Successfully striking a good work life balance is one of the most important things you will ever do – for your health, for you mental wellbeing and, in short, for living properly. Unfortunately, it is not something that is getting any easier as time goes by. For sure, interest in this topic is such now that the number of resources available to help with achieving this most difficult of tasks only seems to grow and grow. But the fact that there is such hunger to achieve this only reflects that there are many people out there who, so far, have failed to strike an adequate work life balance. If you find yourself delighted to skip out of work when you can for a sandwich or a cigarette by the fire assembly point sign, then you could be one of them.
There are two main reasons why striking a work life balance proves a constant challenge for millions of people. The first is that there is a broad ignorance about what a proper work life balance actually looks like. It cannot, for example, be neatly described as a simple time allocation (X hours of work and Y hours of leisure time); how you manage a work life balance in fact relies on a multiplicity of factors – and it is different for everybody.
The second reason is that, to put forth a fairly depressing fact, the modern world just does not accommodate for a healthy relationship to work. Advancements in communication technology have made so many wonderful things possible, but they have also meant that it is now more difficult than ever to truly leave your work at the office door – or the home office door.
Nevertheless, with a close examination of your personality and the type of work you do – as well as the fortitude to actively make the changes you need to make – it is certainly not a vain task. It is not easy but striking a work life balance can certainly be done. Below are some tips to help you along the way, but there are a few things that need to be understood first.
The rise of the home office
Remote working is something that has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. What has made remote working possible are the aforementioned advancements in communication technology – everything from smartphones to cloud storage to all the apps and software that allow people to work anywhere. More and more people, especially following the Covid-19 pandemic, chose to leave the office – and many never went back.
This phenomenon has certainly made working more flexible and efficient (as well as helping businesses survive the global shut down that followed the pandemic) but that is not to say it made work easy or less stressful. While it might seem that freeing yourself from a place of work would be a good thing for striking a work life balance, working from home is far from a walk in the park.
The reason for this is that, once you are in charge of your own timekeeping and workflow, a level of discipline is required for you to work efficiently and actually finish at the same time you did when you were in the office. It is far too easy to have your working hours expand or the work to become stressful because you are not completing it at the same rate or as successfully as those in an actual working environment.
To succeed at the home office, you need to work well and you need to know when to stop.
It is different for everyone
There are several factors, particular to you, which you need to know before you can even begin to strike a work life balance.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What type of work do you do? This question is more important than “how many hours do you work?” because, to find out how many hours are too many, you need to know how much of a toll working actually takes on you. This is something that will vary for everyone but there are some general rules too. For example, five hours spent doing manual labour can be significantly more taxing than seven hours spent sending the odd e-mail; desk work tires you out in a different way to manual labour; the stakes might be higher in a professional career position than in a part time job. These things all need to be considered.
- How much free time do you need? Quite simply, everybody is different when it comes to this question. For example, your sleeping habits will dictate how much time you need off work, so too will the time you spend going to and from work. Some people may be quite happy with considerably less free time than others.
- How do you want to spend your free time? What do you want to do during your free time? You might spend it chilling on the couch with a beer or you might spend it going hillwalking in the Lake District. What you actually want to do with your free time is an essential thing to know in order to strike a work life balance.
Tips for a work-life balance
Such are the questions you need to ask yourself as you begin to discover what your own, personal work life balance looks like. The following tips, on the other hand, may help you achieve it. Nevertheless, bear in mind that the needs must be general – too much depends on you.
- Have the courage to say ‘no’. Taking on endless amounts of work because you are labouring under the assumption that this is essential for your career or because you feel it is somehow expected of you is a sure way to fail miserably with your work life balance. The most important tip for acquiring enough free time is to simply ask for it. It may well be the case that that amount of work is necessary for your career or it is expected of you, But in that case, maybe you are in the wrong job?
- Learn to recognise burnout. Throughout this article, we have mentioned that knowing what a work life balance is can be pretty tricky. However, it is not so difficult to work out when you don’t have a good work life balance. Nonetheless, many people fail to do this, and fail to recognise the symptoms of burnout until an unpleasant experience comes along. Pay attention to your mental health, how stressed you are by your work and, of course, keep an eye on your general physical health. If you notice any problems in these areas, you are probably heading for burnout.
- Spend your free time well. It was mentioned above that you need to know how you like to spend your free time, so we can only be general here. However, there are a few principles that can be applied. If your work is physically strenuous, relax and rest in your free time; if your work involves staring at a screen all day, get away from the screens in your free time. You should also try to get enough sleep when you are not working and, of course, you should set aside time to do the things you enjoy doing.
Ultimately, striking a work life balance is never easy and the modern world tends not to make it any easier. You owe it to yourself though to get your working and leisure life in harmony.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.