Today in the chart

Identify Your Ideal Work-Life Balance

While many of us may have dreamed of our future careers when we were growing up, we probably didn’t dream of being married to our jobs or having them completely take over our lives.

While many of us may have dreamed of our future careers growing up, we probably didn’t dream of being married to our jobs or having them completely take over our lives. Yet that’s often how it feels, even when we know it’s unhealthy. So how exactly does one achieve that elusive, seemingly mythical “work-life balance” we always hear people discussing? Well, the first step is determining your current balance and whether you’re happy with it. Then it’s a matter of making small changes, a little at a time as you’re able, to gradually shift the balance to something that helps you stay healthier and happier. 

One thing to remember as you do this: no one just “achieves” work-life balance, like reaching a mountain summit where you can just chill out and watch the sunrise. Instead, work-life balance is something you always work at and adjust. Sometimes you won’t have as much control over it as you want (hello, unexpected global pandemic!), and other times you have more control than you realize. Sometimes you’ll feel like a failure, and every once in a while, you’ll feel like you have it all figured out. As long as you keep your goals in mind and remind yourself that it’s a journey, a process, and that you can always make improvements, it’s easier not to fall into a pit of despair that has you wishing for a divorce from your career. 

Symptoms of a Poor Work-Life Balance

Before you work on improving your work-life balance, take stock: Where do things sit now? How is it affecting your health? How do you feel about yourself, your work, and your life? Do you think you’re headed where you want to go, or are you spinning your wheels?

If you’re experiencing several of the following signs and symptoms regularly, you have some reprioritizing to do:

  • Constant fatigue: If you’re constantly feeling tired or fatigued, even to the point that you don’t feel like you have the energy to do things you enjoy, then you’re probably living to work instead of working to live. 
  • Poor health: Have you gained or lost a lot of weight lately? Experienced changes in appetite? Seen a sustained spike in blood sugar or blood pressure or found yourself craving carbs and unhealthy foods? Have you had trouble sleeping? These are all possible signs of depression when they’re so severe you can barely function, but they’re also signs of stress and poor health from not having a good balance of living and working.
  • Missing time with friends and family: Have you missed a big birthday or had to turn down attending a wedding because of work? Have friends complained they never get to hang with you anymore? Or has your partner complained about not seeing you much? As the adage goes, no one on their deathbed ever wishes they hadn’t spent so much with loved ones. 

Identify Your Ideal Work-Life Balance

If you’ve discovered you don’t have the balance you want, the next step is figuring out what you want. The image looks different for everyone. For example, if you’re early in your career and single, working longer days or taking on more responsibilities may be fulfilling and help you feel like you’re building your career the way you want to. On the other hand, if you’ve just gotten engaged or are thinking of starting a family, you’ll need to consider what you wish that next stage in your life to look like. Similarly, if you’re thinking of heading back to school, you have to consider whether you want to work simultaneously, dive into grad school headfirst and push through, or find some mix in between. 

No one can tell you what’s right for you, but you can turn to mentors, former bosses, people you admire, friends, older family members, and others to get their perspectives. What does a healthy, happy work-life balance look like for them? At what points in their lives did it change? How did it change? How did they know when it was off-kilter? How did they fix it? Tapping into the wisdom of others who have been there can help you sort out what seems best for you as you tinker with your time and explore your options.

If all this feels like a jumble in your head, see if you can schedule a vacation or even a few days off for a staycation so you can think about what matters to you and what you want to prioritize. While mulling it over, consider the following questions:

  • How healthy do you feel, and what do you need to do to feel healthier? 
  • Are you getting enough regular exercise?
  • Do you have the time you want for hobbies, sports, and other activities? 
  • How much time do you want to spend with friends?
  • How much time do you want to spend with your family?
  • What are your career goals, and what will achieving them look like or require?
  • What are your personal life goals separate from your career, and what does achieving them look like?
  • How much time do you spend “connected” to devices? 
  • What times of the day do you have the most energy?

Take Baby Steps

Once you know what you want, you can start taking steps to get that balance. Here are small steps you can gradually take to begin reaching a better balance:

  • Wait 24 hours before accepting a new responsibility or saying yes to a request; make sure it’s what you want and can handle.
  • Say “no” more often than you used to.
  • Schedule actual time in your calendar for relaxing activities.
  • Schedule a regular weekly, biweekly, or monthly meet-up with a friend or family member. 
  • Schedule time in your calendar for exercise. 
  • Make a list of fun activities you want to try, and plan to do one each month.
  • Set aside 10 minutes a day to write in a journal about how you feel and what adjustments you still need to make.
  • Schedule an extra 10- to 15 minutes on either side of any item in your calendar, so you have time to recharge between activities, meetings, and responsibilities. 
  • Set aside time to unplug each day.
  • Take a walk.
  • Delegate responsibilities to others if/when you can. 
  • Let go of guilt.
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