Work-life balance isn’t just a millennial term for wanting more free time, it’s a term that actually dates back to the 1800s when the number of hours women and children could work was reduced by manufacturing laws. The concept of an ideal balance between work and leisure time has spread ever since. The 20th Century saw the widespread occurrence of workers’ unions and the introduction of many new workplace laws, including the introduction of a 40-hour work week, mandatory overtime, and regular increases in minimum wage, among other things. All of these laws were made in an effort to create a more structured work life, giving way to a happier personal life.
In recent years work-life balance has come to represent the new culture of American workplaces. Employers offer benefits like telecommuting, increased PTO, and sponsored health & wellness initiatives to improve work-life balance and attract more employees.
Even if your job is not one that chooses or is able to offer incentives like the above, each individual can make strides to improve the balance between their professional life and their personal life. Here are some of the ways to do that.
Unplug… if you can
This can be difficult depending on your job or responsibilities, but if possible, relegate all work activities to the time you’re actually at work. The more time you spend looking at spreadsheets and emails at home, the less time you’re actually focusing on your family, friends, and hobbies.
Stay focused at work so it doesn’t bleed over into your free time
It’s hard to unplug and let go of work if you weren’t able to actually finish your work. Like most people whose work involves sitting at a computer, I struggle with staying focused. With the whole internet right in front of me, it’s hard to keep my tabs in check and not “accidentally” get stuck in a Wikipedia rabbit hole. I’ve tried to get a lot better about making to-do lists, and I’ve gotten increasingly more pleased with how good it feels to mark things off my list! Chance & Micah use Evernote, in case a digital to-do list is more your speed, but I prefer to go the old-fashioned pen and paper route. Listen to podcasts or music if that helps clear your mind. Most of our team uses Google Chrome, which has a lot of extensions that can help you stay focused. Chris uses Blocksite to limit the amount of time his browser will let him visit certain sites. Once you’ve hit your limit for the day, you won’t be allowed to navigate back there.
On that note, make the most of your time outside of work
I am embarrassed to tell you how much time on Saturday mornings I spend mindlessly clicking through YouTube videos or scrolling Instagram. It’s not that those things are bad or can’t be done in moderation, but at the end of the weekend I always think about all the things I had planned to get done during my days off, and I find that a lot of the time I had was wasted. Throughout the week I’ve tried to start making written plans for my weekend—some list items are chores like cleaning or grocery shopping, others are household things I’ve wanted to get done but haven’t found the time, and the rest are just fun things I want to do. That way I carry over the productivity I had during the work week, and I can feel like I had a fun and productive weekend.
Plan your work around when you work best
I don’t know about you, but my attention is more likely to drift when I have a task I don’t particularly want to do or I know is going to take a lot of effort. There’s evidence that these larger or more creative tasks should be done early in your work day, while smaller, less-creative work should be planned for later in the day. This method conveniently goes along with the way my mind works since I’m more focused in the mornings, but maybe they’ll need to be swapped for you. Either way, if it’s possible to organize your own workflow, do so in a way that will benefit you and the work.
Ask about a flexible schedule
If you’re lucky enough to have a career and employer that allows for a flexible schedule or working-from-home, don’t take that for granted. It might not work for everyone, but I’ve found I get even more work done when I’m at home, free of the distractions of an office, and I feel even better about my day because I’ve also done some laundry or washed dishes!
Take your breaks
Staring at a computer all day without a break isn’t good for your mental health or the quality of work you’re producing. Walk around the block, go get some lunch, or even just sit in your car for a little bit. It’ll refresh your mind and reduce the anxiety of a “rush, rush, rush” kind of job.
Let us know if any of these techniques work for you or what you’ve found to be the best way to improve work-life balance.