Now more than ever, we need the skills to look after ourselves so that we can perform well at work, achieve our personal and professional goals, be there for our loved ones, and feel our best. But these notions of looking after your mental and physical health, lowering stress, staying on top of your work, and having more time for the people and things that matter all come down to one thing: creating a more balanced life.
Going beyond old notions of "work-life balance"
There’s an old misconception that “work–life balance” means spending equal amounts of time on work and non-work life (like balancing out two sides of a measuring scale), but that’s not true. Balance may mean working four hours a day to you, while others thrive on the structure of a longer work day. Having a healthy “work–life balance” essentially just means feeling fulfilled in both areas – work life and, you know, life life.
Therefore, finding balance isn't just a case of working fewer hours, working from home two days a week, or being able to finish work in time to pick the kids up from school. It goes much deeper than that to encompass a more holistic view of how you look after yourself and spend your time. Taking this wider view, finding balance means:
· Being able to manage your workload and meet deadlines without working all hours.
· Maintaining boundaries between work and non-work life so you're not worrying or thinking about work all the time.
· Spending quality time with your children, partner, friends, and other people that matter to you.
· Keeping up with the hobbies you love.
· Making an effort to look after your physical and mental wellness.
How to find more balance
Starting with physical wellness:
1. People who do regular physical activity have a lower risk of all sorts of diseases, from bowel cancer and heart disease to diabetes and dementia. Therefore, it’s vital you carve out time for regular physical activity (walking, running, yoga, etc.). The easiest approach is to make activity part of your everyday routine, for example, by cycling to work or walking (rather than driving) to the train station.
2. Get outside as often as you can, even if it's just a quick coffee in the sunshine on your morning break.
3. Maintain a proper and restful sleep routine, which may mean nine hours for you or six hours for someone else. Good practices include going to bed and getting up at the same times each day (including on weekends), and disengaging from screens in the hour or two before bed.
4. Make an effort to eat foods that nourish your body. For example, you could spend an hour on Sunday morning prepping some lunches for the week ahead (a big batch of soup, grain-filled salads, etc.) or invest in meal kits to make evening meals easier.
A healthy body feeds into a healthy mind, but here are some other steps that may help you boost your mental health (they’ve certainly helped me):
5. Make time for hobbies and relaxation. Personally, I find that reading, mindfulness, and running help me to unwind, and I make time for these pursuits most days. For you, it could be five minutes of deep breathing or meditation, long baths, walking in the woods, watching movies, or whatever. The important thing is to find your own way to unplug and relax.
6. Try to live in the moment rather than always thinking about what has been and what might happen in the future. Mindfulness is brilliant for learning to be more present because it teaches you to kindly acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and notice what's going on around you.
7. Write a letter to your future self. Deep down, you probably know what makes you feel mentally strong and what to do to take care of your mental health. So, when you're in a good place and feeling strong, write a letter to your future self to read when things aren't going so swimmingly. In the letter, outline some steps that you know make you feel more positive, and perhaps even list some things that you're grateful for. Save the letter so you can read it in tougher times.
8. Embrace imperfection. Perfectionism can lead to stress, so remind yourself that you don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to be the best. Being good enough is, well, good enough!
Maintaining such good habits can be a challenge in a busy world, but here are some steps that have helped me continue to prioritize balance:
9. Set strong boundaries between work and non-work, and protect those boundaries. When I’m not in my office, I’m not working. I’m not checking emails; I'm present with my family or enjoying some quiet time to myself.
10. Keep company with people who make you feel good. People who are positive and supportive of you. Wherever possible, avoid or limit spending time with people who leave you feeling drained.
11. Say no to things that aren’t a priority for you. Yes, it's good to help people whenever you can, but there will be times when their request clashes with your own priorities. In which case, learn to kindly but firmly say "no" (or "no, not now").
12. Eliminate the time-wasting aspects of your day. Such as those social media notifications that suck you into your phone, and before you know it, half an hour has gone by. Switch off app notifications, and ensure your social media activity (or news scrolling, or whatever) takes place on your terms, at times that suit you.
13. Treat your time like the precious asset it is. For example, if you're invited to a meeting, but you're not sure it's the best use of your time, try saying something like "I don't think I'm the right person to attend this meeting" or "I don't think I can add value to this conversation, but I look forward to seeing the email recap afterward."
14. If you work from home, try to create a dedicated work space that you go to during work hours and leave behind at the end of the working day. Even if it's just a corner of the spare room or an alcove under the stairs.
15. Finally, remember that finding balance is a journey, not something you achieve once then you’re done. You will constantly have to work at building and maintaining these good habits. But the reward is well worth the effort.