Work is an expected societal norm: Go to school, get a job. But your career doesn't have to be so strict and restraining. Work isn't just a way to make money; it should serve you both financially and emotionally.
"Success, in my opinion, is about living a life through making choices that guide toward your goals to be your best," said Dr. Michael Tischler, founder and CEO of Teeth Tomorrow. "The real key is to create goals that you are passionate about with respect to health/appearance, career and relationships."
While work might be demanding at times, it should never become a priority over your wellbeing. You need time and energy for your hobbies and interests, for your family and loved ones. Don't spend eight hours a day working just to come home and neglect the things that keep your spirits high and passion fresh. Here are five ways to improve your work-life balance.
1. Know that there is no 'perfect' balance.
When you hear "work-life balance," you probably imagine waking up easily at 5 a.m., hitting the gym, grabbing your meal-prepped lunch and heading off to work, just to come home early, cook dinner, do some chores, and wind down with a nice book in bed by 9 p.m. But that's often not the case.
Don't strive for the perfect schedule; strive for a realistic one. Some days, you might focus more on work, while others you might have more time and energy to pursue your hobbies or relax on the couch with your loved ones. Balance is achieved over time, not each day.
"It is important to remain fluid and constantly assess where you are [versus] your goals and priorities," said Heather Monahan, founder of #BossinHeels, a career mentoring group. "At times your children may need you, and other times you may need to travel for work; but allowing yourself to remain open to redirecting and assessing your needs on any day is key in finding balance."
2. Prioritize your health.
Your overall health should be your main concern. If you've been struggling with anxiety or depression and think therapy would benefit you, fit those sessions into your schedule, even if you have to leave work early or ditch your evening spin class. If you're battling a chronic illness, don't be afraid to call in on rough days. You'll only prevent yourself from getting better, possibly causing you to take more days off in the future.
"Prioritizing your health first and foremost will make you a better employee and person," said Monahan. "You will miss less work, and when you are there, you will be happier and more productive."
According to Tischler, this can be as simple as daily meditation and exercise with respect to your occupation.
3. Make sure you like your job.
If you hate what you do, you aren't going to be happy, plain and simple. You don't need to love every aspect of your job, but it needs to be exciting enough that you don't dread getting out of bed every single morning.
Monahan recommended choosing a job that you're so passionate about you'd do it for free.
"If your job is draining you and you are finding it difficult to do the things you love outside of work, something is wrong," she said. "You may be working in a toxic environment, for a toxic person, or doing a job that you truly don't love. If this is the case, it is time to find a new job."
4. Don't be afraid to unplug.
We live in a connected world that never sleeps. Cutting ties with the outside world from time to time allows us to recover from weekly stress and gives us space for other thoughts and ideas emerge, said Jackie Stone, CMO of personal cloud storage company MiMedia.
"When you are always on, you don't allow other things to surface that might be more important," she added. "I meditate each morning for 10 minutes, which provides me with a great start to my day."
Sometimes, truly unplugging means taking a vacation and shutting work completely off for a while.
"A vacation could be a 15-minute walk around the block without looking at your phone, or a vacation could be two or three weeks traveling with family/friends," Stone said. "It's important to take a step back to physically and mentally recharge. If you are surrounded by good people at work, a vacation should be easy to take."
Monahan added that, when she used to travel with her boss for work, she'd look over to find him reading a novel while she would be doing something work-related.
"I didn’t understand at the time that he was giving himself a break and decompressing while I was leading myself to a potential burnout," she said. Now, Monahan practices the same tactics. Taking that time to unwind is critical to success and will help you feel more energized when you're on the clock.
5. Make time for yourself.
While your job is important, it shouldn't be your entire life. You were an individual before taking this position, and you should prioritize the activities or hobbies that made you happy.
"Whether you take a walk in the park, get a massage or [take] a hot bath, it's important to always set aside an hour a week to do something for yourself," said Mark Feldman, vice president of marketing at Stynt.
Additionally, you should focus on surrounding yourself with loved ones rather than making excuses to be alone all week. Just because work keeps you busy doesn't mean that you should neglect personal relationships.
"Realize that no one at your company is going to love you or appreciate you the way your loved ones do," said Monahan. "Also [remember] that everyone is replaceable at work, and no matter how important you think your job is, the company will not miss a beat tomorrow if you are gone."
Don't take your loved ones for granted just because you know they'll always be there for you. If anything, that's more of a reason to make more time for them.
Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl and Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.