Work-Life Balance: What It Is and 4 Ways to Improve It
Work-life balance is typically defined as the amount of time you spend doing your
job versus the amount of time you spend with loved ones or pursuing personal
interests and hobbies. When work demands more of your time or attention, you will
have less time to handle your other responsibilities or passions.
Many people want to achieve a greater balance between their work life and their
personal life so that work does not take up the vast majority of their time. However,
the term itself can be misleading because our careers and personal lives don't
always exist in separate spheres.
In response, work-life integration—or the synergistic blending of our personal and
professional responsibilities—has become an increasingly popular concept. From
this perspective, work is simply one aspect of our lives, which needs to be
considered alongside other important concerns, such as our home and family lives,
our community, and our personal well-being. Rather than resembling a scale with
two competing sides, work-life integration more resembles a Venn diagram of
Why is work-life balance important?
Improving your work-life balance can potentially improve your overall well-being,
including your physical, emotional, and mental health. Studies have found that
working long hours can lead to such serious health issues as “impaired sleep,
depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease”.
Unfortunately, as these conditions arise they can also exacerbate our work-life
issues, leading to burnout and other negative repercussions.
While employers and employees might associate long working hours with increased
productivity, many researchers say otherwise. A 2014 study, for example, found that
after workers hit a certain number of hours, their productivity began to decrease as
the potential for mistakes and injuries increased. Achieving a healthy work-life
balance, therefore, can not only potentially reduce stress and improve emotional
states but also increase overall productivity and employers’ bottom line.
4 ways to improve your work-life balance
Below, we've compiled tips for improving your work-life balance. You can begin
trying out one at a time or implementing a few at once. Remember that finding an
approach that works for you is a process and will take time.
1. Pause and evaluate
Taking time out to understand how the various parts of your life are impacting one
another is a necessary step in developing a new work-life integration that serves
your needs. Pause and consider your current work-life situation; ask yourself how
you feel. Some questions you might reflect on include:
- Am I spending enough quality time doing what I really want?
- Am I committing enough time and energy to people or things that are meaningful to me?
- Do I still feel aligned to my professional or personal goals? Why or why not?
As you think through these complex personal questions, journaling your thoughts
and feelings can be a good way to identify the areas you feel need the biggest
adjustments. Ultimately, these questions should help you gain greater clarity on
your current situation.
2. Assess your priorities
Once you have a better sense of what you'd like to adjust, you'll want to begin
identifying what you want to prioritize. Some questions you might ask yourself
- What really matters to me and am I doing enough of it?
- Where can I make compromises? Where can’t I? Where have I been making too many compromises?
3. Time management
Now that you know what your priorities are—whether that's spending more time at
work to aim for a promotion or cutting back on after-hours emails by establishing
boundaries—it's important to figure out how to better manage your time.
Review how you currently spend your time and look for ways to adjust your schedule
where possible. You can "chunk" your time as a way to focus on one area at a time,
or use a matrix system to establish your priorities when new tasks pop up
unexpectedly. Learn more about how to manage your time to boost your
productivity and well-being.
4. Establish boundaries
Establishing boundaries is a crucial part of time management. And communicating
those boundaries will be equally important. If you can no longer respond to emails
promptly after hours because you're with your family, your team will need to know.
Work boundaries fall into one of three categories—physical, emotional, or time. Start
by setting small boundaries and expand from there. Learn more about how to set
better boundaries at work.