Is work-life balance achievable? Anyone engaged in contemporary society will inevitably find that our working life will require some form of sacrifice in what we consider our time off.
It could be turning down a party or a get-together with friends because of unscheduled overtime, or it could be a dentist appointment that’s been rescheduled a few times. These occurrences are quite normal for a working individual. We simply accept them as a fact of life.
But then, there are imperatives we would find unacceptable to miss out on. Missing your mother’s birthday because of an important work meeting would be totally understandable, wouldn’t it?
Let’s be honest
Navigating a busy life and doing one’s best to thrive and survive the realities of fast-paced life is no joke. The sacrifices that a person sometimes needs to make cost them a lot more than they realize. Many succumb to the tendency to overwork in exchange for the hope to achieve a stable future.
They may put off a lot of rewarding activities, such as taking time for self-care or catching up with friends or family, because work just seems so demanding that, the moment we set it aside, it feels like a whole road ahead may crumble. Little do we know that once we fall into this pattern, it is our present life that we’re putting at stake. This is why many of us, even after weeks of complying with all the work demands and then some more, don’t feel fulfilled.
What should I do to start feeling fulfilled? How would I even squeeze a bit of time for myself? How do I not let myself get too swayed by work demands?
Have you ever paused for a moment to ponder these questions? Perhaps you’ve only started asking them now that you’re reading this. Either way, if any of these issues resonate with you, you have certainly come to the right place. To figure out how to live your life to the fullest, let’s first explore the idea of work-life balance.
What is work-life balance?
The popular term “work-life balance” points to the need for workers to have time for work but also be able to set aside periods for other aspects of life, such as family-related occasions or personal interests. It stems from the idea that rest is essential to be productive and deliver quality work. In the midst of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, industrialists came to an agreement that workers must be granted a day off.
In the 1940s, a two-day weekend became common in the United States, although the workers’ paradise behind the Iron Curtain had to wait four more decades to achieve this standard. Since it was mostly manual labor, workers were able to fully rest once they left the work sites. Today, the International Labor Organization considers regimes with more than 48-hour-long working weeks excessive.
The new meaning of the phrase “work-life balance” appeared along with the emergence of technological evolution back in the mid-1980s. Technological innovations such as smartphones have made it possible for workers to stay in touch with work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The environment for remote working has been set, and this also meant that employees are expected to be “on-call” at all times, which prevented them from genuinely resting after their original working hours. Complaints about not being able to have a life outside of work have been made, thus giving birth to the phrase “work-life balance.”
Importance of work-life balance
There is something suspect about the term though. It is as if “work” as opposed to “life” and thus “work” was not part of “life”. This dichotomy is deeply misleading and we can unpack this by going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Briefly, Maslow believed that certain needs were more fundamental than others and therefore, they are typically “satisfied” in a specific order.
The most basic of our needs are physiological needs like food, water, and shelter. What comes after are the different social needs that we have in order to thrive socially. These are the needs to feel safe, to have a sense of belonging, and to feel loved.
These needs are then followed by the more complex requirements, including self-esteem, our desire for meaning, and the need for beauty and order. It is only once we’ve successfully met those needs, that we are finally setting ourselves up to reach the fullest potential as human beings.
If we juxtapose these needs against the means to achieve them, then work is what is expected to provide for our basic needs. The money we earn helps us provide food, water, and shelter for ourselves. But our work also helps us surround ourselves with groups of people, thus fulfilling our need for social belonging.
We know, for example, that long-term unemployment is not only economically damaging but may also lead to psychologically devastating “social death”. And the more complex our needs, the more difficult it is to fulfill them through work alone. This is where lifestyle choices and leisure time become important for our well-being.
This has a number of aspects:
- Fewer Health Problems – We put our physical and emotional health at risk when we are stressed and overworked. Poor work-life balance can cause a number of symptoms that are detrimental to our health, including high blood pressure, strokes, or respiratory diseases.
- More Engagement – By letting ourselves disconnect from work every now and then, we’ll be able to pursue activities that enrich our personal lives. This helps us feel more in control of our lives, thus providing us with a healthy headspace for even greater work flexibility, organization, and performance.
- Less ‘Burnouts’ – When we are able to take a rest from work, we are less likely to develop work burnouts. Burnouts happen when we constantly feel overwhelmed and stressed with little or no time to breathe and digest events in life.
- More Mindfulness – When there’s more work-life balance, we have greater control over our focus and ability to concentrate on the task at hand. We become more present with our surroundings, which results in us becoming more sound and in tune with our environment.
The Harmful Impact of an Unbalanced Work-Life Dynamic
Since work-life balance affects all areas of our lives, the signs that we’re handling it poorly tend to show differently for everyone. Here are the 5 characteristics that are associated with poor balance:
- You’re finding it difficult to draw the boundaries between work and life, which often results in your constantly thinking of work even outside of the work context.
- Your interpersonal relationships are starting to suffer. At work, this may be characterized by your irritability towards your colleagues. Outside of work, you might be starting to feel distant from your loved ones.
- Your personal tasks such as your laundry or mail are starting to pile up, but you can’t seem to find the day when you’ll “have time” to get around them.
- Everything appears uninteresting or irrelevant while you’re not at work. You don’t want to do anything until you absolutely have to. You frequently decline invites, distancing yourself even further from your friends.
- When you’re unwell, physically drained, or need to take care of personal matters, it’s difficult to take time off. You can’t recall your previous trip and have no intentions to even take one.
How to Achieve Work-Life Balance
Even though some employers play a great role in instilling and encouraging a healthier work-life balance, we can still establish certain practices on our own.
Many people find it difficult to ‘unplug’ even if they have sufficient time outside of work. They cannot disengage from their obsessive thoughts about work. It is possible to break this vicious habit with daily mediation. Set aside at least 10 minutes a day for meditation (ideally in the morning), and it will train you to stay focused yet relaxed throughout the day. You can download a free guided breathwork meditation MP3 here.
Take Time Off Between Assignments
Taking breaks between work schedules can help you cope with stress. Since the human body was not built to work for long periods of time, physical motion, such as a small walk or some kinetic exercises, is hugely beneficial. Short pauses like these will help you recuperate from exhaustion and improve your agility at work.
Another method for maintaining a good work-life balance is to plan daily activities at work. It assists people in prioritizing their actions based on the relevance of a task. Furthermore, sticking to a well-planned schedule might help you save a lot of time at work.
When it comes to achieving a work-life balance, time management is crucial. A lot of people tend to overlook this stage. There are many time management techniques. For example, the Pomodoro technique advises you to divide your working time into 30-minutes sessions where 25 minutes are allotted for work, and the remaining 5 minutes are set aside for a break to regain your focus.
Build Hobbies Outside of Work
Reading, art, music, sports, photography, dancing, collecting, creative writing, gardening, language learning, and many other hobbies enrich our life. With all of the ups and downs of juggling a job and a family, we often forget to feed our own dreams and inspirations. Having a pastime activity motivates you to spend time with yourself and assists you in quenching your thirst for more variety in life.
Bringing “Life” back to Work
While all of these points matter, nothing beats the best antidote to the work-life dichotomy: bringing “life” back to “work”. How do achieve this? By taking initiative at your workplace. By launching new projects that you feel you own, engaging in those aspects of your work that you are genuinely good at, improving your skills and testing them successfully in the work context, tasting success and feeling in the flow, organizing routines around repeated tasks and surrounding yourself with colleagues you enjoy working with.
It’s only by genuinely enjoying your life at work that you will be able to enjoy the other aspects of “life” outside work, instead of facing the mounting apprehension as dusk sets on Sunday.
Addition: Tips about Achieving Goals
Now that we’ve grasped the essence of what work-life balance is and how important it is in our lives, putting it into practice is not an easy feat. You may not be able to incorporate these tools right away, but you can start small.
Begin by making it a goal for yourself. Prioritize your personal life, and be intentional in drawing the boundaries of your personal and work matters. To learn how you can stay consistent, check out these additional tips about living by and achieving goals: On Resolutions: Make 2022 the Best Year with These Life Tips and Ideas.
If you need help to develop a better work-life balance, consider hiring a life coach!
If you want to help others develop work-life balance, check out our Coaching Training and Certification Program.