Balance means that your life will find its own equilibrium and ensure that when stressors and strains come along, they won’t throw you off your direction. You’ll be able to manage it and feel in control of your own destiny.
Successfully achieving a healthy work-life balance can support greater achievement in the workplace, as well as improved wellbeing and happiness. In contrast, not achieving a healthy work-life balance can result in increased stress levels, exhaustion, illness and burnout. Although at times work-life balance may feel unattainable, it is possible to be successful in your professional career while also maintaining a healthy and fulfilling personal life. What this balance looks like will be different to everyone and is rarely in equal measure.
Research has found that major challenges contributing to poor work-life balance include unrealistic demands, unsupportive relationships and high levels of stress. It has become almost normal behaviour for work to creep into our personal time. As a business owner, this will almost certainly be the case from time to time and it’s essential to identify when this is to your detriment. Living in an ‘always on’ culture means it can be difficult to switch off, especially when people are firing across emails to you with requests for action. I have learned that the best response to this is to recognise what is truly urgent and what can actually wait.
Finding the right balance for you will vary depending on your personal circumstances and aspirations such as having children, starting a new career or business, or simply going through a busy work period. Achieving work-life balance doesn’t mean you have to stop working hard. It is, however, about getting the balance right to create a life we love by making time as efficient as possible and knowing how and when to switch off.
When time feels restricted, it’s important that we are fully aware of where our time and energy are being spent to assess what is and isn’t essential. At times, we can be drawn into habits that make us less efficient and drain our energy. An example could be clicking on push notifications while trying to complete a report or spending hours scrolling through social media when you could have spent quality time with a loved one. Make an effort to check in on your digital wellbeing by setting time limits on apps that are consuming more time than you wish. Try changing your settings to only show notifications during an allocated time period or when your phone is unlocked. Alternatively, turn them off completely and check in at a set time each day using the Pomodoro technique.
If you’re easily drawn into activities that are not serving you as you wish, such as certain social events or constantly supporting the needs of others before your own, then learn to say no. This can be difficult, but when you do give your time, you’re likely to feel more positive and be more productive. Outsourcing the things that you’re not good at or you don’t enjoy doesn’t just need to apply in the workplace. Housework, gardening and meal preparation are just a few tasks that can be delegated or outsourced. Remember, your version of work-life balance is likely to look different to your colleagues or your best friend, so stop comparing and find out what it is that you’re striving for to excel in both your personal and professional life.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself feeling guilty for taking time to rest and worrying that you’re not being productive enough. Try to reframe this concept and treat your rest time as you would a vacation, with no distractions from work and no agenda. Keep in the forefront of your mind that this time is for you to recharge. This will ultimately impact on your business in a positive way as you return to work fully recharged and ready to seize the day.
Finding a work-life balance If you’re interested in making a change to your current work-life balance, then work through these three questions to define a goal to help you achieve this:
- How would you feel if you were able to create the work-life balance that you desire?
- What would this look like?
- What do you need to do to achieve this? Now define your goal.
Once you’ve defined what a healthy work-life balance means to you, it’s important to set clear boundaries. Stick to your schedule of priorities, with plotted time for work and leisure activities.
At the end of a busy day, finding time to relax is essential in preparation for a good night’s sleep. Often easier said than done, having the ability to ‘switch off’ from the day’s activities can allow your mind to rest and rejuvenate, as well as helping to achieve a work-life balance.
When you get home from work, change your mindset to ‘switch off’ mode. This could involve changing to more relaxing clothes, doing some exercise, cooking a healthy meal, taking a relaxing bath or having story time with the kids. As you wind down and prepare for sleep, consider which activities help you to feel relaxed, as well as potential bad habits that could be preventing you from fully winding down.
Studies have shown that within five minutes of switching the lights off for bed, 37% of adults check their phones, rising to 60% of under thirty-fives. By managing your digital wellbeing, you can make best use of digital technology while also knowing when it’s time to disconnect. As part of your bedtime routine, plan when you will stop looking at your phone. This can also help prevent exposure to the bright light of a phone screen which has been recognised to stimulate the part of the brain that is designed to keep you awake. Using a clock as an alarm rather than your phone is another technique to help prevent you from looking at your phone during the night and first thing in the morning.
Learning how to switch off can take some practice, especially if you tend to overthink. You may feel that continually thinking about something that is troubling you will lead to finding the best solution, but what usually happens is that the longer you think about the problem, the more exhausting it becomes. Recognise if you’re imagining the worst-case scenario or second-guessing yourself. Neither are helpful behaviours. Other reasons for overthinking include worrying about future events such as work deadlines and things out of your control such as a global pandemic. Signs of overthinking include being unable to relax, feeling constantly worried or anxious, experiencing negative thoughts, fixating on a particular thought and imagining worst-case scenarios. Not only do repetitive thoughts interfere with the clarity you may be seeking, but the more you worry and ruminate, the stronger a habit it becomes. If you find yourself overthinking try the following:
- Recognise it: Start by recognising the thought as simply a thought. Thoughts don’t always speak the truth. They don’t have to overwhelm you, or make you feel stressed or anxious.
- Challenge: Are your thoughts backed up by facts or do they have a negative or exaggerated spin?
- Write it down or talk about it: Writing down your thoughts can sometimes help to get them out of your head and help you to relax. If you’d like to become more self-aware of your thoughts then try keeping a log to recognise them, build self-confidence, practise self-acceptance and address any issues of concern. Sometimes, talking things through with a supportive friend is just what you need to offload, see things from a new perspective and feel more positive.
Getting into a routine of switching off can help you to relax and feel a greater sense of balance.
Balancing that equilibrium of a healthy working life can be difficult, but if you know the tricks to assist you, you’ll never go back to all work and no play.
Consider the following statements:
- Understand what work-life balance means to you. Know when to put the laptop down, to stop reading texts and emails and to turn the social media notifications off.
- Notice when your mind is working overtime and challenge any negative or intrusive thoughts.
- Finally, learn to switch off from the day’s activities by testing some of the techniques suggested and see what works best for you.
For over a decade, Bethany and her team have provided award-winning services that have helped thousands of people improve their health and wellbeing. Their efforts were recognised in 2015 when they were awarded The David Goldman Prize for Innovation for our work in behaviour change. More recently, Bethany was presented with a Director of the Year Award from the Institute of Directors for the development of their employee wellbeing software and services, supporting businesses to achieve enhanced employee wellbeing, happiness, and productivity.