How can I regain my work-life balance?
How can I regain my work-life balance?“How can I regain my work-life balance?” is a pretty big question for a lot of us these days. Full-time employees in the UK work the longest hours in Europe, according to the Trades Union Council and a European Union Labour Force Survey.
For many of us, working a 50-60 hour week seems pretty normal. But since plenty of other countries aren’t doing it, is it really so natural?
Why are people working such long hours? For one thing, we have a long hours culture. We might be worried about losing our jobs, or not being put up for promotion. We might be being pressured into it due to staff shortages or cost cutting. Sometimes, we just feel we have to, because that’s the culture at work, and that’s what everybody else is doing. Nobody wants to look like a slacker.
But is your appearance as a hard worker more important than your health and well-being?
Some consequences of a poor work life balance include:
- Fatigue: you’re tired all the time and you can’t do your work nearly as well.
- Poor health: stress has major effects on the immune system.
- Damaged relationships: if you’re working too much, you can easily miss out on important moments in your friends’ and family’s lives.
- Increased expectations at work: leading to a vicious circle in which you feel even more under pressure to perform and work long hours.
How can you know if you’re out of balance? Maybe working this much is just normal?
There are a few obvious signs. If any of these sound familiar to you, it might be time to re-evaluate your priorities.
- Finding it difficult to enjoy things and being overly irritable.
- Having frequent stress dreams about work.
- Poor health or regular illness.
- Working when you’re supposed to have time off, such as weekends and evenings.
- Thinking that the more you can keep on your plate, the more you can “have it all”.
- Forgetting appointments and blowing off commitments.
- Often declining invitations from friends.
- Feeling resentment towards others who appear to have balance in their lives.
Once you’ve established that your work-life balance is anything but, you need think about the next steps.
The first thing to consider is – is it possible for you to work less? It might sound impossible right now, but that would be the obvious first step! You might not think that your employer will care, but if you are suffering because of your work, try sharing your concerns. You might be surprised by the support you can receive.
Of course, working less isn’t always an option. If it’s not, how can you enjoy your life outside of work more?
To make changes, we have to find out what we really want (that sounds easy, but many people do just go along in life and never really question what they are doing). We have to examine ourselves to discover our true desires. Some useful (but not necessarily easy) questions to ask yourself include:
- What does it mean to me to be fulfilled in life?
- What am I committed to? (not goals or targets – these are what we do to make commitments happen)
- What two or three actions could I take right now that would have the most positive impact on my well-being?
- What two or three things are part of my daily life that have no relevance to or impact on my work or life fulfilment?
- Is there anything I am willing to give up to be more fulfilled?
The above are some deeply personal questions, and what you need to do to find balance will very much depend on your unique answers. However, there are some actions that anyone can take that will help you to take some steps towards having a healthier working life.
Schedule fun things to do with family and friends. Don’t leave it up to chance or other people. It might feel counter-intuitive in some ways – if you’re exhausted at the end of the day, maybe all you want to do is slump in front of the TV. But having incentives at the end of the day or week will help you to get through and to manage your time well enough so you don’t have to cancel those plans. If you don’t make arrangements, time can just disappear into doing the washing up and food shopping – or watching cat videos online.
Drop valueless activities
Evaluate which activities you are engaging in that give you energy and enjoyment, and which are sapping your strength. Then cut out the ones that do nothing for you. For example, if you regularly stay later at work listening to a colleague venting, or you spend time during the day checking your bank balance or sneaking on social media, think about how these things affect you.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take breaks at work, but make sure they are actually breaks. If these activities don’t enhance your working or personal life, why keep them hanging around?
You might be able to finish work a little earlier and get out to do things you actually enjoy if you’re not wasting half an hour a day on unproductive “chores”.
Change up your errands
Speaking of chores, it may be time to rethink how you do your odd jobs. Could you change your habits to minimise time spent? For example, instead of doing these things yourself, try ordering your groceries online or getting one of the kids on your street to wash your car. Even on a tight budget, you might find that the extra time you get to spend on you or your loved ones is worth it.
You could also trade tasks with friends. If you find an activity that you don’t mind or were going to do anyway that your mates hate, and vice versa, why not swap? For instance, they could babysit your kids and you could cook them a few meals to freeze for when they are busy.
Work smarter, not harder – work out
Exercise can be one of the first things to go when we get too busy. But you might be surprised at what a difference it can make if you make the effort to fit it in. Regular exercise can boost your energy levels and make it much easier to concentrate. Trying to squeeze out an extra half-hour of work over lunch can be highly unproductive – you could spend that time at the gym and do twice as much work in the afternoon – whilst keeping in shape. It can also be a way of getting a little “me time”.
Slowly does it
Don’t try to go for one all-out, drastic transformation of your time – most likely it won’t work, and you’ll become even more convinced that There Is No Alternative. Instead, try to make small changes and build on them. Set realistic goals, like leaving work earlier or on time one day a week, or spending an hour at the weekend on a hobby you enjoy. Bit by bit, build up until you have a productive and meaningful home life. Even when you’re having a crazy day, make a few minutes for yourself. Have a bath and read a book for 15 minutes; spend 5 minutes writing down all your worries about the day; or go for a short walk. You have to find time for things you enjoy, or what’s the point?
If you’ve read this far, you’re most likely feeling the need to make some changes and find more purpose in your life outside of work. It will take some dedication and serious self-examination, and no one has said it will be easy. But if your life belongs to your work right now, what have you got to lose?