There’s no escaping it—responsibilities abound both at home and in the workplace. Whether it’s deadlines and meetings, cooking and exercising or housework and ferrying children to activities, it may seem like it never ends. And let’s face it: It doesn’t.
“Noo!” you scream to the heavens, “It can’t be!” Well, once you’ve let the shock subside, consider this. Many people have established a very productive and healthy work-life balance to combat the stresses that can come along with the laundry list of tasks that seem to sap your every waking moment.
Everyone’s work-life balance is different. Sometimes this involves waking up earlier or staying up later than the average. Other times it means enlisting someone else’s help. Whatever it is you need to do, you can and will establish your work-life balance once you get your priorities in line and honestly evaluate the time and energy you have to tackle your day-to-day life.
Sometimes, work and home life won’t be exactly equal in terms of time or effort. Sometimes a family vacation will keep you from work for a week. Other times a big project might interfere with time spent with family in the evenings. The key is to not let one weigh too heavily for too long, or you risk missing out on opportunities or letting down those affected on the other side.
Now you’ve thought tirelessly about how to achieve this balance, and through bouts of trial and error, you’ve done it! Well done. You’re on top of the world, juggling life with ease, taking stressors in stride and being as productive and healthy as you are social and family-oriented. You’ve only got one issue left to deal with:
If you’re not careful, your work-life balance can become unhinged and collapse before your eyes. For those of you who’d really rather not lose your firm grasp on life, make sure to avoid these five ways to topple your hard-earned work-life balance.
1. You Take On Too Many Responsibilities
This is supposed to be a balance right? A balancing act requires two things: 1) Keep both sides as equal as possible to minimize wobbling. And 2) To not weigh yourself down so much that, equal-sided or not, you’re still going down.
When you know you have your daughter’s out-of-town soccer matches to attend all weekend, don’t take a new project on Friday afternoon that’s due on Monday (unless you specialize in working out of hotel rooms). When you have meetings that could potentially go long into the evening, have your partner cook dinner instead. If you can’t find an hour to work out in the morning one day, divide up your workout into shorter, more manageable sessions throughout the day. Only you can recognize when you might be over-extending yourself, but you must keep vigilant and keep both sides in mind.
Burning out is one of the worst things you can do to yourself, and taking on too much at any one time is a surefire way to do it. Burnouts can last a short or long time, but either way, it’s usually just long enough to make you miss something or otherwise feel out of balance once again. Coming back from a burnout can be tough, and the best way to take care of it is to never let yourself burn out in the first place.
One way to keep track of everything that you’re doing is to somehow write down or otherwise maintain a list of everything you need and want to do on both sides of the aisle. Also try to include about how much time you estimate it will take to complete each task. Once you have the tasks lined out, only then can you really start inserting those times into your schedule. Make sure you have the time—and energy—for everything you’ve set up for yourself before taking on any more commitments or responsibilities.
2. You Don’t Set Boundaries Between Work Time And Everything Else
When it’s time for work, you need to work. When it’s time for family, you need to spend time with family. When it’s time to take care of your own needs, it’s time to focus on yourself. You get the picture.
When you start blurring the line between when it’s time for work and when it’s time for other facets of your life, you’re teetering the balance you worked so hard to achieve. This means no checking work emails while you’re eating dinner with your family. This means staying off of personal calls when you’re trying to work. You have to stick to your guns and focus your effort and attention on who or what it is you’re spending time with. Not doing this could risk frustrating your boss or your family members who crave your undivided attention.
If you work from home, this is an even easier way to sacrifice your work-life balance. Because you both live and work in and around your office, it can be very hard not to blur the line between the two sides. You might easily be tempted to do the laundry during what you’ve originally set to be work hours. You might want to pull up your laptop to work on a project while you’re watching a movie with your kids or significant other. Resisting the temptation can be that much harder when your physical boundaries are not as clear-cut as they would be if you worked in a traditional office.
Regardless of where and how much you work, you need to remember to allow yourself to have a complete disconnect from it when it’s time for family, social time or yourself.
3. You Don’t Schedule Any Downtime
This is related to both No. 1 and No. 2: If you take on too much, you’re not leaving yourself any downtime. If you’re letting work bleed into “you” time, you’re not fully enjoying any downtime either.
Breaks, no matter how long, are crucial for staying balanced—and sane—amidst all of the goings on of everyday life. You need down time to recharge your batteries, unclutter your mind, and rest yourself for the next tasks you have at hand.
What people consider “downtime” is different for everyone. For some people, down time means watching TV with the family. For others, it means getting a chance to work out. And for others, it means having time completely to themselves, such as reading a book or taking a bath (or both at the same time). You need to figure out the way you unwind best and make sure that you schedule in time for that around everything else you have going on. If not, here comes that nasty word again: Burnout.
4. You Let Your Priorities Get Jumbled Up
To create a schedule that allows you to be productive, spend time with family and friends and take time for yourself, you need to get your priorities straight. Start with what you think you need to focus on the most in general, followed by the second, third and the next. After generalizing those priorities, think about what you need to prioritize in the short term, such as projects with imminent deadlines or your child’s extracurricular activities you need to bring him to in a few hours.
Without getting your priorities in line, you’re going to have a hard time keeping your schedule straight and on the right path. Your priorities govern exactly how much time, energy and attention need to be applied to each commitment or responsibility you might have, and that in turn determines your schedule for the hour, day, week, month and so on.
If you let your priorities get jumbled up, you’ll lose sight of what’s most important to you and may sacrifice time and energy in the wrong places.
5. You Forget About Your Social Life
For some, this is sometimes the hardest aspect of the work-life balance to remember. A social life is extremely important for a number of reasons. For one, socializing keeps your communication skills in check so you don’t forget how to interact with people in a normal, non-work or family setting (which is especially important if you work from home all the time).
Socializing is also crucial for keeping your mind active, as fresh perspectives, debates and even just sharing jokes or memories are great ways to stimulate your mind and keep you from boring yourself out of your own head. In addition, socializing with other people can also lead to new ideas which you can apply to your work, family or you time, so you never know what could come out of a dinner party or night out on the town.
So ask yourself honestly: When was the last time you had friends over? When was the last time you took your significant other out to dinner, drinks or a movie? If it’s been “far too long,” then that’s something you need to change. Otherwise, you may not realize it, but denying yourself a healthy social life could lead to other stresses and frustrations in your work and family lives.
Now keep in mind, you don’t have to suddenly become a budding socialite overnight, but it is important to find a way to fit it in here and there to properly maintain that work-life balance.