My freshman year dorm room was far-removed from the heart of campus. While many students lamented the long walk to and from classes, I relished the separation that it offered between worlds.
When the day was done it felt as if I was leaving “school” and returning “home.” There was a balance between the work I did in class and the life I lived away from it.
Work-life balance is something I’ve prioritized ever since, along with countless other people. However, it’s not something that comes easily—ironically, you have to work at it every day.
Below, we dig into some of the statistics around why work-life balance is so important and strategies you can use in your own life.
Work-Life Balance Is Necessary
First, it helps to understand why work-life balance is such an important part of a healthy lifestyle. This is especially relevant for people in the United States, as America ranks in the bottom for work-life balance.
Further, among full-time U.S. employees, 66 percent claim they don’t have a good work-life balance. Additionally, 33 percent of American employees work on weekends or holidays.
In the short term, the consequences of poor work-life balance have negative impacts like:
- Decreased productivity
- Low morale for individuals and teams
- Employee burnout
- High turnover rates
In the long term, poor work-life balance can negatively impact your physical and mental health by causing:
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Depression and anxiety
- Heightened cortisol levels and stress
We know that work-life balance is something people want, poor balance causes short and long-term issues, and a large portion of Americans don’t have a healthy work-life balance. So, how are we supposed to find it?
Tips to Balance Work and Life
If you’re a staff member working at an organization that doesn’t prioritize work-life balance, it’s on you to set rules in your life and follow them. For leaders, you’re in a crucial position to begin elevating the importance of work-life balance for your employees and yourself as well.
In this next section, we outline some pro tips to help you maintain a healthy work-life balance, elevate your mental and physical wellbeing, and level up your productivity.
1) Learn to Say “No”
No matter your job description, there’s no clause that states: “You are responsible for doing everything at this organization.” This can be a difficult lesson to learn, especially with nonprofit professionals who have to wear many different hats in their day to day.
Now, there’s something to be said for being a team player. However, you have to make sure you don’t overcommit by saying “yes” to everything. Instead, ask yourself what you can say “no” to.
Perhaps there’s someone at your organization who is better suited to execute a task that comes across your desk. Learn to delegate these tasks to those experts so you aren’t overburdened and faced with a work day that never ends.
2) Be Productive at the Office
Assuming you work for 50 years, you’ll spend around 35 percent of your time working at the office. However, 89 percent of people admit they waste time at work each day and use only 60 percent or less of their available work time.
So, while we spend major portions of our life at the office, we also spend a lot of time being unproductive while we’re there. Honor yourself and the time you invest in your work by being present and minimizing distractions at the office.
Some of our biggest time wasters are, not surprisingly, internet and technology-related. To help, you can try a few tactics:
- Turn your phone on airplane mode
- Snooze notifications on your internal messaging platform
- Set aside specific times to check email
- Book long blocks of time on your company calendar to work on projects
If you spend your time productively and efficiently at work, you can leave right at 5 p.m. and spend some much-needed time on yourself. This is where the balancing act rears its head: if you don’t have a productive day at work, your night at home is going to be disrupted.
3) Leave Work at Work
Central to building and maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a strict border between office life and your personal life. When you bring work home with you, you blur the boundaries between these two worlds and, over time, can negatively disrupt your balance.
Bringing your work home could be literal, where you spend late nights working on your laptop in the kitchen. On the other hand, it could be mental or emotional. Maybe you had an uncomfortable conversation with a coworker that’s stuck in your head.
There are certainly exceptions to the rule where you may need to work late or vent about your job with friends and family. The key is to minimize these occurrences as best you can so you can balance out your work day.
4) Hit the Gym
Overworking ourselves leads to negative health consequences like increased stress levels and anxiety. Exercise, on the other hand, reduces these negative side effects. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.”
Aside from the physical and mental health benefits, exercising right after work is a great way to draw a hard line in the sand that separates home and the office. You don’t always have to go to the gym either. Try things like:
- Walk or run around the block a few times
- Lift weights
- Go on a bike ride
- Do yoga
- Attend group fitness classes
You can do anything you want, so long as it gets the body moving and the brain focused on something other than work.
5) Reduce Screen Time
It’s easy to get home from a long day at the office and turn on the TV, dive into Instagram, or boot up a new video game. Sure enough, these are great ways to destress, get your mind off work, and foster your work-life balance.
However, you need to be mindful of how long you’re looking at device screens because they can have negative impacts on you as the clock ticks toward bedtime. For example, blue light emitted by device screens can disrupt melatonin production—the hormone that rules your sleep cycle. Blue light makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Try these tactics to ensure your brain gets the necessary break from screen time:
- Enable night-mode on your devices to block blue light
- If your phone is your alarm, turn on do not disturb so late-night pings don’t wake you
- Make your bedroom a tech-free zone
As a general rule of thumb, give yourself 30 to 45 minutes free of screen time before you go to sleep.
6) Meditate and Be Mindful
Meditation, or other mindfulness practices, can be a great way to spend the last 45 minutes of your evening before you lay down for a restful slumber. This helps unwind your brain after an intense day of activity, staring at screens, and puzzling over big projects at work.
To be clear, meditation doesn’t need to be a spiritual or religious practice. In fact, the Mayo Clinic cites meditation as a practice that provides a sense of “calm, peace, and balance that can benefit your emotional wellbeing and your overall health.”
Further, the peaceful benefits of meditation can carry over into your daily routine. And if you don’t want to end your day with meditation, consider starting each morning with a quick 10 to 15-minute session.
A good night’s sleep, between 6 to 8 hours, may be the single most important tool at your disposal to cultivate a healthy work life balance. Without it, you start the day at work unfocused and possibly disrupt your productivity.
Not only that, a lack of sleep can cause:
- Memory problems
- Heart issues
- Weight gain
- Impaired judgement
As you prepare for bed, think about this Zen proverb on sleep:
“Upon retiring, sleep as if you had entered your last sleep. Upon awakening, leave your bed behind you instantly as if you had cast away a pair of old shoes.”
Head into work rested, at peace, and, above all else, balanced.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an entry-level employee or a long-time leader, work-life balance is something you must pay attention to every day. Stack on too much work and your personal life suffers. Spend too much time on yourself and you run the risk of hurting your career.
The balance is delicate, but it’s well within your reach. Just remember to take it one day at a time and you’ll discover the strategies that work best for you. And if we missed any good work-life balance tactics, let us know in the comments.