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Leave Work When You Leave Work: 5 Tips to Achieve a Better Work-Life Balance

In the age of constant connectivity, our society tends to normalize – even romanticize – nonstop work. Many of us don’t feel like we’re working hard unless we’re also feeling stressed. In a survey from Harvard Business School, 94% of working professionals report working over 50 hours per week, and nearly half say they work over 65 hours per week. Stress has the potential to put a strain on your relationships, career, and health with 75-90% of doctor visits coming stress-induced illness.

In many ways, the concept of always being accessible and “on” has led to a culture of perfectionism and comparison, neither of which reduce our anxieties. Excessive work might sound savvy at first – time plus commitment equals results, right? – but it’s “too much of a good thing.” We believe that focusing on quality over quantity is the winning formula.

None of this means you should shirk responsibility or care less about your job. It simply calls for you to strike a better work-life balance, and perhaps change your perception of stress. Evaluate your current balance, or lack thereof, and once you have a better understanding of where you fall, create a strategy for solving the problem.

Five Tips to Help You Achieve a Better Work-Life Balance

1. Unplug 

Although it might feel like it, you don’t need to be available 24/7. Learn to leave work when you leave work! Studies show that our endless accessibility and connectivity cause an undercurrent of negative stress in our lives. Microsoft executive Linda Stone observed that people who are always hooked up to their devices exist in a state of “continuous partial attention.” She actually coined the phrase “email apnea” in reference to the way people tend to breathe abnormally after they stare at their screen for a long period of time.

Most of us can’t completely remove screens from our lives, which is why we need to set boundaries. For example, don’t check your email after certain hours. Of course, you have to remember this is a balancing act. So if you choose to avoid technology after 7 pm, for example, you should set up a few guidelines:

  • Set contingency plans for your team on how to reach you if something urgent happens during your “off” hours.
  • If you’re part of a work culture that is “always on,” create a rotating schedule of monitors (like an ‘on call’ schedule) to help even the workload.
  • Set a 24-hour response rule. You don’t want to let things sit in your inbox for too long, but having the 24-hour window means you can unplug without worrying.
  • If you have certain clients or stakeholders that require a quick response, set up rules through your preferred email software to send those messages into a specific folder. You can choose to check urgent messages without getting sucked into your entire inbox.

As with anything, the key is to be transparent. Have an explicit conversation with your entire team, clients, and customers about what to expect.

2. Prioritize time on things that nurture you
We’re presented with choices all day long. Some choices nurture you – others don’t. Choosing to work hard at your job nurtures you with an income, benefits, mental stimulation, and a sense of purpose. But a well-rounded and successful life calls for more than nonstop work.

Get out of the office and nurture yourself with your favorite kind of coffee or tea, or take a quick walk to clear your head! You might even give walking meetings a chance. They’re a great way to boost creativity, relieve negatively perceived stress, and continue to work toward a bottom line.

You could also focus on nurturing yourself with positive stressors, or eustress, as coined by Hungarian Endocrinologist Hans Selye. Consider taking up a hobby outside the workplace. While starting a new task may seem stress-inducing, the eustress motivates and excites you, help to focus your energy and improve your overall performance. Hobbies are an important way to nurture yourself because they create connections and drive innovation – a win-win!

Choose to eat well and exercise. The Mayo Clinic says, “Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever,” because it boosts endorphins, which are your feel-good neurotransmitters. Due to its sometimes repetitive or cyclic nature, it can also be a form of meditation. When it comes to diet, be careful not to misinterpret the concept of food as a reward. The idea isn’t to reward yourself with a sugary treat, but instead to eat foods that nurture you by boosting your immune system, giving you strength, or improving your mood.

Make sleep a priority. You may not always get as much as you’d like, but don’t fall into the habit of working through the night. High stress makes it more difficult to sleep, and no sleep leads to sickness and even more stress. It’s a never-ending cycle. Screen time also contributes to sleep disorders, which impact 4 out of 10 Americans. The blue light emitted by your screens interfere with your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that helps the body sleep.

3. Play the long game
Your success in achieving a better work-life balance depends not only on your strategy but your ability to follow it persistently. To help you play the long game, set small, manageable goals. For example, one of your first goals could be to allow yourself regular breaks at work. Scheduled downtime keeps us creative and committed.

When you break your ultimate goal (achieve a better work-life balance) into smaller parts, it keeps you moving forward and increases the likelihood of making long-term change. It’s also helpful to lay out your small goals in written form. This allows you to step back and survey the landscape of your strategy. Get your thoughts down on the page instead of spinning your wheels.

4. Set boundaries for yourself
To designate boundaries that work for you specifically, consider the following:

  • When do you feel like you’re consistently operating at your best?
  • When do you feel like you’re at your peak?
  • When do you feel like you’re pushing yourself too hard?
  • When do you feel like you’re not at your best?

The answers to these questions determine what changes you can make to your routine. For example, I find that being very organized about what I need to deliver for a client eases my mind. For this reason, I block time on Monday and Friday to open and close my week. Taking time to ramp up and wrap up allows me to prioritize organization.

Setting boundaries and ultimately learning to say no is easier said than done. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help yourself stay committed to your goals and boundaries. You might enlist an accountability partner –  an admin, close colleague, or family member that can help you keep to the boundaries you’ve set for yourself. It helps to have someone remind you that the thing that is keeping you glued to your work can often wait.

5. Make stress your friend 
Stress is not inherently bad. In many ways, it’s an undeserving enemy. Stanford researcher Kelly McGonigal hypothesizes that when we adjust our thoughts and actively consider stress as a positive thing – a form of growth – we begin to reap the physical and mental benefits. Much like building up muscle at the gym, we can strengthen our emotional response to stress! The next time your heart is racing, think of it as your body’s way of ensuring you’re prepared to meet the challenge.

When you strike a healthy work-life balance, you’ll find yourself more focused on the positive aspects of stress. Your time also becomes more valuable because, at any given moment, you’re more confident, alert, and engaged.