Puder-York recommends dedicating time to wellness activities such as exercise, yoga or meditation. Activities such as these help to reduce stress and promote good health, as well as providing an escape from work. Deep-breathing exercises help soothe the nervous system and keep you centred.
6. Take Leave
Many people choose not to take leave as they fear falling behind at work or being perceived as lazy. However, taking leave isn’t a nice to have but rather a necessity. Scheduling blocks of time away from work has been shown to increase productivity and creativity at work. As well as boost life satisfaction and happiness.
Interestingly, numerous studies and reports, like Project Time Off, show that careers are advantaged by taking time off. A 2016 report showed that those who took 11 or more days of leave were more likely to have received a raise or bonus in the previous 3 years than those who took 10 or fewer vacation days.
Helping to Balance Life
The World Health Organisation has called stress the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century”. As a result, sometimes to create a better work-life balance part of the process is to seek out an expert. One of the options open to you is to find a counsellor or a psychologist. Alternatively, you could also speed up the process of figuring out how best to balance life by hiring a life coach.
If you are interested in helping others to find their work-life balance, consider enrolling in a psychology course at SACAP. SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology) has a range of psychology courses with options to study part or full-time. For more information contact a student advisor today or enrol online.