Plenty of us will have faced situations in our lives where we’ve felt like work has started to take over or get too much.
So, in challenging times like this where many people are adapting to working differently, it can be even more important to set healthy boundaries around work.
Looking at things in terms of work-life balance – how your time and energy is divided across different aspects of your life – can help.
Here are five steps you can take now to start improving your work-life balance and prioritise your overall wellbeing.
Why work-life balance matters and when you should act
Of course, the idea of getting things perfectly equal in all areas of your life at once can be impossible – there’s give and take.
Leisure, time with family or friends, and pursuing other activities outside of work are all important to us in different ways. Sometimes you might really have to give your job extra attention, or you might feel work has held you back from getting all the activities you want into your week.
But when too much of your energy constantly goes into work, the effects can add up over time, says Leah Lambart of Relaunch Me Career Consulting.
“The problem is that lack of work-life balance over an extended period can lead to burnout, which can be dangerous, so it’s important to recognise the symptoms ahead of time,” she says.
It can be difficult to recognise when you need to focus on restoring your work-life balance, but there are signs you can be aware of.
Lambart says, “Working for long periods without leaving your desk, checking emails when you should be present with family or friends, working weekends and eating lunch and/or dinner at your desk are all signs that you don’t have a good work-life balance.”
She says the way you feel physically, emotionally and mentally are important to take note of, too.
5 tips for better work-life balance
1. Examine your situation. Think about what your most important values are and how you want to spend your time. Lambart says that once you’ve established that, you can brainstorm small changes you can make that will have a big impact overall, such as forcing yourself to have a lunch break several times a week to exercise or chat with a friend.
2. Manage other people’s expectations. Set boundaries by telling colleagues and clients when you will and won’t be working, so they don’t expect you to be available 24/7. And be honest about your personal needs. Let your boss know which regular activities in your personal life are non-negotiable, whether it’s putting your children to bed or doing yoga – whatever it is that really matters for you.
3. Take care of your health. Ensure you get enough sleep and exercise by including it in your routine, and make sure to reward yourself for your hard work by treating yourself every now and then. To do this you might need to “delegate where you can, to free up your time for what’s most important,” says Lambart. “Ask for extra resources if you need them.”
4. Learn to say no. If you need to work late constantly just to get by, let your boss know that your workload is unsustainable. And if you tend to put other’s needs before your own, “learn to say no occasionally to new projects and extra commitments that will eat up your time and won’t contribute to achieving your work or personal objectives,” Lambart advises.
5. Plan fun activities for your personal time. Get organised with family and friends, to ensure your personal time is fulfilling. Connecting digitally is important to a lot of us right now but try to get some down time away from that as well. “Turn off electronic devices for a certain time period every evening or weekend so that you can give your full attention to the people and activities that are most important to you,” says Lambart. “Try and follow a daily routine that includes some time for yourself every week that’s unrelated to your career.”
Balance can feel tricky to achieve. But by trying these steps you can begin to find ways to make work feel less consuming and free up focus for the other parts of your life – even when times are challenging.