For many, work-life balance is the holy grail of modern life. Juggling your professional and personal lives in a way that allows you to succeed at both is not easy, especially if you're counting on that paycheck. Here are seven ways to help you improve your balance.
Few struggle at finding the perfect work-life balance more than moms do.
Their work demands are greater than ever: New research shows nearly 40 percent of working moms are the sole financial provider for their families. A quarter of the working moms surveyed feel they have to choose between their children and being successful at their jobs, and about as many said work obligations forced them to miss at least three significant events in their children's lives in the last year.
With so many new demands on moms, CareerBuilder believes the best way to balance everything is to stay organized, since the added structure will help save time, stress and mental energy.
CareerBuilder advises working moms to keep a joint calendar for business and family commitments to avoid double-booking, and to set up a schedule for chores, homework, family activities and playtime.
Those who do maintain a successful balance between their work and home lives often point to their flexible work schedules.
Recent research found that in the past seven years, many employers have allowed workers greater flexibility in when and where they work, with an eye on keeping employees happy.
"It is clear that employers continue to struggle with fewer resources for benefits that incur a direct cost," said Ken Matos, lead researcher and senior director of employment research and practice at the nonprofit research organization Families and Work Institute. "However, they have made it a priority to grant employees access to a wider variety of benefits that fit their individual and family needs and that improve their health and well-being."
The research shows the flexibility will pay off for employers in the long run.
"As we look ahead, it is clear that in order to remain competitive, employers must find ways to offer flexible work options if they want to attract and retain top talent," said Hank Jackson, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Everyone knows exercising is good for your physical and mental health. But finding time to squeeze it in between long workdays, meetings and raising a family is no simple task.
To make exercising more convenient, several companies have crafted products that let people work out on the job.
One example is the FitDesk, a lightweight exercise bike that can be mounted with a laptop. Workers can plug away on their computer while pedaling away the miles.
A more expensive option is the LifeSpan Fitness Treadmill Desk. It boasts a versatile desktop work surface mounted in the front of an otherwise typical treadmill.
Such products give employees the chance to burn calories and relieve stress while not missing a minute of work time.
Maximizing the commute
If working out in the office isn't possible, what about on the way there?
Research reveals that commuting via car to work each day is bad for your health. Longer commuting distances were linked to decreased cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), increased weight and other indicators of metabolic risk.
For those who live close enough, riding a bike or running to work each day is a way to squeeze in exercise time and improve your health.
Riders and runners will incur the health benefits of regular workouts, and combat any negative effects that come from driving to and from work each day.
A key to having a quality work-life balance is being able to unwind while away from the office. Research shows an easy way to do that is to simply take a vacation from email.
A recent study by the Army and the University of California, Irvine revealed that being cut off from work email significantly reduces stress and allows employees to focus better.
Taking a break helps employees pay more attention to family and friends when they are away from the office, and makes them more productive when they are working.
Study participants found that after taking a break from email, they felt better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions.
Lead researcher Gloria Mark, an informatics professor at Cal-Irvine, said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity, and suggested that businesses consider controlling email login times, batching messages or other related strategies.
While some may blame technology for hindering the separation of personal and work time, a recent survey by Staples suggests increased dependency on technology also comes with benefits, as it allows small-business owners to achieve both increased productivity and a better work-life balance.
More than 40 percent of the small-business owners who were surveyed said they work during the time they spend with family.
“Technology and mobile devices, in particular, can actually be good for family relationships, allowing Mom or Dad to stay plugged in with work while simultaneously attending events – ballgames, school events – that were historically only possible for the nonworking parent to attend,” said Dr. Seth Meyers, a psychologist.
The most effective way to achieve work-life balance may be just to just step away for a while.
A University of Toronto Scarborough researcher believes the best way to deal with too much work and too little free time is to simply put the work off. Walking away from work's demands and finding something else to do is the best way to get some down time and recover from work overload, the research suggested.
Researcher Julie McCarthy said the key is to make sure free time is truly free time and that stresses from work are not impinging on that.
"True disengagement is doing something and not thinking about work," McCarthy said. "Have music on or enter a fitness class. Do something that makes it hard to stay engaged with work."
Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.