The beauty of balance

Work-life balance can be a somewhat elusive concept, especially when the majority of our days are spent at work, and the other half sleeping. With the popularity of digital technology and an influx of jobs requiring us to be ‘always on’, navigating work with personal life can be a real slog.

Being ‘always on’ for work can end up consuming our lives and causing us to undergo ‘burnout’ – a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, feelings of ineffectiveness, cynicism and detachment. A recent study from Lehigh University found that workers who are expected to answer emails off the clock are more likely to experience burnout. This, in turn, adversely affects work-family balance, as it tampers with the ability to restore mental and physical energy expended during a working day.

Tips for achieving balance

Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organised can we achieve optimal productivity. The balancing act between work and home can appear impossible, but by slowly implementing small strategies to change the way we conduct our work and personal lives, we can slowly nudge ourselves into feeling calmer and happier amongst the fast pace of everyday life.

1. Set working hours – and stick to them

Work hours will vary depending on your job and lifestyle but with the presence of smart everything; phones, tablets, laptops and even watches, the divide between work and home can appear unclear.

Having defined working hours can be particularly hard for those who operate their own business or work from home – however clearly distinguishing between work time and home time is essential to getting the most out of your working day.

Leaving work should mean unplugging and detaching from stress in order to prepare for the next day, not continuing work in a different location. By being strict and setting working hours, we enforce a habit of not over-working. This in turn allows us to allocate adequate, and most importantly, consistent time for personal and family commitments.

2. Turn off unnecessary push notifications

This is an easy, low impact way to cut down noise – both work related and social. The addiction to our smartphones is already tangible in our personal lives – with Facebook frequently notifying us of a friend’s birthday or Instagram perpetually luring us into the realm of friendly voyeurism. Add to this a stream of personal emails and even Siri might feel over whelmed

Push notifications blur the lines between ‘relaxation mode’ and ‘work mode’ by presenting announcements when it sees fit, sans boundaries. By turning off work-related email notifications from our personal devices, we can set a technological boundary between our home and work lives. When we become comfortable with this level of balance, we can go on to remove notifications for personal apps and social media accounts. This gives us the opportunity to actively check our mail and apps, but remove the disturbances caused by constantly receiving new notifications.

3. Practice a mindfulness activity daily

Worrying about work outside of work hours can sometimes feel inevitable, especially if there is a looming deadline or a massive project riding on your efforts. Having dinner with your family while your mind is mentally filing work emails is still a sign of ‘presence bleed’ – a phenomenon coined by Australian author Melissa Gregg, describing the way work can impinge on the personal lives of employees.

Mindfulness activities are designed to ground individuals into the present moment and focus on the task at hand. Practising mindfulness does not have to incorporate 15 minutes of meditation if that’s not your cup of tea. You could try a mindfulness colouring book, or simply 10 minutes of mindful journaling in the evenings to reflect and decompress after a stressful day (suggestions of a few apps are listed below). Mindfulness is something that even the kids can learn to incorporate day to day.

4. Pace yourself

Stress from work can emanate from a variety of sources – but the most unexpected yet likely source is often ourselves. Perfectionism is an issue that can occur from a young age, but without proper weaning, may enter our adult and professional lives without our awareness. Continuing to make sacrifices in order to reach perfection in our professional lives can place a massive strain on our personal lives and relationships.

The key to pacing yourself is striving for progress and excellence, not perfection. Weaning yourself off perfectionism and the lure of over-working is not an overnight task. It takes baby steps and a concerted effort to actively nurture your wellbeing and health. This does not mean putting your work life second – the scales will always wobble to where you put the most pressure – but it’s about being mindful of evenly distributing care to both your professional and personal lives.

Some great apps to get you started:

  • Smiling Mind
  • Headspace: Guided Meditation and Mindfulness
  • Stop, Breath and Think: Meditation and Mindfulness
  • Breathing Zone
  • Calm
  • Mind the Bump