Smart phones, and sports practices, and 8am meetings – oh my! When work and life collide, the results can be exhausting. Research shows that conflicts between work and life can lead to increased stress and burnout. How do you keep up with your work and life without losing your mind – or your health?
I’ll be honest – I’m no work-life expert. I’m writing this blog post at 11pm on Sunday night, so trust me, I haven’t gotten it all figured out just yet. But, I have put some new tricks into my routine that have helped me to get ahead of the work-life curve. It may not be possible to “balance” it all, but it is possible to make sure that you aren’t neglecting important parts of your life in the process of trying to squeeze it all in. Here are some tips that have really helped me over the past couple of years.
Decide not to”sign” your balance away
First, a few years ago, I was feeling tired and run down all the time. I was working 12 hour days, 6 days a week and I wasn’t really happy with the choices I was making on a daily basis. That’s when I realized that I had to ask myself a question: if my job made me sign a contract when I accepted their offer that said I would promise to eat unhealthily, skip the gym, spend less time with my friends and family, and be willing to be on call at all times – would I have accepted that offer? Absolutely not. And yet – if I am continuously eating unhealthily, choosing work over working out, declining invitations to social events because of my workload, etc. – the contract doesn’t matter. I might as well have signed on that dotted line. So, I set the intention that I wasn’t going to implicitly sign that contract any longer – I was going to take control over my schedule and set boundaries I was comfortable with.
Schedule sacred time for “you”
One of the primary ways that I was able to take control of my schedule again was to carve out time that was just for me – and to treat it like I would a meeting with someone else. I decided that I would schedule my time to work out in the morning and to prepare and eat dinner at night. I also decided to schedule a bed time for myself, so that I would have more consistent sleeping and waking hours. While it took some getting used to, I grew to really appreciate having scheduled “me” time. Researchers have also documented the potentially negative impact of letting something interrupt you in the middle of doing something important – so keeping time for you sacred is key. If someone asks to book a call or a meeting with me during that time, I decline their invitation – just as I would if I was already booked with a work-related meeting. Keeping that time scheduled and free allows me to make sure that I’m taking care of myself first and everything else second. Surprisingly enough, the world did not implode. I still get done just as much as I did before – it’s just that now I’m doing it on my time instead of one everyone else’s. I also did the same thing with doctor’s appointments – I set the next appointment when I’m at the current one and I won’t reschedule them, no matter what. This ensures that I’m focusing on the bigger picture (my overall health), as well as the smaller details (making sure I hit my step tracker goal each day) of my wellness.
Eliminate pain points
Second, I decided to cut activities that I was doing because I felt bad for not doing them, but which weren’t actually adding positively to my well-being overall. For example, I had served in a volunteer role for a long time that was more stressful than it was impactful. I was hitting a lot of roadblocks in working with them and I didn’t feel that I was able to contribute much to the organization as a result. Because I felt badly “leaving them in the lurch”, I kept showing up to meetings that were unproductive. It took a while for me to realize that this activity was not helpful for me – or for them. Once I stopped volunteering there, it freed up much needed time to focus on other things that were more important. Doing a “life edit” can be helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It was for me. In fact, it has been demonstrated that feeling like you have control over your work and are making an impact through it strongly affects whether or not you are happy doing it. What are you participating in that you really don’t find enjoyable? Or that you don’t find a good use of your time? You can’t be everything to everyone – cut activities that you are only invested in because you feel like you should be invested, but not because you want or need to be there. It’s similar to the rule you should use for adding to your wardrobe – you can’t add anything new until you get rid of something old. The next time someone asks you to take on a new responsibility, think about what you’re currently doing that could be cut out. If you can’t think of anything, you might not be ready to give more of your time to a new endeavor.
Finally, kick guilt to the door. The strategies I outlined above will only work when you feel positively about the choices you are making. This is the really hard part – making sure that you don’t feel guilty for taking time for yourself or for saying no to a request. When the guilty feelings set in, it’s important to remember that you are trying to play the long game. You can’t be useful to anyone if you’re sick, run down, or emotionally drained. Replenishing your personal resources is a service to your workplace and to others who depend on you – it’s just not one that society encourages all the time.
Remember…you need to breathe to live
Overall, if you want to start living more healthily in a world full of work and life responsibilities, remember what the airplane crew tells you before takeoff – you have to secure your own air mask before you can help others. What is cutting off your oxygen supply? Identifying unnecessary “time sucks” and allowing yourself to create space to care for yourself is not only acceptable – it’s necessary, if you want to continue to do the things you love.