Creating a good work-life balance is a struggle for many people. However, maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, as this concept is fairly new.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known instance of the phrase only dates back to 1977. The dictionary defines the term broadly: “Of or relating to both work and personal life; designating the relationship between the two.”
Today work-life-balance is a common notion and a concept many people pursue. Fortunately, there are some indicators that can help you find out if you’ve managed to achieve a good work-life balance. Let’s get started!
1. You Have Clear Priorities
Coming up with clear priorities for your life means that decisions are easier. You know who is most important to you, and which values you want to focus on with your goals.
If you haven’t yet defined your personal values, you can get started with this article.
Your priorities will shift and evolve over time. This is normal and good! A newly minted lawyer in his/her mid-20s may accept working sixty hours per week to build experience, while a senior professional often has the confidence, experience, and perspective to say no in order to create free time to focus on his/her family or hobbies.
2. You Know When to Say No
Saying no at work is an art. If you constantly say no to the management, your reputation will gradually erode (and your chances for better opportunities and promotions will do the same). On the other hand, a thoughtful no demonstrates that you are thinking through your priorities.
Do your best to only say no when you feel it’s necessary. This is a skill, and one that develops over time. If you feel that you need some time to focus on coping with stress, don’t be afraid to say no to that extra weekend project your boss wants you to take on. Kindly suggest that it can wait until Monday.
3. You Know That Balance Changes Daily
For example, corporate accounting professionals often experience long hours during the month-end process. If you know that you will face longer hours at certain times of the year, plan in advance to meet those commitments. Of course, if you have just completed ten straight weeks of sixty-hour work, then you probably need to reassess your work habits.
The idea is to achieve balance as often as possible but not to stress out when one day feels a little off.
4. You Don’t Measure Value With “Face Time”
Unless your workplace operates based on a billable hour model, simply logging more hours does not create more value. In fact, Parkinson’s Law suggests that adding time to your work day causes you to lose focus. After all, you may think that you can log in “just a few minutes” on Facebook because you can always make up the time later.
Work experience, education and specialization are critical factors in attaining a high income. Simply logging more hours at the office, regardless of value, does not matter. Make the most of your time at the office with good time management skills , and watch the value of your work increase.
5. You Proactively Manage Energy
On a scale of 0 to 10, how would you rate your energy and effectiveness at 10am? How does that compare to 4pm? Many people find that their energy and ability to focus gradually declines throughout the day. If this is happening, it may be time to learn how to manage your energy more.
You may need to get more sleep and use other stress management techniques to keep your energy at a steady level throughout the day. This will help you save some time and energy for when you go home to your family—few spouses and children enjoy spending time with zombies.
It’s normal to experience a lull in energy in the afternoon, but your energy should come back before you clock out. If not, you can try adjusting your diet, squeezing in an afternoon workout, or taking a short nap when you get home in order to stimulate your body’s energy reserves.
6. You Work for a Company That Values Work-Life Balance
Some organizations have a better track record in the area of work-life balance than others. Instead of attempting to change the dysfunctional culture of a large organization by yourself, do yourself a favor and work for an organization that values work-life balance.
Fortunately, more and more companies are recognizing the importance of work-life balance, so you can find good options in many different industries.
If you’re looking for a new job, try to feel out the company culture during your interview. You can even explicitly ask for the hiring managers thoughts on work-life balance.
7. You Exercise Several Times a Week
Some people consider exercise a luxury to be enjoyed and pursued “some time in the future.” If you are living a balanced life, you have understood the importance of getting exercise.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an effective exercise week includes both aerobic activity (e.g. walking, running, cycling, swimming) and muscle-strengthening activities (e.g. lifting weights and/or body weight exercises).
Without an effective exercise routine, your energy levels will decline and that will impact your ability to work and enjoy life.
8. You Plan One Enjoyable Activity Every Day
Anticipation makes life sweeter and more enjoyable. Growing up, you may have looked forward to your birthday or Christmas for weeks. Fortunately, you can harness that same power each and every day with your personal time.
It could be something like reading a book for half an hour, attending a concert, going out for quality time with friends, opening the occasional bottle of wine, or watching a new series on Netflix.
Without something enjoyable to look forward to, the daily grind becomes much more challenging.
9. You Use Your Vacation Days to Relax
One 2019 study reported that “fifty-five percent of workers reported that they did not use all of their vacation days”. Of those lost vacation days, “236 million were completely forfeited, which comes out to $65.5 billion in lost benefits.”
Your paid vacation time is part of your compensation, so failing to use it is like setting cash on fire. Use this time away from work to recuperate your energy and focus on your mental health.
Here are five ideas on how to use vacation time to achieve better work-life-balance:
- Save up money and finally go for that “ bucket list” trip to Europe.
- Use the time to take care of a long-neglected household project.
- Take an extended Christmas vacation.
- Take a class or seminar to deepen your appreciation of your interests.
10. You Use Systems to Stay Focused
Do you have systems and habits to stay focused and productive? That’s one of the best ways to save time so that you leave the office on time each and every day.
You can start by creating some professional assets to increase your effectiveness. You can also experiment with different ways (and different times) to commute to the office. In some organizations, you can achieve a great deal before 9am because the office tends to be quiet early in the morning.
If you have trouble focusing throughout the day, try using block scheduling or the Pomodoro Method to keep you on track.
If you have already managed to create a good work-life balance, that’s great! If you’ve read through this list and realized that you’re missing a few pieces, it’s never too late to get started. Find what helps you feel both productive and fulfilled to create a life you can be proud of.