Work-life balance is the holy grail of productivity experts.
So many articles and books have been devoted to finding that elusive formula that allows you to be super efficient at work while being a perfect friend and family member who also finds the time and energy to meditate, learn a third language, and take up gardening. (You know it’s hard to find balance when even making time for a small hobby seems like a luxury!)
Is it even possible to strike a healthy balance between work and life? How are we supposed to stay on top of things, let alone find time to edify and nurture ourselves, when work and life compete for your time and attention?
Achieving balance is an even bigger challenge in these high-stress times. In fact, a survey found that one month into the pandemic, 45 percent of employees reported burnout from working remotely. With our work and personal boundaries becoming more blurred, it’s harder to disconnect from work and actually take time off for ourselves.
While we can’t control what life throws at us, we can manage how we prepare and respond. Here are some tips and habits that you can build into your day to help you harness your time and energy.
While you may not always achieve 100 percent balance, you can find new and feel-good ways to nourish yourself and replenish your tank.
1. What are your essentials?
If you strive to achieve more balance in your life, take some time to define your personal and professional priorities. It’s not about how much you can pack into your day, but how important the things you do are.
This might start with checking in on your yearly goals. Are these goals still serving you? Are you where you need to be, or would you benefit from re-aligning them? What can help you get back on track?
Identifying your priorities can help anchor your day as well as filter out things that are no longer serving your goal. If your weekly goal is to finally get cracking on a big work project, then you should prioritize all tasks and activities that will help you achieve that goal, while putting anything that will take time away from that on the back burner.
If you’re struggling to identify your priorities, use the two-bag limitation rule hat airlines use. When you travel, you can only bring on a carry-on and a personal item onboard. Sure, it limits your options, but it forces you to decide what are truly your essentials.
If you had to choose only two, what two items would you prioritize today?
2. Check-in with yourself
Another way you can take stock of your life and gain clarity is with the Ink+Volt Reflection Pad, a self-awareness tool that features 18 different check-ins that ask you to rate different areas of your life, from productivity to nutrition to spirit. So if you give a low rating to nutrition and spirit, then you know to invest more in those areas of your life.
If you’ve ever felt untethered and overwhelmed after a hectic week, this pad can guide you in the right direction.
3. Don’t multi-task: try overlapping instead
We’ve all heard that multi-tasking is actually bad for productivity. Instead, give overlapping a try. Look for tasks or activities that can be batched together in an organic, complementary way.
- Want to go on more walks and also spend more time with a loved one? See if you can combine the two.
- Want to journal and find time for meditating? Dedicate some of your journaling time to a few minutes of meditation.
- Are you tired of dirty dishes piling up? Clean them while the coffee is brewing or whenever you need a break from work.
4. Have a low-key dinner night
On the most chaotic days, the last thing you want to do is whip together a meal and cook something from scratch. Use these nights to give yourself a break.
Heat-up some frozen pizza and accompany it with a pre-washed salad. Have a “tapas” dinner with your favorite crackers, cheeses, nuts, sliced meats, and veggies. Save yourself some cooking time with Trader Joe’s boil-in-bag Indian meals.
You can perfect your culinary skills another night. You don't have to be Instagram-perfect every single day. Now is the time to enjoy simple, tasty food without putting too much energy into it.
5. Establish online boundaries
If you think screen-time is becoming an issue, you’re definitely not alone.
A helpful tip to consider is to be okay with stepping back from digital interactions. Whether it’s a text message chain or replies to your social media post, these online interactions can consume your time, energy, and spirit. As important as it is to establish work boundaries, it’s also essential to moderate your digital “on-call” availability from work, friends, and family as well.
Turn off notifications, put your phone on airplane mode, and/or set a cut-off time to replying to texts and emails. If you take more than a day to respond, it’s okay! For centuries, it was the norm to go weeks or months at a time before hearing back from someone. People will be fine if you don’t reply asap, I promise.
6. Stay organized with “mise en place”
You may have heard of the term “mise en place,” a French culinary phrase for “putting in place.” You’ll see this on cooking shows where the mixing bowls, ingredients, and tools are all laid out and arranged in their rightful place. This advance preparation allows the chef to get right to work and focus on the task at hand.
You can also incorporate the philosophy of “mise en place” into your own life. If you would love to go running in the morning but waste too much time and energy looking for workout clothes, lay your workout clothes in your bedroom and place your running shoes by the door the night before.
Arrange your workspace so that all your essential office tools are organized and accessible. Clear clutter from your space and have your notebook, planner, and pens on hand. By arranging your desk with the essentials, you’ll have an easier time focusing on your priorities.
The concept of “mise en place” can also apply to your calendar and to-do list. Make sure your days are organized by entering your work deadlines, billing due dates, personal events, holidays, and more. Work on your to-do list the night before or in the morning so you can feel prepared and win your day.
7. Appreciate the simple pleasures
Sometimes, in an effort to achieve work-life balance, we end up spreading ourselves too thin and over-committing ourselves. We compare our lives to others and feel that we are falling short. This can result in overcompensating and taking on more work or accumulating more objects. We’re under the false impression that what we have isn’t enough. But in reality, where you are right now is enough and what you have is enough.
Incorporating a regular gratitude practice can help ground you in the here and now, allowing you to appreciate the simple pleasures and take note of the everyday riches that you already have in your life.
8. Have a “close-of-business” ritual
If you work from home, it can be a challenge to formally log-off from work and separate your work self from your personal self. You’re not exiting an office building or traveling a long commute home--everyday rituals that would normally help you decompress and transition out of work mode.
Luckily, if you are fortunate enough to work from home, there are things you can do to help demarcate your work and personal schedules. You can do like the French do and have an “apero hour”, which consists of beverages and snacks like chips, nuts, and olives. It’s a pleasant way to mark the end of the day while celebrating the start of the evening.
You can also set a time to step away from your computer and go for a relaxing stroll. Or use this time to read a favorite book. Or you can simply do nothing, which, in our non-stop, digital age, seems like the most pampering thing you can do for yourself.