What is the first thing you were taught to do in Drivers Ed if your car starts to hydroplane? Ease off the gas. Avoid any sudden moves. Slow down and steer in the direction you want to go and regain control. Similarly, when things get out of balance in your life and you feel like you’ve lost control, take it as a sign it’s time to slow down. Avoid doing anything rash. Take a step back and start to regain control.
Work-life balance is a real struggle in our workforce. Studies have shown that 11% of Americans are working over 50 hours a week. Compare that to only 2% in Denmark, which is the number one country ranked for best work-life balance versus the US at 28. Working Americans of all ages often feel pressure to be at the office for long hours and forego time off in order to have the best chances of getting raises and promotions. And many couples struggle to balance work and family due to both spouses working.
Take a look at the chart below which highlights a few of the ways work-life balance is affecting our workforce.
Executives Who Have Put Careers Aside For Family
Google’s CFO Patrick Pichette made the news recently for announcing his resignation in order to spend more time with this family after a trip to Africa changed his outlook on life. Pichette isn’t the only high-profile executive who has made major career changes because of work-life balance struggles either.
Two high profile CEOs made similar decisions as Pichette just last year. Former CEO of MongoDB, Max Schireson, stepped down from the constant demands and frequent traveling required of his job in order to have more time family and stop missing out on important events. And Mohamed El-Erian, former CEO and co-CIO of PIMCO also gave up his role citing “my work-life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my very special relationship with my daughter” as the major reason for his decision.
Tips On Restoring Work-Life Balance
But what if you’re just starting out your career or don’t have the financial means to simply stop working in order to address work-life balance issues? Perhaps you really like your job but aren’t happy with your current stress level and the long hours.
Take comfort that you are not alone! I’ve had many struggles with work-life balance in my own career and can tell you from experience that things can and do get better. Here are some helpful tips to help you restore more balance in your life.
1) Figure out what has changed. Was there ever a time when you weren’t super busy and stressed out? Chances are high the answer is yes even if it was ages ago. If you want to get to the bottom of why your work-life balance is so out of whack right now, it helps to take a step back and recall the good times.
This exercise isn’t to make you feel depressed about the present; it’s to help you identify what has changed since then. List out the reasons why you had more balance in the past and figure out how to apply those factors today.
Perhaps you had less responsibility, fewer hours, a shorter commute, nicer clients, a better manager, more interesting work, greater support from your colleagues, higher compensation, better health, infrequent business travel, or fewer personal issues at home.
2) Rate yourself and your partner. What we measure, we can improve. Using the information you’ve gathered in the above exercise, rate yourself on your current work-life balance compared to different times in the past. Perhaps things really aren’t as bad as seem right now or maybe they are significantly worse.
If you’re in a relationship, how has your partner’s work-life balance changed over time? Changes in his or her situation can affect your happiness and lifestyle too. Open up to each other, talk about what’s working well and what’s not. Analyze how things have changed and how much they are impacting your relationship and lifestyle.
3) Improve your commute. Make the most of your daily commute to avoid feeling like all that time is wasted. I like to listen to podcasts on the road to learn or simply be entertained. A few of my favorites are TED Radio Hour and StartUp Podcast. Podcasts take my mind off the frustrations of traffic, teach me new things, and make the time pass quickly, which helps me feel calm and less stressed while driving.
If you’re a passenger, take advantage of your commute to catch up on sleep, respond to emails, prioritize your to-do list, or meditate. You may also want to consider moving closer to the office or working remotely a few times a week. Alternatively you could try biking to work for a great workout to blow off some steam.
4) Reduce inefficiencies that are gobbling up precious time. The more responsibilities you take on, the more precious your time becomes. Look for ways to eliminate inefficiencies to help you de-stress. Perhaps your 2-hour weekly meetings can be reduced to 30 minutes with better preparation and more communication in between meetings.
Re-evaluate all of your activities and prioritize. Instead of watching TV use that time to workout, take an art class, play with your kids, or prepare healthy, home-cooked meals. And seek out tools that help save you time like Personal Capital, which manages your finances all in one place, leaving you with more time to do doing things that you love. For example, take the headache out of household budgeting with the Cash Flow Tool.
5) Make time for yourself during the day. I used to have a bad habit of skipping meals when I was stressed or eating at my desk and working through lunch. I found myself feeling foggy, anxious, and well a bit cranky. In order to restore my work-life balance I decided to kick that bad habit. I started by using a few lunch breaks each week to unwind, run errands, see friends, and clear my head.
Over time, I was able to make this a daily habit and it helped immensely! Taking a break to clear your head after a hectic morning can improve your focus and help make your afternoons more productive.
6) Don’t be afraid to say “no” and ask for help. I used to say yes to everything I was assigned to do at work. If people asked me to do them a favor or pick up a last minute project, my answer would always be yes. But working over 60 hours a week wore me down over time and I was left unhappy with a terrible work-life balance.
I was afraid of looking incapable, didn’t want to be perceived as a bad team player, assumed I had to say yes in order to get promoted, and also didn’t want to take the time to teach others how to help me on complex tasks. Eventually I realized how foolish this was. And my work-life balance improved significantly when I started asking for help and saying no when I had too much on my plate.
It’s not healthy to try and do everything yourself all the time. Let your manager know why you can’t take on more work and when you need extra support. Sharing your concerns can improve your relationship with your boss by increasing communication and helping identify bottlenecks and projects that need more resources.
7) Separate work and home life. One of my biggest struggles with work-life balance was leaving my work stress at the door when I got home. While it can be helpful to talk about work issues with your loved ones, try to avoid overwhelming them. Try to avoid making your stress their stress too. Instead of constantly complaining, strategize on solutions together, set goals, and talk about fun topics to lighten the mood.
8) Reassess your priorities. When your work-life balance is out of whack, take time to review your priorities. There’s always an endless amount of things to do. But certain things like eating well, exercising, spending time with your kids, or visiting your parents aren’t things you want to put off indefinitely.
Schedule them into your week if you have to and make time to do things you care about. If your work-life balance still isn’t getting better and you find yourself at a fork in the road, then it may be time to start something new.
9) Find an outlet and de-stress. I like to go running and meditate to clear my head. Other types of de-stressing activities that may work well for you are playing tennis, kickboxing, martial arts, hiking, playing music, writing in a journal, or yoga. Figure out what works for you and get active.
And I also strongly suggest planning a vacation. Trips always help me lower stress and improve my work-life balance. If planning a vacation feels too daunting, schedule some time for an easy staycation instead. Even an extra day off here and there can make a big difference in restoring work-life balance.
10) Believe things will get better and take action. We live in a society where things move fast and expectations run high. Sometimes the pressures at work are so strong and we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed, unhappy, stressed out, and struggling for balance. Believe that things can get better and start restoring your work-life balance today using the tips above.