Do you feel a constant tug-of-war between the competing demands of work and home? If so, you’re not alone. The struggle to achieve a comfortable work-life balance is a common trigger of workplace stress and anxiety.
Part of the problem is that technology has blurred the boundaries between work and home. According to a recent study, 65 percent of employees said that their manager expects them to be reachable outside of the office; one in five survey respondents reported working 20 or more hours per week on their own time. While a growing number of companies are recognizing the many benefits of work-life balance, it remains up to you to keep the scale in check.
Looking for New Ways to Achieve Work-Life Balance?
You’ve learned to say “no” to taking on unnecessary commitments and you’re even getting more (and better quality) sleep these days. Still, you’re not feeling the work-life balance benefits. As the stakes get higher, you might have to dig deeper for solutions. Consider the following:
1. Designate work-free zones — Just as invisible fences protect pets from wandering into the street, you can create a metaphorical “fence” that prohibits work activity in a specific area of your home or life. Whether it’s your car, your kitchen, or the elliptical machine, make sure your cell phone and laptop are out of earshot to eliminate work-induced distractions.
2. Consider relocation — While not everyone has the ability to pack up their belongings and move, the truth is that some cities are more conducive to creating work-life balance than others. Do you spend a lot of time commuting to work every day — or a hefty amount of your paycheck on private school tuition? If you are in the midst of a career shift, this might be a good time to think about relocating to an area that offers more convenience. Moving to a city with a lower cost of living could restore work-life balance by alleviating the pressure to work an unreasonable number of hours just to cover everyday expenses.
3. Ask for flex-time — When you’re juggling the demands of work and family, sometimes an hour on either end of your day can make all the difference in achieving work-life balance. As long as you fulfill your responsibilities, see if your boss will allow you to work from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. instead of from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in order to avoid after-school care for your kids.
4. Consolidate your calendar — While it may seem counterintuitive as you try to un-blur the line between work and life, keeping one calendar forces you to balance the two by not overbooking your schedule. If you see that you have already committed to take your mother to an important medical appointment at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, you’ll be able to avoid booking a conference call with the Texas office at that time. If it’s important to you that you attend your daughter’s parent-teacher conference, reserve that time on your calendar. Proactively scheduling your calendar — in one central system — will allow you to maintain better control of your work-life balance.
5. Expect the unexpected — Do you know what happens to a rubber band when it’s stretched to its capacity? All it takes from that point is one extra pull, and it will snap. If your daily schedule is like the rubber band at capacity, then receiving an urgent request from your number one client — just as you’re putting on your coat to leave for a parent-teacher conference — is enough to make you feel as if you might snap. Unless you have a crystal ball to foresee traffic jams, sick days or heated discussions that cause meetings to run long, there will always be the potential for something to alter your course, regardless of how carefully you’ve crafted it. By building cushion time into your schedule, you not only avoid an unnecessary cortisol rush, but you also stand a better chance of preserving your work-life balance.
If you’re contemplating a career shift or job change, you can gain valuable insight about a company’s work-life balance programs by asking the right questions during the interview process. Whether you’re starting a new job or trying to improve your current situation, achieving work-life balance is a delicate act, but one well worth striving to reach.