I would venture to guess that many of you do not balance work and the rest of your life in a healthy way. There is all kinds of research suggesting you don’t. About 80 percent of working people experience on-the-job stress and about half of them need help managing stress. Considering that stress is the number one health problem in the U.S. today (and one of the main factors contributing to heart attacks), work/life balance should not be taken lightly.
I want to discuss some ways to keep a stress-free work/life balance. Of course, it’s very personal. We all have different lives, different priorities, and different types of jobs. But it doesn’t matter. There are certain concepts that are universal.
The first thing you always have to do, which a lot of you don’t want to admit but really must, is that stress a) takes years off your life, and b) diminishes the quality of your health. It’s not something you can just ignore.
Get your priorities clear. Do something as simple as making a list of all of the responsibilities and obligations you have in a week, or a day. Just make a list. Right now, pull out a piece of paper and start making one. Don’t list things in order; just list ALL the things you’re responsible for. Then decide what is really the most important to you. If you put your family first, then you will be able to turn down a promotion if you realize that the extra money isn’t going to be worth it to you. If it’s your job, then you will focus your entire life around your work, and you can say “bye bye” to free time and fun activities with loved ones. There’s always a choice, and each of us has to make it. When you set priorities, you should prepare yourself for the consequences of the choices and be OK with them. If you’re not OK with them, then you really haven’t made the choice.
Next, don’t try to focus on too many things at the same time. You may want to be a fabulous parent or cook, have the hottest body around, spend tons of time with friends, complete 14 different projects around the house, do charity work, visit with family, etc. But you can’t do it all! Sorry! You’re basically going to have to make some choices. You have to prioritize your activities, learn how to compromise, and let people know the limits of what you’re willing to do so you don’t get all crazed. Just do one thing at a time. For all you Type-A personalities, this is something you’re going to have to learn because the result of doing a million things at the same time leads to stress, low productivity, over-exhaustion, and burnout.
Whatever it is you’re doing, you should be in that moment and no place else in your head. I have learned this lesson quadruple times over when learning to shoot pool (which I still contend is the most difficult thing I do in life). With the tip of a stick, I hit one ball, which then has to move and hit another ball at just the right angle to put it in the pocket. If I don’t hit the ball exactly in the center, or don’t move my body, it won’t work. I have missed straight shots by 6 inches because my head was someplace else. It is amazing to me how much learning to shoot pool teaches you about life. I realize when I’m deciding which ball to hit, how to hit it, and where the cue ball should end up, that better be the only thing on my mind. I can’t be thinking about my program, my hair, my family, or the dogs – I can’t be worrying about anything. To put it simply, I have to invest everything I have right into that moment. It’s called “focus.”
So, when you’re with your children, with your spouse, or at work, that’s where your head should be. No matter where you are and what you’re doing, that’s the only place your head should be. That’s what cuts down on stress. When you’re trying to subdivide your attention, you don’t do anything well, and that’s stressful in itself.
Cut out unnecessary activities. Unnecessary activities clutter your schedule and steal precious time from the activities that you need to do and truly enjoy doing. Sometimes you folks waste a lot of time in front of the TV, or you spend a lot of time on social media nonsense. Once you get your priorities clear, it should be easy for you to spot what’s unnecessary. A curtain has to come down between the activities you love to do and the things you need to toss. That recently happened to me. I dropped an iron curtain and cut an activity out of my life. It freed me up to do other things.
Protect your “non-work” time. Your free time is an asset that you should protect at all costs. When we work, we usually have a certain number of hours allocated to working. For some reason when it comes to free time, we forget how important it is. It won’t bring you extra income, it won’t get you a promotion, but it will make you a happy and balanced person.
A good 30 years ago, a major metropolitan magazine section was going to do a whole profile on me and all of my activities, which there have always been many. When the piece came out, one of my competitors went on the radio the next day and boasted that they did not fritter time away with such activities, but only focused on work (as though that were a good thing?!). I thought that was hilarious because your non-work time is really important to your self-esteem, your well-being, your health, cleansing your mind, and having fun. Life is not supposed to be just a work farm. Enjoyment in life is part of living. It makes you a more well-rounded person, and it’s better for your physical health as well as emotional health.
I am ferocious about protecting non-work time. It’s sacred time for me, the same way work is sacred time.
Declutter. The more junk you have around your house, on your desk, or even on your schedule, the more projects you immediately envision ahead of you. When you start panicking, “Oh my gosh, I have to do that and that and that,” you have too much clutter. Declutter your schedule by getting rid of unnecessary activities. Also, declutter some part of your house every week. I recently spent time going into my knitting/sewing room, tearing it apart, and putting it back together. The projects had piled up to the point that I couldn’t work in there anymore (when you go into a room and see 10,000 things to do, more often than not, you’re just going to turn around and walk out). But now that I’ve straightened up, I can work in the room again. Cleaning and straightening up is not the most fun thing in the world, but when it’s done, it looks pretty. And now I’ve even started a new project in there, which I could not have done in the midst of the clutter.
Be great at your job. One of the secrets to a good work/life balance is actually appreciating the work you do. If you absolutely hate what you are doing then you probably will be off-balance. Even if there are a lot of things you don’t like about it, if there’s at least something you do appreciate, then you’ll be able to produce results and generate ideas. However, if you’re not doing the work you feel you were meant to do, you had better shift. If you have a lot of responsibilities or don’t have the freedom to make the shift, then you’re probably going to have to re-prioritize in your mind and make, for example, your family the most important. In that case, work will shift to protecting, preserving, and providing for your spouse and kids. And that’s something you can do well and take pride in.
As you can see, it really all comes down to this: work/life balance is just about attitude and making choices.