3 Simple Steps to Increase Work Life Balance
We all work in some form or another to pay the bills and enjoy the lifestyle we want to live. It doesn’t matter if you’re an employee or entrepreneur – each role shares similar concerns for balancing the important things at work and dedicating time to quality experiences and relationships at home. It’s a challenge that is growing as the relentless advance of technology further blurs the line between our professional and personal lives.
One thing I discovered is work-life balance requires setting work-life priorities. Wishing for a more balanced life won’t make it happen unless mindful action is taken to align your life with your goals.
That may mean you can’t do it all right now. Having it all and finding balance are often at opposite ends of the spectrum. A lot of wildly successful entrepreneurs and business leaders put in over 100 hours a week at work, but their personal lives take a hit. Some of these high performers may even consider this a good balance for them. It comes down to knowing what’s important to you: balance is subjective, and it looks different for everyone.
Here’s how you can use work-life priorities to create your ideal work-life balance in three steps:
Step 1 - Prioritize: The first step to understanding what balance looks like for you is by determining your must-haves versus the nice-to-haves.
- List and Schedule: Start with a piece of paper or spreadsheet and create two columns: one for work and one for home. In each column make a list of projects, tasks and appointments. Don’t worry about prioritizing yet, just list everything that comes to mind.
- Once you have your lists, go back and highlight the top 5 in each column. These become your Top 10 critical priorities.
- Schedule time in your calendar or planner for the top 10 and make them non-negotiable.
- Go back to your list and cross off anything that represents unnecessary, busywork that doesn’t move the needle for you. Move these items to a ‘reserve’ list of tasks that you can take on after your other priorities have been met.
- Any remaining items on your list are mid-level priorities. Schedule these into your calendar around your Top 10.
- Tip: Do this as a weekly (or monthly) exercise to stay on top of your most recent commitments.
Step 2 – Optimize: Prioritization shows you the what and when for your must-do tasks. Optimization helps with the how. Optimizing how you manage tasks can add valuable hours back to your week that you didn’t even know you had.
- Cut the Clutter: Rummaging through mountains of paperwork every time you need to find something important takes precious minutes and causes frustration. If your work area is obscured by piles of papers, notes and random stuff, it’s time to clean up. Declutter your work area and create a system for handling the things you need to keep handy. Cutting clutter increases productivity and relieves the stress of not being able to find what you’re looking for.
- Embrace Single Tasking: Multi-tasking was once touted as the ultimate productivity hack, but scientific research shows this practice can make you less productive. Continually switching between tasks can cost you up to 40% of your productive time. Instead of taking on multiple tasks at once, focus on one project at a time. Dedicate one-to-two-hour chunks of time in your calendar to focus exclusively on your top tasks. Avoid email, texts and phone calls during this time. Author Tim Ferriss also suggests that you schedule no more than two heavy-lifting tasks for any given workday.
- Reset Your Mind: Schedule a 15-minute reset after completing a big task or long meeting. This breaks up your day and allows you to start fresh and focused on your next big task. Some ways to reset include taking a meditation break, closing your eyes for a quick 15-minute catnap or taking a short walk.
- Forget Perfection: Going over and over a project to find every small nitpicky thing to fix takes precious minutes and before you know it, you’re running behind and feeling compelled to extend your workday. Good enough is truly good enough. Once you’ve finished a project, stop dwelling and ship it.
- Eliminate Distractions: Technology has trained us to respond to every beep, blip and buzz as soon as we hear it. Distraction is the enemy of productivity. When you’re immersed in a task, silence your phone, turn off notifications and shut down your email to avoid getting derailed by constant interruption. I use an app called Forest to keep me off my phone during block time – the app even lets you plant a real tree when you reach certain milestones of no phone time.
Step 3 – Invest: Achieving ideal balance means investing in yourself. If you’re stressed out, burnt out and bordering on chronic illness, you can’t serve anyone well. Self-care is a crucial part of finding balance.
- Watch Your Wellbeing: If your health is a hot mess, productivity, energy and motivation will be missing in action. Schedule time for exercise and downtime. Invest in a healthy diet and supplements and listen to your body when it’s telling you to take a break.
- Designate Work-Free Time: Use your vacation time. If you can’t take a week or two at a time, carve out a day or two each month that you can take off. Make a point of not bringing work with you on vacation. During your work week, set a hard stop time for the end of your day and plan for work-free time every evening. If a critical project needs your attention, block out time between arriving home and jumping back into your project to go to the gym, have dinner with family or read a (non-work related) book.
- Set Boundaries: What is precious to you? If weekends are sacred family time, set a boundary of not working weekends. Other boundary ideas: not working after you leave the office each day, not taking work phone calls after 6 p.m., taking your whole lunch hour for non-work downtime.
- Get Help: If your schedule is getting out of hand, ask for help. Reach out to a coworker for assistance on a project, decide what can be delegated to a team member, ask your partner if they can take care of cooking or ordering in dinner. Having resources to share the load can go a long way to restoring balance.
Instead of trying to do it all, seeking balance through work-life prioritization can reduce stress and bring more satisfaction to your day. Start by using the steps above to find a renewed sense of happiness at work and home.
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