Several years ago, when I transitioned from full-time status in a busy publishing house to working as an independent contractor based out of my home, I was ecstatic. I had grown a bit weary of the 9-to-5 grind, and I looked forward to the flexibility of my new working arrangement. Plus, I knew I was disciplined and organized enough that I wouldn’t have a problem with distractions, procrastination and the like.
In fact, I ended up having the opposite problem: I worked too many hours. I rarely closed the door to my office. I rushed to answer my office phone whenever it rang, regardless of day or time. I checked my e-mail relentlessly. In short, I let work merge into my home life. And my sense of serenity evaporated, right along with my safe haven, where I could unplug from the office.
If you, too, are finding it difficult to strike a healthy work-life balance—whether you are working from home or in an office —know that you are far from alone. According to a Harvard Business School survey, a full 94 percent of consultants and other professionals reported that they clock in at 50-plus hours per week; almost 50 percent said they work more than 65.1
Even worse, in our culture of the never-ending workday, many people don’t get the chance to truly unplug. According to a poll of more than 1,000 American employees, 27 percent said they check their phones for work-related issues within 15 minutes of waking up.2 And 82 percent report that they’ve handled work-related emails while on vacation!
Needless to say, a lack of work-life balance isn’t healthy … not for you, not for your home life and not for your significant other. But there are steps you can take—starting today—to bring more balance into your life. Here’s how.
If you’re new to a job, resist the temptation to work unreasonably long hours; doing so establishes a habit that can be difficult to break. What’s more, your co-workers may come to expect that those are the hours you’ll always keep. On the other hand, if you establish reasonable work hours from the beginning, you’re more likely to stick to them—and your office mates are more likely to respect them.
And if you think that working more hours makes you more productive, it’s worth rethinking. According to an article published in the Harvard Business Review, numerous studies have found that long hours don’t seem to equate to more work being accomplished.3 And it doesn’t stop there—stress caused by overwork may lead to a host of health problems including impaired sleep, diabetes, impaired memory and even heart disease.3
2. Establish end-of-workday routines.
Choose specific activities that you will do at the end of each day to reinforce that the workday is over. For instance, you might turn off your computer monitor, straighten your office and make a to-do list for the next day. Also, consider doing something symbolic as you arrive home. One dad I knew would pause on his way to the front door and place a hand on his favorite tree, mentally signifying that he was home—and that the day’s work was behind him.
It’s impossible to achieve that vital disconnect from work—and gain work-life balance in the process—if you don’t make the commitment to leave work at work. Do everything you can not to check your email or voicemail once you leave the office or end your work day; if you must check it, resolve to do so only once. (To avoid conflict or unmet expectations, just be sure to alert your co-workers ahead of time.) Disconnecting from work—electronically, mentally and physically—is vital to recovering from work stress during non-work hours, research shows.4
Having a hard time ignoring your phone? Try turning it off when you get home—or, at a minimum, turn off your notifications.
5. Take time for yourself.
It can be hard to dedicate time for yourself when you’re juggling work and family demands and the multitude of duties that go along with them. But it’s vital that you find time to tend to your own needs. Even if it’s simply a warm bath with candles, a quiet walk around the neighborhood or a cup of tea in the early morning, try to find time for regular self-care … and give yourself the permission to do it.
6. Schedule leisure activities.
If it’s on your calendar, chances are better that you’ll actually exercise. Or go to lunch with a friend. Or have a date with your spouse.
7. Commit to taking a vacation at least once a year.
When I worked full-time, I became a hoarder when it came to my vacation days. I found a dozen different ways to rationalize not taking some much-needed time off, but the fact is, I just liked to see the hours accrue. Other than a few days here and there, I never quite got around to taking the vacation that I—and my family—needed and deserved.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Realize that taking time away from the office is vital to achieving work-life balance, then commit to taking a vacation at least once a year. If budget is an issue, keep this in mind: Your vacation can be restful and restorative without breaking the bank (think camping, visiting friends and family or taking a road trip). Just be sure to leave the email and voicemail behind!
Remember, it’s never too late to make changes to improve your health and wellness. With the right mindset, the conviction to make it happen and some good old trial and error, you can achieve work-life balance … and make yourself—and your loved ones—happier and healthier in the process.
Life is all about balance! If you’re ready to start living a healthier lifestyle, Jenny Craig can help. Contact us to book your free appointment to meet with a personal weight loss consultant today.
Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus.
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