A “Stress at Work Report” by LinkedIn showed that 49 per cent of professionals are stressed in their jobs. The number one reason for that stress, as indicated by 70 per cent of the respondents, is a lack of work-life balance. Another study published last year by HRDrive showed that 60 per cent of 18-34-year-olds stated they are stressed “over a poor work-life balance” that is hurting their work productivity.
Given these studies were published long before our homes became our offices, it is clear that a lack of work-life balance has been a challenge for most for quite some time. However, achieving balance has become even more difficult for those now working from home. As one colleague told me, “it is simply too easy to walk over to my laptop and start cranking knowing that my work is just steps away”.
Achieving a healthy balance between work and life will not just happen, in fact, as my friend stated, more and more people are struggling. Numerous studies show that the average workday has expanded by two to three hours for those working from home. To correct this negative trend, workers and managers alike must make opportunities to create a balance, and it is in so doing you will find improved health and productivity.
Here are a few ways to get a handle on the elusive balance.
Establish boundaries rather than trying to achieve balance
I have spoken many times about the need to establish boundaries rather than trying to achieve balance. Boundaries are more permanent, they can be defined, and they can be measured as opposed to balance.
Setting boundaries begins by aligning your priorities, including relationships, self-care, time with family, work etc. Once you’ve defined your priorities, you should establish boundaries to ensure that each of those priorities is protected.
For instance, I have a boundary established to maximise the time with my wife. This means that we have time each morning with no phones and before the work starts to have coffee together. It is something that I value and hold as a high priority. After that time, I then begin my work for the day.
Your boundaries can be the same for your work. Use ‘time blocking’ to protect work priorities and ensure you do not get distracted.
For your boundaries to stick, make sure you establish them with your partner and with your manager and then make them known, you will be better for it!
Be ready for change
Change is one of the biggest causes of this lack of balance – as almost anyone will tell you, change is hard. We have grown accustomed to making work the top priority in our lives for many reasons, but the reality is that we all have limited capacity to do quality work.
If you want to achieve balance (or establish boundaries), you must change your relationship with work. One thing I have found useful is the use of a trigger. My trigger is shutting my laptop and turning off my monitor at the end of a workday and saying, “I am done!” This is my mental cue that indicates I am done for the day, and it enables me to disconnect, walk out of my home office and engage in my personal life in a meaningful way.
Having a trigger that shifts your mental perspective is a valuable tool that will help you make the necessary change.
2016 was the first time, much to my embarrassment, I did not take my laptop on a family vacation. During the time away, my then 17-year old daughter thanked me for leaving my work at home. I responded by assuring her that when I did work on a holiday, I always made sure to do it before she and her brothers woke up. She responded by saying, “that’s true, but then you would spend the rest of the day thinking about what you worked on.” A true gut punch that taught me a lesson.
Just because we are not seated in front of a computer or screen does not mean that we are not working. Our valued relationships deserve our presence and full attention, and when our thoughts are on our work, we are anything but balanced.
Be sure to be mindful of where your attention lies and the lack of availability to those who need it, as those relationships are far more rewarding than anything we can ever achieve professionally.
Working from home has added a layer of complexity to most professionals’ work life, and it can seem impossible to achieve balance. I, for one, can attest to the fact that small shifts can lead to big changes in both your work and your personal life. Create the opportunity to live a balanced life!