37 Tips for a Better Work-Life Balance
It's so secret—managing all the things you have to do as an adult is a challenge. From doing your best on the job to taking care of yourself (and, if you have them, your kids) to trying to see friends and stay sane, we know you've got a lot on your plate.
And while it's up for debate whether you can "have it all," you certainly ought to be able to balance everything you've got and live a happy, fulfilling life. To help you out in that pursuit, we've gathered some of the best advice out there on maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Read the tips below, and start implementing some of them today.
Managing Your Time
1. The most game-changing advice I’ve gotten is this: If you’re truly going to act on your priorities, you need to dedicate time to them. So, I took a weekly calendar and some crayons, and mapped out my priorities to create a “typical” week, with time dedicated to each of my priorities: exercise, work, family time, and so forth. I started with the “big rocks:” the most important and least flexible responsibilities (I learned this trick from Stephen Covey). For me, these were work and my children’s sports schedules. Then, I decided when I get my best work done. For example, I knew that my job required time for “deep-thinking” work, so I dedicated one day per week to be meeting-free. Alix Hughes
2. One of the biggest struggles is fitting it all in to 24 hours. Waking up at 4 AM gives me extra hours in the day, and this quiet time allows me to complete projects before the house wakes up. Hannah Morgan
3. To make time for hobbies, passions, and relationships outside of work, I've made sure to have a short version of what I'd ideally love to do for busy weeks. I'd rather have a nice long dinner with a friend if I can, but during a busy week, catching a 45-minute coffee during the day is better than not seeing friends at all. I love biking, but it requires more time than I have most weeks, so I've picked up running (reluctantly), since I can do it when I just have 20 minutes. Alex Cavoulacos
@dailymuse reduce or eliminate multi-tasking. Be where you are!
— kylie sachs (@tismoi) November 24, 2013
5. Instead of multi-tasking, I look for ways to overlap things. Best example: When my kids were little, I had no time for hobbies, but I was dying to try birdwatching. So I introduced it to my seven-year old son, thinking he might like it, too. He was hooked, and so we started doing birdwatching together. It became the perfect overlap of time together with a hobby for me. Kate White
6. We need to elongate the time frame upon which we judge the balance in our life, but we need to elongate it without falling into the trap of the "I'll have a life when I retire, when my kids have left home, when my wife has divorced me, my health is failing, I've got no mates or interests left." A day is too short; "after I retire" is too long. There's got to be a middle way. Nigel Marsh
Taking Time for You
7. It's important to remember that free time doesn't have to be available time. In other words, just because Wednesday night is empty on your calendar, doesn't mean you have to say "yes" when your co-worker asks you to go to an event with her. It’s important to remind yourself that you can turn invitations down for no other reason than you want that time to yourself, that your free time can be just that—free. Erin Greenawald
8. When I have a good chunk of time to myself, I sometimes feel obligated to use it to get other things done, like errands or phone calls—but I’ve learned that the only way to use that time to truly reduce my stress level is to do something totally for me. A yoga class or quick burst of exercise is a good method to calm your spinning head, or enjoy some light-hearted TV or an ice cream or coffee date with a friend. You could also spend an hour playing with the puppies at the pet store, indulging in the total silence of a library, or browsing for random treasures at a thrift store. Jessica Taylor
9. I block out "me time" in the early evening. Even if I know that I'm going to get back online later and work, I realized that I'm a lot more likely to go to the gym, see friends, or cook myself a real dinner if I give myself 7-9 PM "off" to do those things before getting back online. If I finish all my work first, or even "just do my high priority work"—it's 11 PM before I stop, and I am realistically not going to go to the gym or call anyone up or even cook, I'm just going to finish my work for the night and crash. Melissa McCreery
@dailymuse I use my lunchtime to do some fun stuff - short market/store trips current fave #worklifebalancetips
— Kitchenbutterfly (@Kitchnbutterfly) November 23, 2013
11. Even if I’m feeling busy, I remind myself that time away from work and the computer is energizing and important. Scheduling downtime requires a combination of time management (deciding when else to get the work done), working ahead when possible (so I have more time later), and keeping a to-do list. Miriam Salpeter
Having a Social Life
12. While you usually reserve fun things for the weekends, plan at least one enjoyable activity during the week. You'll be able to head into your work week with something to look forward to and have a way to blow off some steam if the week starts off too strong. Katie Douthwaite
14. Schedule recurring social activities, like a monthly book club or weekly dinner with your best friends. By having regular activities like this written into your calendar, you'll be able to plan around them (instead of planning your social life around work).
@dailymuse Set times for yourself. If you reserve an evening for plans with friends/family, you'll focus more during the day.
— Melanie Albert (@melealbert) November 24, 2013
16. You’ll be hard pressed to find a boss who will object too much to you working on your off hours (unless she’s required to by law), but that same boss will be just as impressed if you can do the work in the eight (OK, 10) hours each day you’re there already. Make the most of the time you have in the office, and leave the rest for tomorrow. Jennifer Winter
17. If you start telling people you need to leave at a certain time, you’ll be much more likely to do so. Make the commitment to yourself, and then share it with others: As you discuss plans and assignments throughout the day, tell your colleagues, “I’ve got to be out of here on time tonight, so if you need something, let me know by 3 PM.” Try this method one day, then another, and then the next. Eventually, you’ll retrain your colleagues to expect you to leave on time every day. Lea McLeod
18. Ever find yourself staying at work because you don't have a reason not to? Make reasons to leave. Join groups or sign up for exercises classes that meet after work so you have to sign out at a reasonable hour. Make plans with friends ahead of time so you can't back out and just stick around the office.
@dailymuse Methods of #renewal (meditation) coupled with finding projects in the work environment that are #enjoyable help maintain balance
— Paul A. Mabelis (@CognitiveLibert) November 23, 2013
20. You have to plan when you'll leave the office from the beginning of the day. That means understanding what needs to get done for the day and getting it done first so you aren't scrambling after hours to finish up. Also, block out the last 20 minutes before you plan to leave to wrap up loose ends, so you aren't trying to send "one more email" after you were already supposed to head out of the office.
21. Sometimes when you feel surrounded by work, it’s because, well, you’re surrounding yourself with work. So, be deliberate about taking time before work, after work, or on your lunch break to step away from the office. Call your significant other, your mom, or your best friend, and ask what’s going on with them, avoiding the temptation to discuss anything even remotely work-related. Your job may be your focus for the rest of the day, but for a few minutes, move it to the back burner and focus on something (anything) else. Sara McCord
22. Consider some highlights of your perfect day. What would you really enjoy doing? What’s absolutely necessary for you to get done? Identify what tools or extras would make the mandatory work easier to complete. Aromatherapy while you grade papers? A powerful run? Figure out what can help you, and build it into your day. Natalie Jesionka
Enjoying Weekends and Vacation
23. Instead of saving all of your life chores for Sunday, get them out of the way as soon as possible, either by doing them first thing Saturday morning or dispersing them throughout the week. That way, instead of spending your last few hours of free time on Sunday night scrubbing the bathtub, you'll be able to fill it with something fun and relaxing. Katie Douthwaite
24. Carve out some time on the weekends—at least a few hours, but ideally a whole day—to stay away from screens. Put your computer and phone away and turn off the TV, then do something physical or creative that you really love. Go for a run. Draw. Write. Your mind will be a little more refreshed and a little sharper by the end of it.
25. I always faced a double-edged sword on the weekends: I loved the feeling of being ahead on Monday morning if I worked during the weekend, but I hated the feeling of losing any of my precious weekend to work. Then, I started doing some of the more mindless work on my plate while I watched a movie on Sunday nights. I still felt like I got a full weekend, but felt ahead of the game come Monday morning. Erin Greenawald
@dailymuse Using my vacation time! For me traveling is relaxing and mentally enriching. I come back to work happier and more focused.
— Brandi Kolmer (@brandikolmer) November 23, 2013
27. The nature of many jobs is that there will never be an easy time to take time off, no matter how well you plan for it in advance. But that's no reason to not go at all. It's in your employer's best interests to have well-rested and recharged employees, and vacation time is a benefit that you've earned, just like salary, so you should use it. So instead of waiting for the perfect time—which may never come along—decide that you will use your vacation time this year, and make the question one of what accommodations should be made, rather than whether accommodations can be made. Alison Green
28. Before you leave for vacation, ask your boss if she expects you to check emails or listen to voice messages while you’re gone. While it’s often necessary to stay at least a little connected, make sure you proactively set some boundaries. Feel free to let your boss know that you’ll only be able to check your phone and email occasionally—say, once a day, or a few times a week. Most bosses will be fine if you only respond to critical messages until after you return to the office. Lynze Wardle Lenio
29. If you don't have enough PTO to take a full vacation, try taking a day off here and there for a stay-cation or long weekend. It may not seem like much, but taking just a day or two to break out of the 9-to-5 grind can do wonders.
Making Time for Family
30. There is a phrase used by Hillary Clinton that stems from an African proverb: “It takes a village.” And it does! Getting comfortable with others lending you a hand helps not only to give you comfort that your kids are in good hands, but it helps take the stress away. I chose to have live-in help because I had an unpredictable schedule, lots of travel, late hours, and evening entertaining, and I couldn’t have someone who had to look at the clock or bus schedule. But no matter what type of babysitter, nanny, or daycare choices you make, accepting that you just cannot do it all, single-handedly, is the key. Cathie Black
31. When my baby was five months old, my husband and I decided to sleep train him (which basically meant letting him cry it out for three nights in a row). Those nights were extremely hard, but the upside has been nothing short of amazing. Not only do I know that each night from 7:30 PM to 6:30 AM I'll have time to do whatever I want—eat dinner with my husband, catch up on email, watch House of Cards—but our son is so much more rested and in all around better spirits. I know sleep training can be controversial, but as a working parent, I have no doubt it was one of the best things I've done for myself, my relationship, and my baby. Dorothy McGivney
32. If you or your parenting partner is able to web-surf at work, use your downtime to set up auto-ship services for the essentials: diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, and so on. Services like Amazon Prime and Diapers.com sell these items on the cheap, and they’ll be delivered to your door with free shipping. Rikki Rogers
33. Flexible hours enabled by technology can allow parents to perform well at their jobs and take care of young children at the same time. If you're an employee, talk with your boss about how working from home could boost your productivity, remembering to share some specific examples of how your work will improve. Richard Branson
Getting Chores Done
34. Make your grocery run as efficient as possible by making a list coordinated to aisles or store sections. Take advantage of coupon apps (many grocery stores have them). And if the whole family has to come along, get everyone involved: If you can walk, you can shop. Rikki Rogers
35. By doing my least favorite chore at the beginning of each week, it feels entirely more manageable, not to mention frees me of the burden throughout the rest of my week. The feeling of work burnout tends to increase as the week moves forward, so by frontloading your work week evenings with your least favorite tasks, you can reserve the more enjoyable work night activities for the end of the week. Monday is for laundry, Tuesday is for vacuuming and bills, Wednesday is for dry cleaning, Thursday is for a DVR marathon. And so on. Rachell Buell
36. When trying to fit more in, minimize the amount of time doing anything you have to do. Try setting a goal to have dinner ready in 30 minutes or less. You'd be surprised how many things can be cooked in 25-30 minutes, and it's a surefire way of getting time back several times a week. Bonus points for cooking several meals' worth on Sunday night and only having five minutes of reheat time.
37. Get creative with what chores you can outsource (and therefore avoid!). There are plenty of services out there that will take care of your least favorite tasks for you, from cleaning and cooking to laundry and shopping. Check out our list of tasks to outsource now to get you started.
Tell us! What are your best tips for work-life balance? Share them in the comments section!
Photo of man at work courtesy of Shuttertsock.
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