Many years ago, I was working as a legal assistant at a busy law office. My employers and coworkers were awesome, but the job left me stressed out. It was sometimes hard for me to relax, even on off hours. My work-life balance was not ideal and, as a result, I wasn’t sleeping very well and I felt anxious even when I was relaxing with friends.
I know many people who have stories like this one. In today’s modern world, many people are working more hours than ever. Many industries are now requiring longer hours, and overtime is the norm in multiple professions. While this may seem like businesses are being productive, this work overload can actually decrease productivity and seriously harm employees.
If you are finding that you don’t have adequate work-life balance in your life, here are a few ways to regain it.
Schedule some free time
The first step to making sure that you have time for life is to schedule some. Treat your free time like a serious appointment, and block out chunks of your day, week and month for it. This may require some planning, but it’s well worth it. Sit down with your planner and decide which parts of the day, week and month will be time for you. Write it in and plan on it as if it were critical (because it actually is critical to your enjoyment of life and your stress levels).
It may help to let your employer, clients and coworkers know that you will be unavailable during these scheduled blocks of time. Make it clear that you will be unable to answer work messages or perform any other responsibility during these times unless it is a real emergency. A good employer should respect these conditions, as healthy work-life balance can actually increase productivity.
When your planned free time arrives, use it! Immerse yourself in your favorite activities, spend time with your loved ones and have fun! Don’t answer work emails, don’t take business calls and try to put your phone away whenever possible. This time is for you to unwind, so use it to its fullest. This was hard for me to do, but with practice and diligence sticking to my free time, I was better able to relax when not at work.
Take those vacation days
Many people are so focused on productivity nowadays that they stack up vacation days which they do not use. It’s time to use them, lest they disappear forever! One option is to actually plan a vacation. Look at how many days you have, think of a place you’ve always wanted to go and start booking your getaway. Make sure to let your employer know your plans as far in advance as possible to avoid having responsibilities stacked onto you right before (or during) your vacation.
When things were getting stressful at the law office, I used some of my vacation days and flew to Chicago to see friends. I was only there for four days, but those four days were a much-needed break. A reset, so to speak.
If you don’t actually want to go away somewhere for a vacation (or if money is tight), you can still take your days and enjoy them at home. Either take your days all in one chunk and have a “staycation,” or spread them out if you wish so that you have longer weekends for several weeks. Use this time to catch up on all of the hobbies and passions that you’ve been too busy to enjoy.
Learn to say ‘no’
Perhaps you are the type of person who always wants to help others out and to go the extra mile for a project. This wonderful trait may have coworkers, management and clients asking you for favors, or assigning you extra responsibilities. If you can handle them in a normal workday (and it’s not stressing you out), that’s great. If it’s filling up your schedule to the point of exhaustion, then you’re going to have to put your foot down and start saying “no.”
This is extremely hard for some people, but it’s a necessary skill to learn. Don’t think of it as letting people down or refusing to help out. Think of it as caring enough about yourself and the balance of your life to make yourself a priority. Say “yes” to your free time, “yes” to your life. If you talk to your coworkers honestly about this, they will very likely understand and sympathize.
Also, you’ll be much better able to help others and complete tasks with maximum efficiency if you are relaxed and refreshed. Overworking yourself just leads to burnout. Throughout the jobs I’ve had in my past, I’ve had to say no at various junctures. There have been days where I could have taken on an extra project, but my stress level was too high and I felt overworked. Although I felt bad at first, I was ultimately happy that I did not overdo it.
Talk to your employer
In the event that your work schedule is overloaded because of demands of overtime, or too many tasks assigned by your employer (or management), you’re going to want to talk to them. This may seem daunting, but if you are unable to schedule free time, or do anything you enjoy because you are so overbooked, it’s a crucial conversation to have. A good employer may not realize that you are overloaded and will not want their employees burned out. Talking through the situation, and making it clear what hours you can and cannot work, may resolve the problem.
If you are self-employed and are overbooking yourself, then the onus is on you to take a step back and set yourself a realistic schedule. Being ambitious and wanting to take on many responsibilities is admirable, but if your home life is suffering, it’s not worth it. Take a long, hard look at your schedule and reorganize. If you have to work with a few clients to accommodate them during your normal work hours, do it. If you have to turn a few clients down, it’s still worth it for the sake of a healthy work-life balance.
If all else fails, consider a job change
If you’ve tried scheduling free time, taking on fewer responsibilities and have had a conversation with your employer, all to no avail, it might be time to seriously consider a job change. There is more to life than work. If your life becomes nothing but work, your physical, emotional and mental health will all likely suffer. The same goes for your relationships — your loved ones need to see you, and not with your head buried in work emails.
Even if it seems drastic, if you are unable to obtain a satisfying work-life balance at your current employment, start looking around at other options. You may have to search a little and get your resume out there, but it is possible to find a good job or business opportunity that does not suck up all of your free time. It’s well worth the search.
— Tanya Mead