Are you working too hard? Check out these top work life balance tips to get you back on track
We live in a time of overworking, burnout and digital stress – and it’s not a good look. Work life balance is taking a big hit. Whilst earning a living isn’t a bad thing, the cost of overworking can be.
As Sharon Martin, a leading US psychotherapist, points out: “You can’t perform at your best when you’re over-stressed, surviving on caffeine and fast food, and your only exercise is walking to and from your car. The problem is our workaholic mindset.”
It’s not like all that graft is even worth it, either. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” is listed as one top five regrets of the dying in Australian nurse Bronnie Ware’s bestselling book, based on her life in a palliative care ward. Ware noted that the patients she looked after “deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence”.
Logically, we know there’s more to life than work. And yet, most of us don’t peek our head above the parapet for long enough to find out what that “more” is. Here’s how to balance work and life, with tips for a happier way of being:
Work life balance tips: work and lifestyle
If you’re feeling strung out by the demands of modern life, it’s not too late to stage-manage a dramatic shift (writes Anna Brech).
There’s no cookie cutter for how you do this, but it helps if you look at your life through a broader lens.
You could try six-hour working days, for example, or move into a smaller apartment with less demand for bills and belongings. Creative approaches like this are on the rise, and can have a big impact on how you run your life overall.
It’s not just about major lifestyle decisions, though. Even little habits, such as leaving work on time every day, can build up the momentum for positive and lasting change. So, let’s get started:
1 - Schedule one thing of joy every day
The way you spend your days is the way you spend your life. If you’re always hitting the grindstone with the promise that one day you’ll take it easy, inevitably that will become the sum total of your experience.
Instead, take a leaf from tech designer John Zeratsky’s book and plan something that matters every day. Zeratsky, co-author of Make Time, suggests a daily highlight is the key to making your days count.
Plan something that brings you pure joy, each and every day – big or small, and ideally beyond work. Make your schedule fit around this thing: it has to be a priority otherwise you won’t do it.
If you find it difficult to fit in, you’re effectively sidelining the passions that give your life meaning. How can you switch the balance?
2 - Stop working in the evenings
Is there anything more miserable than grafting in the office until 8pm or 9pm when everyone around you has gone home?
You might tell yourself you’re being productive but actually the opposite is true. Research shows that we typically get more done when we set ourselves tight deadlines. It focuses the mind. Let time spool out, infinitely, however, and your assignment will merely expand to fit within that.
To make matters worse, productivity is not linear. After a full day’s work, you’ll hit crunch mode: your energy levels lag and your motivation drops off a cliff. The longer you stick around in this state, the less you’ll get done.
Do yourself a favour and get out of work on time, each and every day.
3 - Plan a long, lazy lunch midweek
There’s something about a languorous midweek lunch that rallies against our rigorously scheduled lives. It’s the ritual equivalent of raising two fingers to your packed diary. A small act of rebellion in a life where even your down-time is tightly scripted (hello, spinning and yoga classes).
A long, lazy lunch means you shouldn’t be clock-watching; so give it a good three or four hours, every month or so. Then, all you need is good company, great wine and a series of generous sharing dishes that just keep coming.
Doing it midweek will feel counterintuitive at first, but roll with it. This is your opportunity to push back at the relentless churn of life, with a reminder of what life is actually about. And hey, if you really want to be decadent about it, throw in a siesta after.
4 - Do less, but focus more
We hear a lot about “giving 100%” at work. But our energy and attention levels are not a finite resource. If we carry on battling tasks like we’re in some epic Game of Thrones showdown, eventually we’ll fall to the ground.
If you’re being smart about it, it’s better to take your foot off the pedal a little. But this doesn’t mean breaking out the desk-side Piña Coladas. Rather, aim to work at about 85% capacity. For example, plan your schedule for seven rather than eight hours a day. This means you have breathing room if something extra comes up, or a task takes longer than expected.
Then, when you concentrate on something, don’t divide your attention. Studies show multitasking impairs cognitive function and lowers IQ so drastically, the effect is similar to smoking marijuana. Really.
So, silence your phone, turn off email and tackle one project at a time. This also chimes with the 80-20 rule, which shows we get 80% of our most important work done in 20% of our time. Bottom line? Slogging is for amateurs.
5 - Get outside and wander
When you schedule your leisure time too much, research shows that your brain starts to lump it into the same category as work. It takes on the appearance of an obligation or chore, with a parallel mental toll.
Not only that, but when you’re rushing to make an engagement (say, meeting your friends after work), you enjoy it a bit less as a result. Your mind simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to jump seamlessly from one setting (work) to another (play).
Try and get in at least five hours per week where you can be totally spontaneous. At lunch, head out for a walk and just see where the vibe takes you: be it a hidden park or a new gallery nearby.
Do the same when you have a few spare hours in the morning or evening. Simply walking is great for you anyway; but you’ll also give your mind permission to enter “flight mode” (a luxury in today’s over-scheduled world), with space to meander and dream up big ideas.
6 - Try a taste of slow living
Life goes fast. So in order to keep up, we start racing it. We get apps and list To Dos, always striving to stay one step ahead of our imaginary competitor called time.
The problem with this, is a.) the urgent things never go away, they just meld into different variations of the same urgent things and b.) we work ourselves into a frenzy of stress trying to “win” the never-ending fight. To get off this hamster wheel demands a radical leap: a pivot to the lifestyle of slow living.
The slow living movement aims to create a new equilibrium between work, consumerism and personal happiness. In his book, New Slow City, Bill Powers documents how he and his wife attempt to live slow in the world’s fastest metropolis: New York.
Downsizing to a Greenwich Village “micro-apartment”, they cut back to 20-hour working weeks, shop locally and unearth urban sanctuaries that offer a slower way of being; such as bee-keeping and rooftop gardens.
By doing so, they unearth a whole new way of being – one that has nothing to do with the treadmill that most of us are stuck on.
Work life balance tips: looking beyond work
However, lifestyle changes only go so far. With work-related stress and anxiety on the rise, sometimes you just need a clean break. And, since nearly a third of employees plan to work well into their 70s, there’s no point waiting for retirement to do this (writes Mark Coughlan).
If you feel like you’re in need of a new start, the rise of a few new career trends may help shake up your working landscape. Whether you work your way up to getting paid to travel the world, or check your inbox from a beach, these options promise to create a better work life balance. Here’s how to carve a radical new path in your career, and give some time back to you:
7 - Try working remotely
With the rise of 4G and super-fast broadband, not to mention the emergence of 5G, working from anywhere is a reality right here, right now.
Vodafone ran a study in 2016 that showed three quarters of companies worldwide have already adopted flexible working. Among these, 83% believe offering flexible options actually boosted productivity.
Clearly, when it comes to shaking up your work-life balance, being able to work from a white sandy beach or a sun-kissed terrace is more tempting than a sweaty office block. Even home.
And you don’t have to travel far. Norway and Sweden are both in the top three countries in the world when it comes to fast internet speeds. Swap the desk for rally driving, sea kayaking, glacier hiking and a trip to see the Northern Lights – and still get those work emails sent every evening.
8 - Take a break between jobs
Newlyweds head off on honeymoons, parents-to-be take babymoons; now workers can take “jobbymoons”, too. The idea is to enjoy a short break between a career change. Rather than finishing one job on Friday and starting the next on Monday, you take some time out for you, to get your work life balance right.
While sabbaticals are the go-to choice for taking a desk break, the truth is they sometimes don’t work. When you’re returning to the same workplace, the pressure never truly lets up.
40% of UK employees are only taking up to half of their annual leave, and 23% admit that they’re working during their break to avoid falling behind. The ‘jobbymoon’ means you truly switch off without the pressure of your current job to return to.
Imagine chilling on the beaches of Bali, unwinding in the Philippines or meandering down the Mekong River. All with just the local wildlife (and cocktails) to distract you, and not a work email in sight. Happy days.
9 - Adopt a side hustle
A study by Henley Business School found that four in 10 Brits have at least one business alongside their primary job. That number is set to become almost one in two of us by 2030.
If you can find the time to do something that unlocks a passion, it just might make the nine to five much more bearable and improve your work life balance. It may even herald the start of a whole new career.
As Naeema Pasha, director of careers at Henley Business School, puts it: “A side hustle gives people a sense of control over their own careers, rather than give all the power of a career to a company.
“One reason people are more at ease with a side hustle than in previous times is the increase in uncertainty in the workplace. It’s appealing to create their own path and not rely on a workplace to give regular income and career growth.”
10 - Resist the rat race
However you go about it, the aim of a better work life balance is to take away the pressure to do and achieve, and instead spend more time just being.
Today’s on-demand culture means there’s always something better just out of reach. There’s always a reason to work more and dive further into the rat race.
It’s time to push back, and appreciate what you have. This is life, here and now – you don’t need to strive, you just need to slow down enough to live it.