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Last Updated on December 18, 2020

How to Work Towards a Healthy Life Balance

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How to Work Towards a Healthy Life Balance

In life, it often feels like we are juggling a million things, and it usually is, in fact, the case that we try to do too many things at once. Finding a healthy life balance means aligning all areas in your life so that they aren’t in constant conflict. Have you ever found yourself overworking or piling on too many hours and neglecting time with your family or the exercise routine that would be good for your health?

There are people who are constantly busy and multitasking every hour of the day and into the night. Sometimes it’s difficult to shut our brains off and focus on being present. It is generally good advice given when someone tells you, “Leave your work at work. When your day ends, be done with it.” Life balance means that each area of your life stays where it should.[1]

For many years, I managed an alterations business, and it wound up interrupting almost every area of my life. It was difficult knowing where and when to draw boundaries, and I was constantly biting off more than I could chew. Consequently, my health and enjoyment of the work slipped. I was “all work and no play,” which took a toll on my relationships, as well.

Achieving balance as an entrepreneur or someone who juggles a lot in general can feel like a daunting task. Really, balance is about keeping the scale from tipping too far in one direction. Stress rears its ugly head when we pile on too much of something. That “something” is usually work, but not always. You may have children with demanding schedules, serious health issues that require constant attention, or a budding relationship that you need to give a lot of energy to.[2]

If you’ve found yourself unable to make time for cooking yourself healthy meals or taking breaks to smell the roses once in a while, that may be a red flag you’re overdoing something and are on a dangerous path towards burnout.

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Why Is Life Balance Important?

Stress is one (destructive) thing. Being over-stressed is when the stress becomes chronic and recurring to the extent of developing symptoms. At one point or another, we’ve found ourselves over-committing, hyper-compensating, and trying to be everything to everyone else but ourselves.

It’s only human to want to be a people pleaser and give, give, give. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to overdo one or more aspects of our life, not realizing the cost. It can be difficult to accept that you have limitations, that you are not superhuman, and that, although you may love what you do, you don’t want to be overtaxed and constantly rundown.

It’s important to begin simplifying your world by being honest about your limitations and being open with others in order to maximize your time and be effective in your work. Finding the areas in your life where you can minimize and simplify is a good first step. Once you begin to integrate balance by breaking up your day or your schedule, you’ll feel much lighter and a lot less stressed.

How to Create a Healthy Life Balance

Finding a healthy life balance is difficult but doable. Imagine standing on a thin piece of wood. In order to find balance, what do you do? You sway. Balance is about being flexible and changing your life according to the circumstances you find yourself in, not about confronting life with rigidity. To help you get started in finding your own life balance, here are a few tips and tricks.

1. Chart It Out

Creating a pie chart or some type of outline of your daily life can help you visualize where you spend your time. Decipher the areas in your day that could use some time-blocking or breaks. If you’re the type of person who works a nine-to-five job, or longer than that, a chart can help you see where you can pencil time in to meal prep, eat something healthy, or spend a few extra minutes with your family.

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A pie chart or an outline of your day can help you figure out where you need to step back and prioritize your health. Maybe in the evenings, if you’re not working, add in a twenty minute meditation or yoga to decompress and ease your mind. Go for a walk outside if you can, or do an activity outdoors.

2. Put Your Health First

Create another pie chart or outline and omit work completely. Instead, just shade it in with gray or black. In this pie chart, see where you can add extra time into your day, such as in the mornings, during your breaks, and in the evenings. Maybe consider rising earlier in the morning to cook a healthy breakfast.

This article may help you establish a healthy breakfast routine: 20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time.

Diet is a major contributor to your overall wellness and health. It can feel inconvenient to have to cook when you can zip into a drive-through somewhere and grab fast food. Make time in your day by finding ways to conserve your energy while at work so that when you get home, twenty minutes of cooking doesn’t sound so dreadful.

3. Consider Becoming a Morning Person

Becoming a morning person is an actionable step towards a healthy life balance.[3] If you’re waking up at the last minute, right before you’ve got to be out the door for work, you will likely start your day feeling rushed, burdened, and rattled. The best way to begin a new day is to ease into it by simply enjoying an hour or so of meditative silence as opposed to popping out of bed and running through your routine.

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When you ease into your day, you’ll feel more level-headed mentally and emotionally. Constantly rushing leaves you unsettled, and it will likely affect how you’re interacting with people. Stress comes on as a result of mismanagement of time. Morning people are much calmer, more effective in managing their jobs and work-life, and are more grateful in general.

Morning routines can be another tool for achieving balance. Creating a routine you enjoy and one that sets the tone for a positive day makes a tremendous difference.

4. Incorporate Moments for You

Whether you sit down for several hours at work or are on your feet a lot, it wouldn’t hurt to take a few minutes to relax or clear your mind during your busy days. A moment when work is slow or there isn’t much going on, give yourself brief water breaks or brisk walks through the office.

While at home, if you’re able, watch an inspiring movie or documentary or listen to a podcast and clean. Do something for an hour that feels like second nature to you. Don’t be afraid to accommodate and make time for yourself. Your mind and body will thank you.

5. Start With Small Habits

It takes about sixty to ninety days to form a healthy habit. To create more balance, try implementing small daily habits in the morning, afternoon, and evening. In the morning, make your bed and tidy up your room. In the afternoon, take a ten-minute catnap and give yourself an energy boost. Studies show that even the shortest catnap in the afternoon can increase your productivity and energy.

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Sleep deprivation can really impact your performance at work and in other areas of life. When I started taking afternoon naps, I felt more relaxed, confident, and very in tune with my surroundings. Taking a nap is a good example of a small, productive habit to include in your daily life. Others can include squeezing in a five-minute meditation, refusing to read work emails at home, or prepping your weekly meals on Sunday evenings. These can all be good ways to begin to establish a healthy life balance.

The Bottom Line

To work towards a healthy life balance, focus on adding simplicity and minimizing where you can. Pie charts and outlines are great ways to get a visual on areas in your day that need improvement or more attention.

An out-of-balance life can result in stress and rob you of joy. Being balanced means your priorities are in check, you are putting your health first, and you are succeeding in putting all areas of your life where you they need to be.

Featured photo credit: Cecilia Medina via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Nancy Lockwood: Work/Life Balance: Challenges and Solutions
[2] Innovative Higher Education: The Conundrum of Work-Life Balance
[3] HuffPost: 7 Things Morning People Do Differently

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Tessa Koller

Author, Motivational Public Speaker and Artist

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Last Updated on October 18, 2021

9 Practical Ways to Achieve Work Life Balance in a Busy World

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9 Practical Ways to Achieve Work Life Balance in a Busy World

When I worked in college housing, I found myself in a position that made me so uncomfortable, I had some big choices to make. I could continue to do things the way my supervisor wanted me to, or I could look for another job. In favor of more balance, I chose the latter.

This was a big choice for me. I was basically giving up a (rather) stable job that made me unhappy for the unknown.

And you know what? Focusing on balance was the right thing to do.

It was also the impetus that led me to FINALLY finish my book, Making ‘Work’ Work for You. I absolutely needed to take my work/life balance into consideration and make some drastic changes. I’ve done that. And I’ve found that this message is resonating out there in the world of higher education and many other fields.

I wanted to share some of the tips and hacks that I’ve developed and learned over the years. These are strategies I’ve used to make the work day more palatable and improve my attitude about balance.

1. Be Intentional on How You Schedule Your Time

You may have one of those jobs in which one could easily be in meetings for a full day, leaving very little time to actually get your work done. Staff meetings, senior management meetings, committee meetings, supervisory meetings (also called One-on-One’s), disciplinary meetings…this list goes on and on. Where’s the balance?

During my years as a Manager and Senior Manager, I was in meetings all the time and felt entirely too much pressure to stay late, work on the weekends, or god forbid you try to multi-task in those meetings! I’m blessed in my current position that I don’t have that problem – but I think a person can be much more intentional about time is scheduled during the work day.

In the first place, you know the saying, “if you don’t control your calendar, it will control you.” So control it (I have a great planner for that!). You need work time? Schedule it. Call it just that: WORK TIME.

I currently hold blocks of time as work-time and in the “location” section of Outlook, I write down what I want to get done during that section of time:

  • work on the science grant
  • clean up email box
  • web site changes
  • clean desk

And I try to do this at least one full week in advance so that I don’t get overwrought with meetings before I save time for me.

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However, don’t fill your entire calendar lest you get in trouble for not being available. I look at my recurring meetings first – which days are my busiest meeting days and which days are very open. I usually schedule a 2 to 3 hour block at a time, at least 2 to 3 times each week. My current supervisor actually really likes this strategy and has begun to try it for herself.

If you are working for a company who schedules a great many meetings, you may need to speak with your supervisor regarding your need to schedule more work time; especially if those recurring meetings are frequent.

Give yourself a month to get used to the meeting schedule, and then you can approach your supervisor about options you have to delegate or remove some of those meetings from your calendar.

2. Deal with Additional Priorities and Opportunities

Working in higher education, I haven’t always had the luxury of getting to decide for myself what’s important. But in considering how you are spending your time, think about the extra things you take on in addition to your regular work.

I’m going to be the first person who tells you that getting involved outside of your job is super important – for the professional development, making friends, networking, etc. But you may have to limit that involvement or consider that it’s part of your free time instead of your work time. And make choices that sustain this.

I was very active in my professional association once I moved to California, and I carried that with me a great deal. I chose to have much of my social life connected through that organization…and I chose to be involved rather than going to a movie or doing other social things on the weekends. When I became a runner, I had to further alter some of these choices of how to spend my time outside of work – I saw fewer movies and was less involved in my professional association. And then, during times when my volunteer work was really busy, I just was not training for races.

But sometimes you really do need to make a choice between the extra work/responsibility and your home life. Saying “no” means that you can say “yes” more often.

“Instead of saying, ‘I don’t have time,’ try saying ‘it’s not a priority’ and see how that feels.” –Courtney Carver

Figure out what projects mean the most to you. Which extra responsibility will you enjoy the most? Which project will aid in the advancement of your career, or help you to work with someone new and influential? Really consider this before taking on a new project or committee. It’s better to do a couple things really well than have mediocre performance in a ton of things.

Of course…there’s always the “other duties as assigned” clause in many of our job descriptions. You know what I’m talking about, they’re usually at the very bottom of the page, that “catch all” which seemingly gives your supervisor or other managers the option to throw extra projects at you. This can be tricky to navigate, especially during times when you are short staffed and surviving budget cuts. Be honest with your supervisor if you feel overwhelmed. Remember that you must communicate with peers and committee members who are sharing the workload with you.

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It should also go without saying that you ask permission to take on professional association committee work before you volunteer. It’s a common courtesy. It gives your supervisor the chance to assist you with skill sets and/or connections that could assist in your new project or committee work. If they’ve been in your field for some time, they could even have great suggestions and recommendations for you.

3. Find Portals for Flexibility

If you have the luxury of a flexible work day, then you can make room for longer breaks. You can be creative with your lunch hour or come in later/leave earlier when you need to.

Do you have the ability to work from home now and then? Will your supervisor allow that? Are you lucky enough to have one of those gigs? Make sure you keep it in perspective and get your things done. Don’t take advantage or take for granted, because you might lose it!

The flip side of this is having no flexibility – zero, zilch, none. Your work day is rigid and you have meetings, meetings, meetings. That’s tough. You may need to build in buffers between your meetings. Don’t schedule back to back meetings. Start a meeting at 9am, and if it’s over at 10:30, don’t schedule another meeting until 11am.

Don’t go back to the office and work before the next meeting. Take a walk, get a cup of coffee, and breathe. Control your calendar, or it will control you.

4. Put Your Work Day into Perspective

You know what? It’s just work. It’s meaningful for you – you put your heart and soul into it. But it’s just work. If you can’t draw the line between where your job ends and you begin….that might be a problem.

The big thing for me was being able to realize that I was no longer going home angry. That was a beautiful thing. I took my work home – in an emotional manner – for such a long time. I would be so frustrated with the tough day and/or negative students and/or a rotten staff meeting…I’d internalized so much of it and it made me angry.

So I needed to draw that line and say, “I’m going home and I’m going to be me.” That’s it.

5. Find a Buffer

You may need a buffer from your work day into your home life. If you are a live-in professional, this can be difficult. I’m lucky to have figured this out for me in my current vocation.

For two years, I was a walking commuter and listened to podcasts on my walk to and from work. Currently, I commute by car but the travel time is about the same. I still listen to podcasts but have been on a mad audiobook phase for the past three months. Jen Sincero just rocks. This usually clears my mind from any daily funk and puts me in a lighter mood when I get home.

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Some of you may have very long commutes and so, time in traffic further complicates your transition time. Loud music may turn into road rage, so I recommend podcasts (again – I’m a big fan), audiobooks, comfortable/slow music. Even something that you are familiar with and can sing along. But any drive home can feature these things, and you really only need a few minutes to make it happen.

During that transition time (otherwise known as your commute home), let go of everything that happened at work that day. The work day is over. What are you looking forward to once you get there? Spouse or significant other? Family, kids? Dogs? Someone making an amazing dinner for you? A very nice glass of wine and a fire?

Focus on one of those things to think about while you let your work day go…and SMILE — even if you have to force yourself to smile. Because even just smiling will brighten your mood.

6. Unplug from Technology

Even as I’m writing this, I know good and well that I struggle with this myself. My husband and I have smart phones and tablets, and I often bring my work laptop home. So I myself am not the model of unplugging. Writing for The Bulletin, Sarah Comstock addresses the fact that technology has been a double-edged sword. Advances are helpful and convenient but “have placed an enormous burden of relentless pressure on people as expectations rise in parallel with the speed of technological progress.”

Computers and gadgets are suddenly able to do just about anything; as human beings, we need to recognize that we can’t do everything. Being able to get away from our devices and technology is paramount to finding work/life balance.

In the first place, the main reason we add our work email to our phones is for convenience and flexibility. Having that connection allows us to respond to certain requests maybe between meetings, or while otherwise occupied. It’s most certainly not meant to keep us from our families or friends or to occupy our down time. You pull out the laptop with the intention of doing some personal research or maybe you are checking your bank account, and the next thing you know you’re opening Outlook and responding to emails. Suddenly a 15-minute task turns into an hour, or two. Next, there’s the itching desire to “quickly check email” while you are at a restaurant with your significant other or friends and there you go again – you get caught up in an email chain of crap that clearly could wait until the next day.

Does any of this sound like you? It’s me too, much of the time. Some different strategies to consider include…

7. Do a “Detox” from Some of the Apps on Your Phone That Suck up Your Time

These apps could include social media, games, fitness, or sports viewing. Based on a challenge I learned about on the Rich Roll podcast, for the entire month of June 2015, I took all social media off my phone. I did not check in anywhere, I did not tweet or post on Facebook, there were no new Instagram shots in my feed.

That gave me some balance when spending time with family and friends – it was nice to just be with them and not otherwise occupied with distractions.

8. Tackle Your Cell Phone Stuff

Consider whether your employer requires you to have a department-issued cell phone; and if your institutional culture dictates that you have access to your email all the time. One of my previous institutions did require a department-issued phone with work email intact. I received compensation for this, but it was expected that email notifications be turned on and the focus be on staying up to date with all communication.

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Thankfully, that is not the current culture for me. I do have work email on my phone, but notifications are turned off; and, in fact, from time to time I think about removing work email from my phone because I’d just as soon not have to worry about it. But given that my boss has work email on her phone, I model that example. And our classified staff members are not required to have email on their phone.

If the culture of your institution or your department requires this – don’t be a rogue employee for the sake of balance. But consider other ways that you can insure that your work email doesn’t dominate your device. Are you able to turn off the work-related phone on the weekends or at night? Can you talk to your supervisor about expected response times?

No one can check email 24 hours a day and still expect to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the office. That is NOT work/life balance.

9. Set a Time You Spend on Checking Emails

Try to keep your email at the office from dominating your day. I’m doing the best I can to open, read, and respond/delete to my emails as soon as I get into Outlook, and then close the application until the end of the day. I try to be at “Inbox Zero” before I go home. This insures that I’m not wrongly multitasking during the work day (which, by the way, there is no such thing as multitasking) or spending too much unnecessary time on email when there are projects to complete.

A new strategy I’m employing is to not open my email until I return from my lunch break. This was something my current supervisor read about in an article, and I really love the reasoning behind it. When you start the day with email, you are letting others dictate your priorities rather than controlling these yourself. If the email truly is an emergency, that person will call you or come find you.

Hit up your main priorities in the morning, and then settle into the questions after you get some food. I’m enjoying the productivity of my morning and the peace of mind I feel because I’m not letting others dictate my work day.

Essential to unplugging and finding balance is the notion of separating. Don’t multitask your work and your life. Unless part of your job is posting to social media daily, leave all that stuff at home during the work day. Do you need Facebook and Twitter open on your computer while you try to write that report (or get your email to “Inbox Zero”)? In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport suggests “the overuse of social media unwittingly cripples our ability to success in the world of knowledge work.”

Social media is lots of fun, but in the office it’s just a diversion that’s keeping you from finishing your vital tasks. The sooner you get your stuff done, the sooner you get home.

If you must make a personal call, check in with your significant other, or connect with your family; you can do so by taking a quick break and making your call from the break room or outside.

The Bottom Line

You’re probably scratching your head by now because most of these tips seem SO easy. They are! You just need to make the commitment to yourself, make the effort, and then go for it. You can do this!

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Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

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