Does this sound familiar? You spend all day writing emails, having meetings, doing work. Finally, you come home and you find yourself continuing to respond to work emails, finishing up all the work that did not get completed from the day, until you go to sleep and go back to work the next morning. You have given up your whole day to your work and have not taken any time for yourself. You are not alone – a 2014 report (Alterman et al.) found that 16.3% of Americans struggle with work-life balance.
Work-life balance is the concept of balancing all aspects of one’s life and includes work but also includes social life, fun activities/leisure, and family. Typically, work-life balance is a problem when people are working too many hours and neglecting their own needs. If we want to feel a sense of fulfillment and happiness, it is essential for us to engage in activities that are not related to work. These activities can be social, personal, or family oriented and they are vital to who we are as people.
Work-life balance is a concept that has only really been around for the past 30-40 years. This can probably be attributable to technological advances in our society. Technology has improved our work efficiency across the board. Things that used to take days to complete now take seconds. While technology can be a handy tool, it can also create a feeling of needing to be available at all times. This blurs the line between personal-time and work-time. In other words, just because you go home does not mean your work day is over. People today struggle with work-life balance, especially when their work is everywhere with them – with smartphones and email. People could have access to work anytime and anywhere. This can make it challenging to create boundaries and balance.
How can I restore my work-life balance?
The good news is that there are many ways to help create a balance of work and personal life.
- Boundaries: The first step to building a healthy work-life balance is to create a better sense of boundaries. This means that it is up to you to decide when you are working and when you are spending time for yourself. If you work at a traditional workplace setting, this boundary can be more natural to make, as there is a physical setting which can help you define those boundaries. If you work remotely (as is becoming increasingly more frequent) it becomes imperative to specify what time of the day you would like to spend working and what time of day you would want to spend on yourself.
Helpful Hint: If you do any of your work from home, try to find a spot that you can designate as your workplace (a specific room, a desk, a table). Try to use this space ONLY for work.
- Breaks: Breaks are very important for productivity. This may seem counterintuitive because if you are taking a break, you literally are not working. However, just because you are on a break, it does not mean that your brain is not still working. Breaks can often be the best time for your brain to figure out difficult problems. Another vital reason for breaks is to recharge our brains. Think of your brain as a smartphone; if you are using it all the time (watching videos, writing emails, etc.) your phone’s battery will die. Only if you take some time to turn your phone off and charge it will it work for the whole day. Similarly, our brains need breaks in order to recharge and become more productive during the day. Instead of breaks being a time you are not working, a short break can improve your productivity at work and lead to better production.
Helpful Hint: Try to take a 1-2 minute break every 30 minutes even just to stand up, walk around and sit back down again. Also, consider taking longer 5-10 minute breaks every hour or two to recharge your brain. For more about breaks, see my article about burnout.
- Schedule time for yourself: Look at your daily calendar. How many of the events on your calendar are fun things that you want to do? Truthfully, most people do not schedule time for fun activities because they do not consider it to be a priority. People often say, “I’ll get around to it,” or “I’ll do it when I have time.” If we want to make work-life balance a priority, we need to be sure to make time for it.
Helpful Hint: Put one fun activity in your schedule each day. This can be something big like a night out, going to a movie, playing a round of golf, or something small like watching an episode of your favorite TV show. Either way, try to schedule one fun thing per day.
- End your workday: This one sounds simple but can be very difficult. Determine a time every day that you will stop working. This means every day at this time you will turn off your work-phone, stop responding to emails and spend the rest of the day doing what you want to do.
Helpful Hint: Try it! Pick a time (e.g., 8 PM) and stick to it for one week. See how it feels to have evenings to yourself.
Many people find it difficult to create a healthy work-life balance. Especially in today’s world where smartphones keep us constantly connected, it is hard to be able to shut down our workday. By creating physical boundaries in our work-lives, we can prevent our work from invading every part of our lives. By taking breaks, we allow our brains to recharge and become more productive. It is essential to create a schedule that works for you. Find time in your day for enjoyable things and make sure you find a set time to end your workday. While it’s easy to allow our work to become our lives, it is important to find a balance between our work and the things that we enjoy doing.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended to be used for informational purposes only. This blog should not be used for therapy purposes and does not constitute or establish a doctor/patient relationship. This website offers information and links to helpful resources, however, is not intended to be considered treatment.
Benjamin Hamburger, Psy.D.
Licensed clinical psychologist in New York and California.
Provides individual, group and couples psychotherapy for children (and their parents), adolescents, and adults.
Specializes in working with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety and ADHD.