Thanks to remote work, super-smart tech, and more flexible schedules, a distinct divide between your professional and personal lives may feel next to impossible, these days.
But a healthy work-life balance doesn’t involve a perfect, 50/50 split — or any kind of numbers, for that matter.
“We don’t have personal lives and professional lives. We have one life with many roles and facets,” explains Sally Anne Carroll, a life and career reinvention coach and author of the book “Reinvent Your Reality: A Positively Practical Guide to Revitalizing Your Life & Work.”
Carroll notes that having a good work-life balance “means showing up for the various parts of your life in the way that you want to show up, and that no one area has taken control to the detriment of the rest of your life.”
With so much fluidity, how do you know when things are amiss?
You might have trouble meeting important obligations, feel as if you can’t keep up, or tend to overwork, Carroll says.
According to Rebecca Phillips, a licensed professional counselor and owner of Mend Modern Therapy, your work-life balance may need some tweaking if:
- you’re experiencing difficulties in your relationships
- you’ve become negative, cynical, irritable, or resentful
- you’re emotionally, physically, or mentally exhausted
You also might feel out-of-sorts, overwhelmed, or constantly pulled in many different directions, says Shira Miller, a certified executive coach and author of “Free and Clear: Get Unstuck and Live the Life You Want.”
Any of these signs hit a bit close to home? The 12 tips below can help you carve out a meaningful, fulfilling work-life balance, on your own terms.
Before you start making changes, it’s important to remember that a good work-life balance is “highly individual,” says Carroll.
“What feels balanced to a young professional without family or team responsibilities will be different than what feels balanced to a high-level executive leading a large company or to a working mother with children,” she says.
In other words, focus on your own roles, responsibilities, and goals.
Work-life balance is “about being in integrity with your values and the responsibilities you choose to take on,” says Carroll. So consider reflecting on what’s important, essential, and nonnegotiable to you.
What are your values? What experiences, habits, and relationships fulfill you? When you pause and close your eyes, what kind of life do you picture?
After identifying your overarching values and ideal life, consider how they translate into your everyday routine.
Maybe for you, balance involves:
- working out most mornings
- picking your kids up from school on time every day
- taking the whole weekend off
- having slower, no-tech evenings
- taking a monthly 2-day retreat by yourself
Once you’ve narrowed down those essentials, you can start to explore the steps you need to take to live out your values on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
Think about how you currently spend your time in your various roles. You might find it helpful to track your time for a week or two to better understand where the hours and minutes of each day go.
Then ask yourself:
- What tasks can I delegate to someone else (like a co-worker, helping professional, partner, or child)?
- What tasks can I skip altogether?
- What tasks can I spend less time on?
Once you’ve outlined your daily priorities, a good next step involves reflecting on whether you can make any changes at work to help your ideal balance become a reality.
Perhaps you can:
- start work an hour later a few days a week to take your child to school
- leave an hour earlier to make their 4 p.m. soccer practice
- take a longer lunch once a week to drive your mom to her doctor’s appointment
- work slightly longer days 4 days a week
- work from home once or twice a week
It never hurts to ask your supervisor about your options instead of assuming nothing can be done. They may not be able to accommodate every request, but there’s always the chance they can meet you in the middle.
Building a fulfilling life requires energy. And, as you might already know, you’ll generally feel better when you can give energy to your most important roles.
You can honor your energy in several ways. For starters, says Phillips, pay attention to your body. When do you feel most alert and ready to tackle your responsibilities?
If you have some flexibility, prioritize the most important tasks when you’re at that energetic peak. Then try to rest when your energy naturally takes a nosedive.
Also, identify habits, activities, and people that drain your energy. For example, says Phillips, you might have a friend who loves to gossip while you carpool to work. But the negativity puts a cloud over your whole morning. Instead, you might start spending your commute listening to music that boosts your mood.
Not sure how to start identifying energy drains? Take a day or two to jot down how you feel during and after each of your daily activities.
Whether you’re going into work or working from home, you may benefit from creating stricter boundaries around your job. This way, you won’t feel like you’re constantly “at work.”
Plus, your mind and body can genuinely relax and recharge (or at least refocus, if your full household isn’t exactly the paragon of calm).
Naama Zusman, a certified health coach and licensed career coach, shares these examples of helpful boundaries:
- Delete email and work-related apps from your phone.
- Use an app to block work email and apps during non-working hours.
- Put your laptop in a drawer at the end of the workday.
- Have a separate work phone, and turn it off at the end of each workday.
- Create different email accounts for work and personal communication.
If you don’t set a distinct end to your workday, you might feel stuck in work mode even when you stop working for the day.
To minimize stress and ensure you don’t bring negativity home, even if “home” is simply a different room or table, Zusman recommends having a transition ritual. This ritual is simply something that represents the end of the workday and the transition to the next part of your day, Zusman explains.
Your ritual can be as brief or elaborate as you like. A few example rituals include:
- changing into comfortable clothes
- lighting a candle
- taking a short walk
- making a cup of tea
- cuddling with a pet
- checking in with your family
“Schedule your well-being,” recommends Miller.
Along with your work meetings and tasks, block off time for anything that supports your emotional, mental, and physical well-being.
For example, you might put these activities in your planner:
- lunch with a friend
- morning yoga
- browsing the library
- after-work walks
- meditation breaks
- a trip to the beach
Try to protect these wellness breaks the same way you would any work-related appointments.
Do you take advantage of your vacation days and PTO? According to 2018 survey from the United States Travel Association, more than half of Americans didn’t use their paid vacation days.
Not taking time off can quickly lead to burnout and make you feel as if all you ever do is work.
When you get sick, take the day off — completely — without logging into your work email or trying to file a report, says Jill Duffy, a writer and author of the book “The Everything Guide to Remote Work.”
Taking a sick day or several is tougher for independent workers, like freelancers and small business owners, “but running yourself down doesn’t pay off in the long run either,” points out Duffy.
Your work-life balance can take a hit when you have a hard time concentrating and completing tasks, which can happen all too easily when working from home.
Up your productivity, suggests Duffy, by:
- setting a timer for 25 to 50 minutes for a single task
- writing down any distracting thoughts that come up so you can address them later
- taking a short break after each focused spurt
You might assume you need to reach a point of crisis in order to work with a therapist. But therapists can be an excellent resource when it comes to creating a healthy work-life balance.
A therapist can help you identify specific things that might make your life fulfilling and outline steps to help get you there, explains Phillips.
Specifically, she says, therapists can support you in:
- setting short and long-term goals
- identifying obstacles to achieving a better balance
- creating boundaries around time
- increasing your motivation
- staying accountable to the changes you’d like to make
A good work-life balance will take a different shape for every person.
Ultimately, the key lies in figuring out what a meaningful, fulfilling life involves for you. Then check with your job and schedule to see what tangible changes you can make — even the tiniest tweaks can go a long way toward helping you feel more fulfilled.
Remember, your work-life balance will often shift as you adopt new roles and retire old ones. So check in with yourself regularly to make sure you prioritize what’s important to you. These check-ins can offer space to reflect on what needs adjusting and explore resources that can help you make those changes.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, has been writing for Psych Central and other websites for more than a decade on a wide range of topics. She’s the author of the mental health journal “Vibe Check: Be Your Best You” (Sterling Teen). She’s especially passionate about helping readers feel less alone and overwhelmed and more empowered. You can connect with Margarita on LinkedIn, or check out her writing at her website.