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5 ways to improve your work/life balance

Juggling the demands of a busy career with the need to relax and spend time with loved ones can be difficult.

The 24/7 availability of the internet might have given you the flexibility to work on the train or receive instant responses from colleagues across the globe, but it can also bring with it a creeping temptation to check your work emails at home, or to Skype the office from your luxury holiday villa.

Striking a healthy balance between work and downtime is crucial to your physical and mental wellbeing, and can also improve your efficiency and productivity at work.

Here are five ways to improve your work/life balance.

1. Be realistic

You might be searching for a perfect balance. You might even have an idea of what that looks like. But is it realistic?

Modern life can be complicated. You’ll likely have multiple parties vying for your attention at any one time and splitting your time equally between each might not be possible – or even desirable.

A promotion at work, or a period of business expansion, might mean you’re busier for a few months. Equally, the demands of a busy home life or a change in personal circumstances could impact on your ability to work.

Think of work/life balance not as a daily fifty-fifty split but as something to achieve over a week or a month, or even a year.

Seen in the context of a longer period you might see patterns – areas when you can claw back some personal time or give more to work.

2. Switch off and unplug

What you can do daily is give yourself a distinct cut-off between home and work.

However busy you are: regardless of what time you leave the office, once you get home, it’s important to switch off, physically and emotionally.

Research commissioned by Mind has found that work is ‘the most stressful factor in people’s lives with one in three people (34%) saying their work-life was either very or quite stressful, more so than debt or financial problems (30%) or health (17%).’

If you’re tempted to check your work emails at home, don’t. Switch off the Wi-Fi if you have to. Your evenings should be for winding down – whether that’s spending time with family and friends, enjoying a hobby, or simply relaxing.

Read a book. Research conducted in 2009 found that just 30 minutes of reading is as effective as yoga for reducing stress. If you don’t like reading, try yoga!

The important thing is to find something that you enjoy, that relaxes you, and that has nothing to do with work.

You’ll feel the benefits on the next day’s commute.

3. Take a break

Taking regular breaks during the working day is important. Even one half-hour lunch break, away from the office and preferably in the fresh air, will recharge your brain.

A recent report in the Harvard Business Review urges employers to build regular breaks into the working day as our brain can only focus ‘for around 90 to 120 minutes before it needs to rest.’

Lack of rest can lead to stress and burnout, a problem that ‘costs the U.S. more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal, and insurance costs,’ the report concludes.

Time out means that you can return to work invigorated – and maybe with a fresh perspective.

The light exercise of a lunchtime walk, or the calming effect of a three-minute meditation, might seem like a small step, but build them into your daily routine and they will become a habit.

Longer-term, be sure to take a holiday.

UK law entitles those working a five-day week to 28 days holiday a year and yet, according to recent research from HR Management firm BrightHR, 77% of UK workers still have unused holiday leave. In addition, 59% of employees say they have no option to carry over their leave until next year, and so not using annual leave often means people lose it.

It doesn’t matter whether you stay at home on the sofa or head for that luxury holiday villa, as long as you leave your work laptop behind.

Whether a day off or a two-week break, forget work while you’re away and allow yourself the much-needed opportunity to recharge.

4. Busyness doesn’t equal success

A successful career can seem all-consuming. Finding the time to unwind is crucial for your health and wellbeing but it can also benefit the business as a whole.

Businesses that promote a healthy work/life balance may find they have less stressed, and more focused, staff. That can lead to some, or all, of the following benefits:

  • Better staff retention
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased morale
  • Higher employee engagement
  • More profits

Take control of your work/life balance and do your best to ensure your company understands the benefits too.

A 2017 University of Bristol study found that happy workers were up to 10% more productive, so staff with a good work/life balance might just be better staff.

5. Prioritise your health

It should go without saying but your physical and mental health should be your main priority.

Recognise the signs of physical, and mental fatigue, and take proactive steps to redress the balance. Daily exercise or meditation can help. Factor exercise into your daily routine and – where possible – don’t allow overrunning meetings or busy work periods to upset your schedule.

Also know that you can call in sick if you need to. You might have meetings or deadlines approaching but a day off work now may speed up your recovery and prevent a period of longer sickness in the future.

You will be a better employee if you’re physically and mentally healthy and part of that comes from understanding the benefits of a good work/life balance.

Get the balance right and you might begin to enjoy work more, whilst having increased time at home with your friends and family, doing the things you enjoy.