The 50 Top Secrets of a Perfect Work-Life Balance
How to keep your 9-to-5 between 9 and 5.
These days, it seems nearly impossible to have a little separation between your career and your life. In fact, for most people, their career is their life. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Being happy and fulfilled requires making time for yourself just as much of a priority as your job—and no, that doesn’t mean just taking a quick 10-minute lunch break. Here are 50 secrets that will help you finally find a perfect work-life balance, once and for all. And for more tricks for living your best life, don’t miss these 30 Timeless Style Upgrades.
Learn How to Say “No”
As much as you’d like to, it’s impossible to take on every project and task your boss throws your way. Employers definitely want a yes-man around, but learning how to say “no” — especially when you’ve already taken on too much or are feeling overwhelmed — is key in staying sane.
To make sure that you’re not bringing piles of work home with you every night, don’t be afraid to talk to your higher-ups about your work load. They want to keep you around, so they’ll probably be more than happy to help you and find a solution that gets the job done and doesn’t lead to a case of burnout. And for more insight on finding balance, check out the 12 Genius Tricks for Turning Your Anxiety into Excitement.
Hang with Friends Beyond Your Co-Workers
Since you spend more time with your co-workers than anyone else, you’re bound to become friends. The only problem? When you’re hanging out with them at the office and after hours, your brain is always on the office whether you realize it or not. (Think about it: how can you spend time together and not talk about work?) So spend time with your work buddies, but be sure to schedule in quality time with your other friends, too, where you can discuss things other than your boss’ crazy mood swings or the crappy cafeteria food.
Find Ways to Relieve Your Stress
If work constantly has you frazzled, bad news: that stress is going to follow you home after you leave your desk for the day. To avoid that negativity seeping into your home life, find something that helps you relieve your stress — whether that’s a morning meditation or a walk outside over your lunch break — and always make time for it. That way, your nights can be spent relaxing — not with your stomach in knots.
Schedule a Daily Workout
When your career is taking over your life, it can be really hard to make time for yourself — especially when it comes to going to the gym. Having a set time to work out every day won’t just help clear your mind and make you think more clearly at work, but it will also help keep you happy, healthy, and stress-free.
According to a 2013 study published in the journal Human Resource Management, researchers found all those sweat sessions can increase your confidence of handling both the interaction of work and home life, says study author Russell Clayton, PhD. If you’re in a time-crunch but still want to squeeze in that sweat session, try out The Best Quickie Workout You Can Do in Your Bathroom.
Don’t Be Afraid to Clear Your Schedule
Sometimes you just need a little “me” time, and that means clearing everything you can off your schedule so you can actually devote some moments of peace to yourself. Sure, skipping work isn’t an option. Canceling on your plans afterward, though, is totally acceptable and sometimes needs to happen in order to get that separation between your work and home life. Draw a hot bath, put on Netflix, make yourself a homemade dinner, and relax. You’ll feel totally refreshed before you know it.
Ask for Help When You Need It
At some point, you’re going to realize you can’t do it all — no one can. Because of that, it’s important to ask others for help when you need it. Whether it’s from your co-workers or family members, the Mayo Clinic says getting some will help you fly through your tasks and get some much-needed balance. And no, it won’t make you look weak: delegation is a must — especially when you’re busy.
Use Up Your Vacation Days
No, really — all of them. Sometimes taking that (well-deserved!) time off can make you feel a little guilty, but that’s what they’re there for — and your boss isn’t going to judge you for needing a break. According to a 2009 study published in the journal Human Relations, taking a vacation can make job stress disappear, helping you not only clear your head and return to the office with more creativity and productivity, but also have life experiences and memories that will remind you you’re not wasting away your entire life at your desk. For more proof, see This Is Why You Should Take All Of Your Vacation Days.
Develop a Sunday Night Ritual
When Friday rolls around, your mood couldn’t be better: an entire work-free weekend after a busy week sounds like a dream. Unfortunately, that feeling doesn’t last nearly long enough. Since the Sunday Blues are real, develop a routine that prevents you from spending the final hours of your weekend moping around dreading Monday morning to come. If you’re having a glass of wine with your significant other, at the movie theater, or out for a healthy dinner, you can stave off those pre-work feelings a little longer and prevent them from getting in the way of perfect work-life balance.
Take Your Full Lunch Breaks
Alright, be honest: Where do you typically have lunch? If you said your desk, that needs to change — ASAP. Eating a salad in front of your computer isn’t a break. It’s still working, just while shoveling food into your mouth. The next time your stomach starts to grumble, grab a book, find a sunny bench, and enjoy an hour of fresh air before venturing back to the office again. Finding balance mid-workday is possible — and it will even benefit your work.
“Never taking a break from very careful thought work actually reduces your ability to be creative,” Kimberly Elsbach, PhD, told Fast Company. “It sort of exhausts your cognitive capacity and you’re not able to make the creative connections you can if your brain is more rested. If you’re skipping lunch to continue to push forward in a very intense cognitive capacity, then you’re probably not doing yourself any favors.”
Hire People to Free Up Your Time
When you’re at home and finished with work, the last thing you want to do is start checking chores off your real-life to-do list. During those weeks you’re feeling extra overwhelmed and haven’t found a second to relax, get some help. Whether that means hiring a company to do your laundry or someone to come clean up your house, having that extra time will be super beneficial to your well-being — even if it just means allowing you to take a nap or watch a funny movie.
Be Protective of Your Energy
You only have so much energy you can give during the day, so you have to make it count. Work is going to take up the majority (womp, womp), so to ensure you’re still up for enjoying your time at home, try to not let other people, unimportant tasks, or other annoyances eat up the rest.
Live by To-Do Lists
One of the biggest factors in having true work-life balance is getting done with your work in time to actually have that balance. That means making sure you use your hours in the office wisely — and to do that, look to good old fashioned to-do lists. When you prioritize what’s important and fly through those tasks, you’ll be able to relax once you leave and stop worrying about not doing enough.
Ask Your Boss About Telecommuting
Thanks to technology, working remotely is getting easier and easier. If you think you’d be happier spending more of your time at home, ask your boss if they would be up for you trying out telecommuting. According to Scott Boyar, PhD, who studies the topic, it’s a great option for someone “looking to better balance time spent working and the time spent with family.” Plus, think of all the money you’ll save on gas. If you need more convincing to give telecommuting a go, see Why Working from Home is the Holy Grail of Productivity Hacks.
Pay Close Attention to How Many Hours You Work
Some days are so jam-packed that it’s hard to even find the slightest bit of time for yourself, and that’s OK — there are only 24 hours in a day, after all. But if you’re constantly working more hours than you can count, that’s a problem: a 2014 study from Stanford University found anything after 55 hours/week makes your productivity take a dive to the point that you can’t even do your job effectively anymore. That’s all the more reason to leave the office on time and enjoy your nights to yourself.
Prioritize What’s Important
When you’re scheduling out your week, it’s easy to put your work schedule first and just figure out the rest. But by doing so, you’re not leaving much wiggle room for the things in your life that really matter. This week, make sure you prioritize the other events in your life, too, whether that’s your kid’s soccer game or your beloved Pilates class. By making sure your real-life events are prime parts of your schedule along with work meetings and tasks, you’ll feel much more balanced in life.
Stop Checking Your Emails at a Set Time Each Night
How often do you scroll through and respond to your work emails while you’re hanging out at home every night? If it’s often, it’s time to stop — at least if you want to achieve work-life balance. In a 2009 study from Harvard University, those who stayed off their work email at least one night a week not only did better at work, but also felt better about their job situation in general. So just imagine what can happen when you stay off your phone every night.
Turn Your Phone on Airplane Mode at Night
Speaking of staying off your phone, why not just turn it on airplane mode once you leave the office for the day? That way once you’re all cozy at home, you won’t get any emails, calls, messages, or alerts from anyone at work and can get some major piece of mind in the process. What’s so important it can’t wait for morning?
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet isn’t just crucial for your longevity — it’s also important in handling the stress of your job, which helps you achieve balance in life. According to the Mayo Clinic, your best bet is sticking to the Mediterranean diet, which is full of fruit, veggies, and lean protein that can help boost your brain power and overall well-being. Have trouble motivating yourself to eat healthy? Consider these pro-tips on how to make yourself stick to your diet.
Avoid Getting All Your Validation from Work
As great as getting complimented by your boss feels, don’t let that be your only source of validation in life. On those days you do something wrong or aren’t feeling good enough in your career, those feelings can easily transfer into your home life, too. Need proof? Just remember how grumpy you were on those days — and how easy it is to take it out on your family and friends. Luckily, there’s a fix: just make sure the way you see yourself comes from sources beyond your workplace in order to feel balanced overall.
Leave Work at the Same Time Every Day
Let’s be honest: even if you check off all your daily tasks at work, there’s always more that can be done — meaning you’ll always have a reason to stay late unless you commit to leaving at the same time every day. Even if that means scheduling a can’t-miss, pre-paid yoga class, use whatever method you can to ensure you’re not sitting at your desk for extra hours every night. And for more great career advice, check out these 25 Work from Home Jobs with High Salaries.
Vent When Necessary
Ditching negativity is obviously a plus for your well-being — but with that being said, if you feel like you need the occasional vent, go for it. In a 2018 study published in Organization Studies, researchers found some good actually comes from “griping” at work. Those venting sessions gave employees time to process their feelings, which led to more positive energy overall that not only helped get rid of stress but also boosted productivity.
Do Some Volunteer Work
If you’re already struggling with finding time for your personal life, adding volunteer work to your already-busy schedule might seem impossible. There’s a good reason to set aside a couple hours, though, and not just because it’s doing good for others. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can give you a greater sense of work-life balance, “lowering your levels of burnout and stress and boosting your emotional and social well-being.”
Keep Mornings for Yourself
Mornings are really the only time you have to yourself. Because of that, make it your mission to not schedule anything before work hours and instead take that time to develop a routine you love. Maybe you can use those hours for working out, making yourself a healthy breakfast, and getting in some “me” time. Whatever it is, it will get you in a good mindset before heading off to the office — and feels so much better than waking up and instantly flying out the door.
Set Boundaries with Your Boss
Sometimes bosses just don’t understand boundaries. They call and text 24/7, email you in the middle of the night, and basically make you feel like you’re working non-stop. And, unfortunately, they might need a sit-down conversation for you to tell them how you feel. Kindly let your boss know you love your job, but you also need to make sure you have some balance for your mental health — then ask if they have any suggestions on how to make that possible. If you don’t let them know something is bothering you, they’re never going to change.
Cut Down Your Meetings
If your schedule is constantly filled up with back-to-back work meetings during the day, consider changing that if you can. According to a report from the software company Atlassian, people spend 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings — and that time cuts into what you actually need to get done during the day, making it harder to get home at a reasonable hour to have some much-needed space away from the office. To make those necessary meetings more efficient, see The 5 Secrets to Running the Perfect Business Meeting.
Ask for More Work Flexibility
If your career mostly involves spending time on the computer, that tech component makes it easy for your boss to consider giving you more flexibility — especially if you’ve proven yourself to be a trustworthy, hard-working employee. Sit your boss down ask if you can work remotely a day or two a week. That way, you can spend some of those hours working outside the office, automatically giving you some much-needed balance. As long as you get your work done, it shouldn’t matter where you’re logging in.
Take Mental Health Days
Mental health in the workplace was overlooked for many years, but companies are finally starting to take it seriously. Because of that, don’t be afraid to schedule in regular days for you to reenergize yourself and make sure your life is staying balanced. “I try to take one day per month as a personal ‘mental health day.’ Then every three or four months, I take a full week off for either a vacation or stay-cation. It helps me refresh and be more balanced and productive in work and life,” therapist Shelly Smith told Psych Central.
Don’t Give Out Your Personal Number
In this day and age, it’s not uncommon to have a work phone. But if you can avoid getting one, do so — and whatever you do, don’t make yourself available on your personal number. Once you open that door, you’re bound to receive texts from your boss and employees after-hours on a regular basis. Since emails and chat messages already provide easy access, there’s no reason for anyone to bombard your personal cell, too.
Get Up Extra Early
While there are only 24 hours in a day, waking up a couple hours earlier will give you a few hours of alone time before the rest of the world gets up — aka time when you can do things that benefit yourself without the worries of having to respond to emails or take care of the kids. Plus, it’s actually healthier to be an early riser.
Don’t Feed Into the Office Negativity
No one loves every second of their jobs. It’s impossible to be positive at work 24/7, but if being overly negative is starting to affect you mentally, it’s going to make it hard to be happy when you’re home, too. When you focus on staying positive, it will benefit your life all-around. “Just like it’s easier to skip the gym when we’re feeling lazy and tired, so is practicing mindfulness, empathy, gratitude, optimism, resiliency, hope — all the traits that lead to a happier experience of life and work,” gratitude expert Jennifer Moss told Entrepreneur.
Schedule in Some 3-Day Weekends
Why only enjoy 3-day weekends during those very few yearly holidays? Every few months, schedule your own mini-vacay by taking off a Friday or a Monday. Whether you book an Airbnb for an escape out in the wilderness or simply enjoy being at home, it will give you something to look forward to and help you get your head back on track so you’re doing your best work once you return.
Don’t Let Fear Rule Your Schedule
One of the hardest parts of trying to find work-life balance is letting go of the fear of actually having a life outside of work. Leaving work at a normal hour, not checking emails after hours, and keeping your weekends for yourself can make you feel like you’re not doing enough and will be judged by your co-workers for. Once you let go of that fear and realize you’re a great employee doing top-notch work for your boss, you’ll realize you’re allowed to be a hard worker and enjoy life away from your desk. To help yourself learn to relax, see these suggestions from 30 Ways to De-Stress in Just 30 Seconds (or Less!).
Show Your Boss What You’re Worth
Working hard equals climbing the corporate ladder and making more money. Another perk, though? It shows your boss what you’re worth and makes them want to keep you around. According to a study from the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, the top-performers at companies around the globe had the best work-life balance — not only because they’re good at their jobs and work effectively, but also because they’re irreplaceable to their bosses and get a little more flexibility in their schedules because of that.
Schedule Out Your Day
Sometimes being productive requires an hour-by-hour schedule for your work day. It might be annoying planning out every single thing on your list, but when you have certain periods to do certain duties, you’ll stay on task and waste less time — meaning you can go home at a reasonable hour and enjoy your time away from the office.
Find a Hobby You Love
An easy way to make sure you take time for yourself is to find something you love spending time doing that’s in no way related to work. If you’re on a computer all day, try to find something that gets you offline, whether that’s painting, picking up an instrument, or reading. When you have something to look forward to, you’ll make it more of a priority in your life — and you’ll feel more balanced because of that.
Take Your Sick Days
Why is it that no one actually takes sick days when they’re sick? Especially if they’re paid? Showing up at work — and trying to do your job effectively — when you’re feeling like crap never works, yet in a 2016 study, Cornell University researchers found there are 3 million U.S. employees heading into the office despite being sick every week. That time is there for a reason, so avoid falling into the trap: using those days as an opportunity to get better can benefit both your physical and mental well-being, making it easier to stay balanced.
Start Making Sleep a Priority
When you get home from work late, the last thing you want to do is immediately eat dinner and go to bed. Unfortunately, if you often find yourself catching up on your favorite Netflix shows until 1 a.m., you’re part of the 1 in 3 Americans who don’t get enough sleep, says a 2016 report. Getting less than your recommended hours might not seem like a big deal, but you’ll feel the wrath eventually: it can increase your risk of everything from heart disease and stroke to mental distress. Instead, focus on getting home earlier so you can enjoy your nights and catch some zzzs. For more ideas on how to prioritize your sleep schedule, be sure to check out 70 Tips For Your Best Sleep Ever.
Consider Changing Jobs
If you’ve been struggling with finding balance for a while and aren’t happy with how your life is right now, it might be time to consider changing your path — even if that’s finding a job that makes it easier for you to get the best of both worlds. Whether it’s your employer or your work load that’s making it impossible to find balance, take the time to explore other options that could make you feel more fulfilled.
Ask Your Employer About Flextime
Flextime is becoming increasingly popular, which gives you the ability to have more control over your day as long as you get your job done. Instead of sticking to 9 to 5, some employers will let you work out a plan that lets you start early and end early, or start late and end late — which, depending on your home life, could be beneficial, giving you more time to do what you want to do outside the office.
Stay Off Work Chats After Hours
Today, it’s not uncommon for most of your communication at work to be through a chat tool like Slack. The only issue? While emails are one thing, shooting a quick message here and there is even easier, meaning you could wind up responding to your employees far past work hours. Don’t be afraid to silence your notifications once you leave for the day, though: those messages can wait until you’re back at your desk.
Stop Trying to Multitask
The more you multitask, the more you’ll get done, right? Wrong. Trying to do it all is only going to make your work days longer, which cuts into your time at home. According to the Harvard Business Review, once you interrupt what you’re done, it takes 15 to 20 minutes to get back on track. So bouncing around trying to do many tasks at once is only going to result in getting nothing done in a timely manner. If you just can’t seem to focus, try out these Ways to Be More Mindful at Work .
Don’t Work On Holidays
Whether you’re debating taking extra pay to work holidays at an hourly wage job or your boss is still emailing you on Christmas Eve, do everything you can to take those days for yourself. Turn off your phone, ignore your email, and spend the well-deserved break with those you love. 10 years down the line, you’ll want to look back on fond memories — not sitting on your computer while the rest of your family is playing games and eating holiday cookies.
Schedule in Family Time
As sad as it seems, in this day and age, it’s almost required to schedule in family time so it actually happens. To make sure your after-work events and co-worker hangouts aren’t cutting into time with your spouse and kids, fill in a few evenings a week on your schedule for movie nights and other fun activities that will give you the motivation to push through the day and leave the office early.
Keep Your Weekends Work-Free
You put in so many hours from Monday to Friday, so why log even more on the weekends if you don’t have to? Sure, it can be nice using your days off to get ahead. The only problem with that is it’s taking time away from yourself, and when you’re (literally) working 24/7, that’s a fast-track to burnout. Instead, vow to save Saturday and Sunday to reenergize yourself — no work emails allowed. When Monday rolls around, you’ll be glad you got a nice break.
Ask for Professional Help If You Need It
It can be hard to find work-life balance on your own — especially if your boss is making it nearly impossible to do so. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help: according to the Mayo Clinic, speaking to a professional — whether that’s a counselor or mental health provider — about your inability to catch a break can do wonders for your well-being. Even better, they can help you come up with a plan of action that will make you a lot happier with your situation.
Leave Work Issues at the Office
If you leave work at a normal hour but spend your entire evening thinking and talking non-stop about what went down in the office, you’re not really getting a proper break or creating balance. From now on, try to leave any work issues at the office so once you leave at night, you can be fully present at home. If you need help crafting the perfect out-of-office message, be sure to read about The One Out-of-Office Message You Should Have.
Designate a Work Area in Your Home — and Stick to It
As nice as working from the comfort of your bed under that nice, cozy comforter sounds, it’s a major no-no when it comes to creating work-life balance. If you don’t have a certain area of your home designated to working — one you can walk away from and not return to until you mean business again — you’ll end up working all the time. And, you’ll start to associate all that stress that comes from your job with your home, making it hard to escape and truly relax.
Don’t Live Too Close to Your Workplace
While a quick commute to work is always a good thing, there is such a thing as being too close to the office. While being able to wake up late and still make it to your desk in record time is nice in theory, that close proximity makes it really hard to achieve work-life balance. Think about it: When you live super-close, staying late or heading in on the weekend to catch up never seems like a big deal. When you do need some space, though, it’s impossible to get it: there’s nothing more anxiety-inducing than walking outside knowing you could bump into co-workers at any second, or, you know, always being able to see your office building in the distance. When there’s physical distance between your home and your workplace, it’s easier to rid your job from your mind until it’s time to go back.
Limit Your Use of Office Perks
When you’re signing a contract for a job, all those office perks sound pretty great. (What’s better than having a cafeteria with multiple restaurant-quality options at your disposal?) The problem is that by taking advantage of all those perks, you don’t create space between you and your job. You eat at work, you exercise at work in the office gym, and you visit the company’s doctor’s office when you’re feeling ill. That convenience might make your life easier, but down the road the lack of separation will make it really hard to find balance.
Take Advantage of Productivity-Boosting Apps
If achieving work-life balance is dependent on being able to get through your long to-do list before the end of the day, try downloading a helpful productivity-boosting app like BeFocused. They can keep you on task and prevent you from wasting time multi-tasking. And the best part? Most of them are free, meaning you can take full advantage of the tools without paying a dime. For suggestions on apps you should definitely download, see The 20 Best Apps for a More Organized Life.
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