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Build Your Career Work-Life Balance

8 Ways to Improve Your Work-Life Balance Today

image for Stokkete/Shutterstock
Stokkete/Shutterstock

Often, our work can seemingly take precedent over everything else in our lives. Our desire to succeed professionally can leave us forgetting about our own well-being.

However, creating a harmonious work-life balance is critical to improving not only our physical, emotional and mental health, but also our career health.

Chris Chancey, career expert and CEO of Amplio Recruiting, said having a good work-life balance has numerous positive effects, including minimizing stress and burnout, and promoting overall well-being. This is beneficial for both employees and employers alike. 

"Employees who are generally healthy can be more productive, miss less work and have fewer healthcare-related expenses," Chancey told Business News Daily. "Employers who are committed to providing environments that support work-life balance for their employees can save on costs, experience fewer cases of absenteeism, and enjoy a more loyal and productive workforce." 

When creating a work-life balance that works for you, take time to assess your own needs. Not everyone's work-life balance looks the same, and not everyone divides their work and personal life directly in half. Chancey said that work-life balance is less about neatly dividing the hours in your day between work and personal life and more about having the flexibility to get things done in your professional life while still having time and energy to truly enjoy your personal life. 

Having this flexibility means that some days you might have to work longer hours so you create time later in the week to enjoy other activities. Regardless of how you organize your time, you should place high importance on creating a balance to be successful at work and in your personal life. Here are eight ways to create a better work-life balance.

When you hear "work-life balance," you probably imagine having an extremely productive day at work and leaving early to spend the other half of the day with friends and family. While this may seem ideal, it is not always possible. 

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 spend time 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 the career mentoring group, #BossinHeels. "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."

Although work is an expected societal norm, your career shouldn't be restraining. Work isn't just a way to make money; it should serve you both financially and emotionally. 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. 

For the best work-life balance, Monahan recommended finding a job that you are so passionate about you would 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," said Monahan. "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."

Your overall physical, emotional and mental health should be your main concern. If you struggle 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 are battling a chronic illness, don't be afraid to call in sick on rough days. Overworking yourself prevents you 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." 

Prioritizing your health doesn't have to consist of radical or extreme activities. It can be as simple as daily meditation or exercise.

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 to emerge. Unplugging can mean something simple like practicing transit meditation on your daily commute, instead of checking work emails. 

Monahan said 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," said Monahan. 

Now, Monahan practices the same tactics. She reiterated that taking that time to unwind is critical to success and will help you feel more energized when you're on the clock.

Sometimes, truly unplugging means taking vacation time and shutting work completely off for a while. Whether your vacation consists of a one-day staycation or a two-week trip to Bali, it's important to take time off to physically and mentally recharge. 

According to the State of American Vacation 2018 study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, 52% of employees reported having unused vacation days leftover at the end of the year. Employees are often worried that taking time off will disrupt the workflow and they will be met with a backlog of work when they return. This fear should not restrict you from taking a much-needed break. 

"The truth is, there is no nobility in not taking well-deserved time away from work; the benefits of taking a day off far outweigh the downsides," said Chancey. "With proper planning, you can take time away without worrying about burdening your colleagues or contending with a huge work load when you return."

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 make you happy. Chancey said that achieving work-life balance requires deliberate action. 

"If you do not firmly plan for personal time, you will never have time to do other things outside of work," said Chancey. "No matter how hectic your schedule might be, you ultimately have control of your time and life." 

When planning time with your loved ones, create a calendar for romantic and family dates. It may seem weird to plan one-on-one time with someone you live with, but it will ensure that you spend quality time with them without interruptions or excuses. Just because work keeps you busy doesn't mean 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."

Set boundaries for yourself and your colleagues, to avoid overworking and burnout. When you leave the office, avoid thinking about upcoming projects or answering company emails. Consider having a separate computer or phone for work, so you can shut it off when you clock out. If that isn't possible, use separate browsers, emails or filters for your work and personal platforms. Additionally, Chancey said it is important to set specific work hours. 

"Whether you work away from home or at home, it is important to determine when you will work and when you will stop working; otherwise, you might find yourself answering work-related emails late at night, during vacations or on weekends off," said Chancey. 

Chancey advised notifying team members and your manager about boundaries beyond which you cannot be accessible, because you are engaged in personal activities. This will help to ensure that they understand and respect your workplace limits and expectations.

Set achievable goals that you are passionate about, with respect to your career, health and relationships. Think about what tasks are most important for achieving a healthy work-life balance and prioritize them. Make your workday as productive as possible by implementing time management strategies, analyzing your to-do list and cutting out tasks that have little to no value. 

Pay attention to when you are most productive at work and block that time off for your most important work-related activities. Avoid checking your emails and phone every few minutes, as those are major time-wasting tasks that derail your attention and productivity. Structuring your day can increase productivity at work, which can result in more free time to relax outside of work. Regardless of what your goals and priorities are, make sure that they are conducive to a healthy work-life balance. 

"It is important to understand that work-life balance will mean different things to different people because, after all, we all have different life commitments," said Chancey. "In our always-on world, balance is a very personal thing and only you can decide the lifestyle that suits you best."

Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a business communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four states and backpacking through 16 countries. During her travels, Skye began her blog, which you can find at www.skyeschooley.com. She finally settled down in the northeast, writing for Business.com and Business News Daily. She primarily contributes articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviews remote PC access software and collection agencies.