For so many of us, our new work “normal” looks like waking up, pouring a cup of coffee (or making a Bloat latte!), and opening our laptop, at our desk or maybe even in bed, to sign in by 9AM. Or, it could look like tending to patients, responding to emails, creating content, batching newsletters, or scrolling our social media feeds to gain some inspiration. All in all, the lines between work and personal life have been so deeply blended that it’s hard to delineate: what’s work and what’s play? While this may seem like a dream come true, compared to an hour plus commute, it can actually be detrimental to our health in all aspects, mental, physical, and emotional. With our phones and laptops giving us 24-hour accessibility, it’s become all the more difficult to step away from our computers and to put ourselves on do not disturb, even for important reasons. Work stress often doesn’t stay at work anymore, blurring the lines between work life and home life.
Achieving a work-life balance has never been more important; adjusting to post-pandemic work life has been tricky! But, finding this balance can help us manage our time, concentrate more at work, and be more present with family and friends. Creating boundaries and using time intentionally will leave us feeling a whole lot more fulfilled with a whole lot less of an emotional burden. Keep reading to learn what we mean by work-life balance, why having an unbalanced life dynamic can be harmful, and how to achieve a harmonious balance between all of our responsibilities.
What is a Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance is more than just splitting your hours and waiting until 5 o’clock rolls around. It’s more than waiting for the five days of the week to pass to enjoy the two days of the weekend, only to repeat the same pattern the next week. Now, more than ever, since the lines between work and home have been blurred, 5PM or Friday may not symbolize the end of our workday or work week anymore. So, having a true work-life balance consists of caring for ourselves in ways that serve us both professionally and personally while creating space to intentionally exist in both spaces.
A work-life balance consists of allocating specific time and energy towards different tasks, which vary from person to person. There are so many nuances with our new WFH norm that it can be difficult to feel the start and end of the work day and the beginning and end of our leisure time. However, we can’t expect our brains to run on empty; work depends on optimal brain function, and optimal brain function depends on physical and emotional well-being. There often comes a time, whether studying, working, or doing any other brain-powered activity that we find ourselves having a mental block or simply just feeling exhausted. After all, how can we expect our brains to work optimally if we don’t step away from the activity and come back feeling refreshed? Time away from work allows us to engage in activities that boost brain function, including sleep, exercise, our morning and night routines, cooking, reading, and spending time with family and friends. Overall, we do ourselves a big and sustainable favor when we prioritize both work and activities that stimulate creativity and make us feel good! Achieving a work-life balance is much like the saying, “we get what we put in”; if we intentionally take care of our physical, emotional, and mental health, our professional lives are sure to be much easier, less stressful, and feel more manageable with time.
The Impact of an Unbalanced Work-Life Dynamic
Work-life balance is about finding an equilibrium between work life and personal life, but what happens when this balance is off-kilter? Since finding a work-life balance is all about maximizing and optimizing all spheres of our lives, and, therefore, health, there are some not-so-favorable consequences that result when things are inequitable. Remember, if some of these are hitting close to home, there are always ways to remedy the situation to get back to feeling your best.
Increased Stress: Increased work demands with little time to recuperate leads to one thing: high stress. We know that some stress can be motivating, but long periods of high stress can be detrimental to our health. Existing in a high stress environment leads to health problems including poor sleep, digestive issues, eating more processed and refined foods, and a weakened immune system, just to name a few.
Tension in Relationships: Many of us love the weekends due to the free time we have to spend with our partners, family, and friends. If we’re always working (like checking our email repeatedly or on phone calls after-hours), both ourselves and our loved ones may not be getting the time they need. A work-life imbalance can create hostile relationships, which are exactly the opposite of what we crave and need during times of stress.
Decline in Mental Health: When we’re constantly on guard at work and making sure we tend to everything ASAP, we can easily lose sight of what’s most important: our mental health. High stress and big demands can cause us to sleep less and worry more, leading to decreased concentration and focus. Moreover, anxiety and depression are likely consequences of struggling to meet near impossible expectations in the workplace, creating a vicious cycle.
How to Achieve a Work-Life Balance
Now that we’ve covered what a work-life balance is, it’s time to create achievable steps in order to find what works best. Much like anything else, these steps and goals are personal and different for everyone. There is no blueprint or formula that will lead to the best outcome; it’s simply a matter of trial and error until something feels doable and sustainable for a long period of time.
Step 1: Take a Pause and Evaluate
Taking time to understand how the various facets of our life impact one another and fit together is a crucial step in developing a new work-life balance. Take out a journal or the notes app and seriously consider the current situation: What is working? What isn’t? This isn’t meant to result in quitting and moving somewhere far, far away. Instead, reflect without judgment and see what comes up. Some reflection questions include:
- Am I committing enough time and energy to people and things that are meaningful to me?
- Do I feel aligned to my professional or personal goals? Why or why not?
- Where do I feel needs more energy?
- Am I spending enough quality time doing what I really want?
Step 2: Assess Your Priorities
Once there’s a sense of what needs tweaking, some major priorities will most likely surface. This includes taking care of ourselves and our loved ones while also devoting time and energy into work. Some questions include:
- What matters to me and am I doing enough of it?
- Where can I make compromises? Where can’t I?
- What are some alternative steps I can take to ensure I am devoting enough time and energy to my goals and relationships?
Step 3: Time Management
Yes, we all wish there were more hours in a day. But, it’s ultimately how we use these hours, not how many there are. There is often a running to-do list floating around our phone or computer, waiting for us to cross off each item as it’s completed. However, scheduling out work, personal responsibilities (like working out, cooking, and cleaning), date nights, and sleep can give us a good picture of how we’re using up all of these hours. Habit stacking (see this blog post) is a great way to tackle two things at once, clearing up time and optimizing our schedules.
Step 4: Establish Boundaries
Just as in relationships, boundaries are key to time management and our emotional well-being. Allocating time and energy for specific tasks that need to get done, as well as creating boundaries for rest and play help us create a balance that will serve us well. Communicating these boundaries is equally important; if you will be taking time off, tending to something personal, or just need some alone time during the weekend, it’s important to relay this to work or friends and family in order to minimize conflict. Set small boundaries and expand from there.
Step 5: Reflect, Refine, and Repeat
New systems often take time to work out kinks and other areas that may not be working as planned; this new system is no different! As we change our actions and manage our time differently, it’s likely that we’ll need to reflect and refine these over time. Creating a work-life balance is meant to decrease stress and increase our state of well-being, so have confidence that after some minor adjustments, we’ll be feeling the changes in a positive way.
So, what might this look like?
A work-life balance is less about time (for example, working 40 hours a week), and more about setting boundaries between work and play that help us thrive in both settings. This is not to say that we should put work on the back burner; for many of us, work is something we enjoy and that allows us the financial and emotional freedoms to be able to do other things outside of the workplace. But, it’s easy to let work take over, especially when demands are high and our emotional bandwidth is low. Instead, let’s think about incorporating more into our personal life while also tending to work life. This could look like:
- Getting in a 20 minute walk around the block before work
- Making our favorite coffee and sitting to journal or meditate in the morning
- Preparing and bringing a favorite meal for lunch at work
- Taking a call or meeting on a walk outside
- Making room for small breaks during the work day
- Reading or scrolling social media, instead of working, while taking a lunch break
- Signing up for a post-work workout
- Planning a date night or a dinner with friends
- Putting our devices on do-not-disturb or silencing our work phone and email
- Using your paid time off to recharge
Finding a work-life balance is truly a skill, and like we know, practice makes progress. Finding what areas aren’t working through judgment-free journaling, creating achievable goals and steps to find harmony, and reflecting and refining on how everything is working are the overarching steps to finding this balance. Remember that work isnoteverything, and in order to be our best at work, we need to take care of ourselves at home, too.