5 Strategies To Master Work–Life Balance

Work–life balance may be elusive, but there are strategies to making it work.

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Ever feel like you’re working furiously to keep a stack of plates spinning high in the air and if you slow down for just a second, each and every one will go smashing to the ground? Behold the eternal struggle of women everywhere. Whether we’re toiling in office buildings, sticking it out at home, or doing a little bit of both, we are constantly trying to make work and home life balance out. More often than not, we end up feeling like it’s impossible to make that happen. Some 89 percent of workers confessed in one online survey that they struggle with work–life balance. So that’s the bad news. Ready for the good stuff? Work–life balance exists. Even in that survey, 11 percent of workers seemed to be able to find it. Consider this your guide to joining the 11 percent.

1. Get moving.

When you barely have enough time to make dinner, fitting in time to exercise might seem like the polar opposite of balancing your juggling act. But consider this: Researchers from Saint Leo University, Saint Louis University, the University of Houston-Victoria, and Illinois State University took a look at how exercise affects our feelings about work and home life. Not only did they find that people who took time to work out reported lower levels of stress, their study determined that people who worked out also had higher confidence in their abilities to handle work–family conflicts. The researchers concluded that exercise enabled people to detach from work and it was empowering them to feel more in control of their day-to-day struggles. Who couldn’t use a little more faith in themselves? Whether it’s taking a brisk walk around the block on your lunch break or hitting a quick yoga class in the morning, that kind of boost to your confidence level can help you focus more easily on projects that you might otherwise have pushed off. It can also help you find your voice when your boss pushes you to stay late or work that extra shift that would cause you to miss your kid’s last soccer game.

2. Nip time-wasting in the bud.

Let’s face it, we all waste time. Sometimes that can be good for us, allowing us the chance to think outside the box and be more creative. But if you routinely find yourself at 5 o’clock wondering where the day went, it might be time to do a quick review of your daily routine. Do you find yourself checking Facebook in the middle of the day? How about sending emails to your BFF? In one survey conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder, a quarter of workers admitted they spend at least an hour of the workday on personal calls, texts, and emails; another 20 percent fessed up to whiling away work hours on the internet. Stealing that time back from yourself could be the key to getting out the door at 5 without feeling like you’ve got to bring work home with you.

3. Plan that vacation now.

Signing on with a company that offers paid vacation time is exciting, but Americans finish every year with about 658 million paid vacation days that they didn’t use. Of those, more than 222 million are completely forfeited by employees who work for companies that don’t let them carry paid time off from one year to the next. Worse? Researchers have found that taking less vacation time can actually hurt your chances of getting a raise, even while that extra time on the job hikes your stress level. Need a break, but the money is tight? Plan a staycation with a few day trips or stick out your entire time off at home, binge-watching Netflix and puttering around the house. You don’t have to spend big to regain that sense of yourself outside of work, but you do have to do a little advance planning. About 51 percent of people who pre-plan time off actually make use of all of their vacation time, but just 39 percent of non-planners do the same. So get thee to HR and put in your vacation request!

4. Harness your technical side.

Studies have shown that employees who have power over the technology they use on the job tend to be happier and more productive and have better life balance. Getting in on that action means taking the tech that’s in smartphones, smart cars, and smart homes and using it to make life a little easier. Prove to your boss that access to Slack and Google Docs is enough of a tether to allow you to work from home a few days a week. Or use Rover to find a dog walker and let Instacart grocery shop for you, taking away some of the stressful daily errands that make it hard to really enjoy your family time.

5. Secure your squad.

People in Denmark have the best work–life balance in the world, so what do they have that we don’t have (aside from the LEGO headquarters, that is)? A whopping 96 percent of Danes say they have friends and/or relatives they count on in times of trouble. Building a team of friends and family to help us out when we’re swamped means taking the burdens of daily life and spreading them out across a bunch of shoulders so they’re just a little bit less of a burden. Propose a babysitter swap with the mom on the playground who says she never gets a date night. Ask a friend who works from home to let the cable guy in your house in exchange for grabbing her groceries on your drive home from work. If they can count on you and you can count on them, work–life balance may be possible after all.

Jeanne Sager
Jeanne Sager is a writer and photographer from upstate New York. She has strung words together for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and more.

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