Something that has always been challenging for me is work-life balance. I think part of this stems from spending most of my twenties being incredibly busy juggling a full-time job, classes and then life, so that feeling of “fullness” in my schedule and non-stop stress just seems completely normal.
As decreasing stress has been in the forefront of my mind in 2018, it becomes more and more evident how my work-life balance has needed to improve this year. I work well over 40 hours per week, so finding time to prioritize my home and personal life is a necessity. I also meet with so many women who are struggling with the nutrition and fitness because their work-life balance is really suffering. And I don’t want to be the pot calling the kettle black.
Improving Work-Life Balance
Here are some things that have helped me GREATLY when it comes to improving work-life balance.
Become More Efficient at Work
Something that a lot of my business development training has helped me realize is that being busy does not mean you’re being productive. I had SO many school nutrition workdays where I felt like I checked 100 things off of my to-do list, but then I left at the end of the day feeling like I got nothing done. This is problematic because I ended up doing more work at home when I felt like something didn’t get done.
In looking at business vs. productivity, I had previously been tackling my to-do list in the opposite order. I did tasks that didn’t really matter as much first because they were easier, and I put off the important tasks because they were more difficult. I can respond to as many emails during the day as I want. But if I still have a big project or a deadline looming over my head, I’m probably going to crack open my laptop in the evening. I even did this when I worked in the hospital. I would spend all morning doing simple screenings, ones that were not even due yet, because they were simple and it made me feel good to see a bunch of patients disappear off of my patient list. But that meant I was waiting until the afternoon to do my time-consuming tube feeds and TPNs, and sometimes I had to stay late because of that. Not efficient.
So now I prioritize my work to be as productive as possible. Here are a few ways I do this:
- Pick 3 main things I HAVE to get done during the day, with 1 being my ultimate priority. By making these tasks a priority, it means I will almost never had to do work in the evenings. All of these tasks are income-related: filing insurance, marketing, etc. It feels really great to knock that 1 big one off of the list right away in the morning… no matter what else happens, my day was very productive! It is very demoralizing to create a to-do list with 20 things and then only finish 7. I much prefer to pick 1 huge thing and 100% know that I will get it done… it’s an ego boost for sure :)
- I stick to 1 task at a time, rather than practice “content switching” where I jump around from multiple tasks at once. Content switching is a huge distraction and not very efficient. Email is my biggest problem here because I will be in the middle of working on a podcast and then randomly check my email. You can really go down a rabbit hole with answering emails. Now I have specific times to work on specific tasks, and I don’t do anything else until the said task is done. I do check emails throughout the day, but it is intentional and productive.
- Create theme days. I used to have my calendar open all the time for client appointments. I didn’t want to inconvenience someone by not being available. Now I see clients Tues-Thurs and some Saturday mornings. I spend Mondays working on website, marketing and podcasting stuff, and I spend Fridays tying up all of the loose ends of the week, doing blog stuff, and catching up on whatever is left in my email inbox. Having theme days makes me more productive and it also makes my schedule so much more simple.
- I spend about 5 minutes at the end of the day planning out the next day, especially the big 3 that need to get done.
Try not to bring work “home”
Okay, this one is funny because I work from home most of the time now. Working from home makes it even harder to separate work life from home life!
Part of being more efficient is making sure that my work stuff does not spill over into my home life. If I take care of the most important stuff at the beginning of the day then whatever is left at the end of the work day can definitely wait until the following morning.
Try not to bring home stuff into work life
So, this has always been really difficult for me. Whether it’s scheduling a doctor’s appointment, paying a bill or making a phone call, part of the reason my work life was spilling into home life was because I was doing home stuff during the work day. And I never really felt like it mattered because it didn’t take a lot of time and I always got my work done.
Now that I’m at home a lot, this can be detrimental to my work flow. Especially because no one is holding me accountable and it’s super simple to run errands during the day.
Here are 2 things that have really helped me.
#1- I wake up pretty early (anytime between 5:30am-6:30am), and spending about 30 minutes in the morning doing person stuff helps to clear my mind before my workday officially starts. And if there’s an important call or something that needs to be done during business hours, I can do it right at 8am and not interrupt the day later taking care of it.
#2- I take a structure lunch break. I can’t remember how many years I spent working through lunch because I felt like I was too busy to stop and take time to eat. I realize now just from having done a lot of research about happiness, mental health and productivity that a few minutes to yourself in the middle of the day actually makes you a better employee and more productive.
So now I take an hour for lunch on most days, and I spend this time either getting in some exercise, running errands or taking care of stuff around the house. Doing house stuff and running errands helps me from feeling overwhelmed and exercising in the middle of the day gives me a boost in energy and mental clarity that is super useful going into the afternoon (especially when I have evening clients).
If you are someone who is reading this and thinking “wow, must be nice to take a lunch break” then I would encourage you to look at your day and figure out how you can fit that in for your own well-being. I was that same person previously, and looking back I see that I would have been better off taking that break in the middle of the day (and I was legally entitled to it).
Schedule important life stuff
I started putting life-related tasks in my calendar and it has made a huge difference in my work-life balance in terms of ending my day at a specific time and knowing that I have home, life and social things to do after a certain point.
B and I compare schedules and we plan date nights, home projects and time with friends into our schedule. I block off time for a long walk or a trip to the gym. I’ve even started scheduling things like showering, running errands and the laundry. I know it seems silly, but knowing I’m going to throw a load of laundry in the wash at 12pm keeps me from getting up and doing it in the morning when I see the laundry hamper. Seeing things in my schedule makes them a priority.
I know I’m not perfect here by any means, but all of these things have helped me to IMMENSELY improve my work-life balance. When it comes to thinking about work-life balance, I think it’s important to remember that having a good balance will ultimately make you both a better friend/partner AND a better worker/employee.
How do you feel about your own work-life balance?
What are some things that help you with work-life balance?