Work-life balance is an important part of a healthy career, no matter what corporate cultural trend is trying to tell you otherwise. Many professionals don't consider it heavily enough when deciding on a new job. If you do the same, you risk joining the scores of overworked, overstressed, and ultimately unhappy workers in the world.
Work-life balance won't just make you unhappy. It will make you unhealthy. Long hours, fatigue, and a bad mood can and will make you more susceptible to getting sick. Don't forget the potential depression or other very real, very common mental health issues that can come along with burnout and loss of motivation. All of this can have dramatic impact on anyone's career.
But it doesn't have to be that way, even if you can't lower your hours. Here are a few simple steps you can take to improve your work-life balance without having to quit your job!
1. Have an off switch
As technology increasingly blurs the line between being on the job and off the job, people are also being encouraged to ignore work-life balance in favor of integrating your work and your life. Unless you're starting your own business and need to devote hours to survive and compete, don't fall for this integration theme. If your workday continues well after you get home, you'll constantly find yourself answering emails and working on small tasks when you ought to be getting your rest.
While the exact numbers are still being debated, scienctific studies have concluded that people become inefficient at work after somewhere between 40 and 55 hours in a week. Every extra bit of productivity after you reach your threshold is less and less effective than what came before it. So, the only thing you're really doing by not having an off switch? Exhausting yourself.
So when you get home, flip an imaginary off switch and get out of work mode. You'll find sharp, fresh, and focused every day when you avoid bleeding your energy away at all hours. Note that it's important for your off-switch to be conditional -- if you have the type of job that requires a bit of extra work at night or need to respond to critical emails when they get in, just set up a system for yourself to make sure you get done what you need to get done but also achieve that off mode when possible.
2. Take opportunities for rest
When you have no handle on your life outside work, you often miss out on opportunities for rest. And there are quite a few of those opportunities. From vacation and sick days to holidays and long weekends, you have options for when you need to get some relaxation time.
But when you have a bad work-life balance, you often consciously or subconsciously decide not to take advantage of those opportunities. Vacation days expire without rolling over. You go into work sick rather than taking the day off. You work over the weekend and go into the office on a holiday. And you only further exacerbate the issue.
Your vacation time is an important and deserved part of your professional life. It’s an opportunity to get time away from the office so that you can come back stronger and more productive. Take as many of your vacation days as you can over the duration of the year. Avoid working while on vacation.
Instead of working through illness, take your allotted sick days to go to the doctor, get bedrest, and get some extra sleep. And when you get extra days off for a holiday, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Take advantage of those days to invest in your life away from work.
If your employer or team culture looks down on this type of very reasonable behavior, it might be time to looking for a new, more mature organization to join.
3. Refocus on the things you've lost
The unfortunate casualties of a poor work-life balance are often your hobbies, your personal health, and your friends and family. When your life is all about work, you end up ignoring the things and people that make you happy and healthy every day. And doing so only further contributes to your unhappiness.
So, along with having an off switch and taking opportunities to rest, make sure you also refocus on the things you’ve lost. If you need to make a to-do list, go ahead. If you need to schedule time blocks where you call family, go out with friends, or enjoy a hobby, do it. Just make sure you do the things that take your mind off work and make you happy.
Because even if you don’t quit your job for one with a better work-life balance, and even if you love your work regardless of the long hours, you should still strive to have a diverse, satisfying life outside the office. Your overall productivity and job satisfaction will reflect it.