Work-life balance is a tricky thing to achieve, no matter if you’re working remotely or in-person, or if you’re your own boss.
If you’re struggling with your many responsibilities and feel alone in those challenges, this might bring you some comfort: Truist resident positive psychology expert, Bright Dickson, says, “There’s no such thing as work-life balance.”
Reframing how we think about work-life balance
"Work-life balance is a false dichotomy,” says Dickson. “It’s just your life, and your life isn’t necessarily separate from your work.”
For many of us, work is an integral part of our lives, and it often holds the same level of importance as our other priorities, like family and self-care. But just as we can spend our money more mindfully, we can spend our time mindfully, too.
If we have a big project at work, we might need to spend more time on our laptop for a while, even if it means being late to a family game night. On the other hand, if your spouse is dealing with a lot, you might decide to prioritize your family over work until things settle down.
“A little bit of imbalance is not the end of the world. It usually just means that you’re really going after some big stuff,” says Brian Ford, Truist’s head of financial wellness. “You need to give yourself space and grace to be a little imbalanced.”
So, instead of achieving work-life balance, try to find harmony among your many priorities, shifting your attention to wherever it’s needed most (whether that’s work, family, friends, or solo downtime so you can recover between responsibilities).
How setting boundaries can help you avoid burnout
Even if we can acknowledge that work is just one aspect of our lives, it still can be difficult not to feel the effects of pressure from our bosses or peers and work-related burnout. This can happen when we overspend our time on work and don’t get the return we want.
To avoid this, it’s important to set boundaries before you get burned out. Dickson shares her advice for proactive boundary setting:
- Determine what’s important to you. What does your life look like when you live according to your values? Be sure to factor in how you feel when you do that well, and how you feel when you don’t.
- Write it down. Writing down your values helps them become real. When you've thought about what's important to you, having it in writing can make it easier to maintain your boundaries.
- Remind yourself often. Any time you feel that your work-life harmony isn't quite where you want it to be, take a look at the values you wrote down for yourself. This reminder can help you make in-the-moment choices that allow you to live up to who you want to be.
13 tips to help you take charge of your work-life balance
Beyond setting boundaries, these tips can also help you find harmony in your priorities and avoid burnout.
- Be present. Focus on what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to be doing it. “Sometimes, when we’re trying to work when we should be paying attention to a child or a partner or a spouse, we feel that we’re imbalanced,” says Ford. Being all-in on the task at hand can help you be more productive and feel more effective.
- Embrace the power of ritual. A morning and evening routine can act as buffers before and after work. They can get you into a mindset of productivity or relaxation—whatever the situation calls for. “I’ve heard people tell me that they change clothes for work, even when working from home. They’ll put on that work-acceptable top, and when work is over, they change back into their sweatshirt,” says Dickson. She adds that a routine to start and end your workday when working from home can help.
- Stick to a schedule. Everyone will be comfortable with a different schedule, so create one that works for you. Use a calendar to pencil in time for your priorities, like exercising in the morning, working at your job, and then making dinner for your family. This is so you can be sure you’re taking care of your whole self—not just your work self.
- Keep work at work. If you can avoid it, don’t have your work email or messaging app downloaded on your phone. And if you work from home, set up a dedicated workspace. This can help you set boundaries and be mentally prepared to work. When the day’s done, you can close your laptop and step away from your workspace to focus on other priorities.
- Keep your to-do list manageable. Try to knock out several small tasks in the morning to gain momentum. If you only have big projects, focus only on a few of them that you can accomplish. Too many tasks during the day can feel daunting and can kill your motivation if you don’t make it through your list.
- Take regular breaks. Even small breaks—for lunch, a quick stretch or walk, or a five-minute meditation session—can help clear your head and help you make smart decisions when you get back to the grind. Pro tip: If your lunches are constantly interrupted by meetings, you could try blocking your calendar for your lunch breaks ahead of time to make sure you get to take these important pauses.
- Check in with yourself. Burnout can happen to the best of us. Take a few minutes throughout the week to assess how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling good—great! But if not, take steps to address what’s bothering you, like taking more breaks or asking for support.
- Take time off. If you have enough paid time off (PTO), or if you can swing some time off as an hourly worker, taking a vacation can be a great way to recharge. During your time off, focus on things that bring you joy, like your hobbies, volunteering, exploring new places, or spending time with loved ones.
- Set expectations. Let your coworkers or managers know that you won’t respond to messages after a certain time. If that’s not a popular practice at your workplace, you might want to evaluate whether that culture is a good fit for you. You deserve to enjoy your life outside of work.
- Look for workplaces that foster balance. If you’re on the job hunt, search for companies that offer perks that match your values. Maybe you’re planning to grow your family soon, so you might look for good parental leave policies. Or maybe you want to travel, so you might go for a company with flexible time off. Some companies also offer Employee Assistance Programs that offer resources for things like finding child care, elder care, or mental health counseling.
- Treat your body right. Exercising, eating whole foods, and getting adequate rest will help you combat stress and take fewer sick days. And because taking care of your physical health has proven mental health benefits, keeping healthy habits like these can keep you strong and mentally alert enough to tackle the day-to-day.
- Embrace the mess. Work-life balance will almost always be a challenge if you have big professional and personal ambitions. So, don’t be too hard on yourself if you drop the ball a few times. “Focusing on what you can control and accepting that it’s going to be messy is really important,” says Dickson.
- Get help if you need it. Your health and happiness should come first. If you’re consistently overwhelmed and stressed, reach out to a mental health professional or someone you trust. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness—it’s a sign of strength.
Achieving work-life harmony takes consistent work. It’s not something you can figure out or change overnight—and it’s not always something we can figure out on our own. It’s a continuous effort.
“There’s a reason some people go to church every week to work on their spirituality. There’s a reason we keep working out and eating healthy and reminding ourselves that we need to do those things. Work-life balance is one of those things we keep working on,” says Ford.