Q: My work seems to be taking over my life. How can I create a better work-life balance?
A: We live in a world where busyness is a badge of honour and overwork is rewarded with greater opportunities professionally. Unfortunately, this culture around work is not conducive to a healthy life. More and more people are taking leaves from their jobs to recuperate from the toxic stresses of the workplace environment and the pressure of unrealistic expectations. It is becoming increasingly imperative that individuals take steps to guard their wellness to promote sustainability in their careers and to ensure that they are effective in the work that they do. Of course, wellness is also an important factor in the ability to enjoy your life outside of work! As mentioned in last issue’s column, self-care is the foundation of a healthy life, but we can only practice self-care if we make space in our lives to do so. Creating margin and time to rest is essential to maintain work-life balance and establishing boundaries is the best way to ensure that work doesn’t continue to take over your life.
Boundaries on your time: Work will expand to fill whatever time it is allotted and so you need to set reasonable time limits on your working hours, especially if you find yourself in a career that doesn’t have a fixed work day. Studies have revealed that the quality of one’s work (and, consequently, one’s life) diminishes significantly after more than 50 hours of work in a week; interestingly, the optimal work week for personal health and professional satisfaction is actually slightly under 40 hours a week. The message is clear: working long hours is neither helpful nor healthy. Unhealthy workers are less effective and engaged, make more mistakes, and tend to miss more work due to sick time. In contrast, productivity and quality often increase when we work smarter with fewer hours rather than harder with a never-ending slog. Many find the practice of sabbath-keeping, even if it is not for religious reasons, a helpful boundary to ensure that at least one day in seven is protected for rest and rejuvenation. Taking regular vacations from work is important but even something as simple as actually taking your lunch break and getting out of the office for an hour can be an excellent way to promote balance in your work day.
Boundaries on your technology: Another common challenge in creating balance in our work schedules is the way that technology – primarily the smartphone – has made it possible to be accessible 24/7. However, just because this is possible, it doesn’t mean that it is beneficial. Technology is a tool to be managed; it should not manage us. If you find yourself compulsively checking work emails, consider blocking the notifications so that you are not alerted each time an email arrives in your inbox. Decide in advance when you will check your email and how much time you will allow for that part of your work. Maybe your job requires you to do some overtime or work from home but make a conscious decision to say how much is reasonable and when that time is up, shut down and walk away from the computer. Designate a spot in your home where your phone is left each night so work doesn’t go to bed with you. You may decide to only start work after you have had your own personal or family time each morning, even if you could log in earlier. Technology use in the bedroom can cause significant sleep difficulties and going to work well-rested is an important part of minimizing your workplace stress.
When it comes to managing your work, you have the power to make changes through the implementation of boundaries. Taking action that will protect your time and accessibility will bring more life back into your work-life balance.
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