Reportedly, people in the United States work more than any other population, and data provided by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development indicate that the average U.S. employee put in a total of 1,783 working hours during 2016.
Some surveys suggest that U.S. workers stay connected with job-related issues in their spare time, including at weekends and when on vacation. Overwork can lead to what is often referred to as “burnout,” which is a state of feeling mentally and physically exhausted, devoid of motivation, and without much to offer.
So, what are some things that you can do to avoid your work and personal lives blending into each other? How can you maintain a sense of balance that allows you to harvest your full potential in both areas of your life? I offer you a few tips that might help you to regain – or maintain – equilibrium.
Essentially, if you want to strike that often elusive work-life balance, it is important to fully separate the two and ensure that you do not allow them to mix with each other. Setting boundaries is crucial, but what is perhaps most difficult is to set mental boundaries between your work and private life to avoid cross-spillage.
1. Dismiss the smartphone
In order to avoid getting tangled up in work during your free time, it might be a good idea to make it clear that you will not respond to work e-mails or take work-related calls outside of business hours.
If you are self-employed or work from home, schedule a cluster of hours each day and declare those as your “office hours.”
Research has shown, time and again, that the state of being permanently connected – always inspecting your electronic devices to check your e-mails, calls, and messages – is linked to significantly higher stress levels.
So, make sure to put your phone away after work. It may be better still if you leave it in a completely different room.
Prof. Adrian Ward, from the University of Texas in Austin, explains that our phones can act as “brain drains,” and that constantly worrying about our phone notifications uses up important – and limited – mental resources.
2. Don’t let job worries hijack private time
This is a tricky one, since it can be hard to dismiss work-related issues that have been on your mind for the entire day, and there is no magic switch to allow you to achieve that instantly. However, several recent studies have shown that stress weighs down relationships.
So, if you want to maintain good-quality relationships with your family, partner, or friends, try your best to keep work-related stress away from the dinner table, and do not let it monopolize conversations and “family time.”
Recent research suggests that practicing meditation and yoga can improve the individual sense of well-being. Other studies also explain how these mind-body practices can reduce stress at a physiological level.
Meditating your way out of a work “mindset” at the end of a long day might allow you to set aside any work-related worries and instead focus on spending quality time with your loved ones, or even just with yourself.
3. Consider having a ‘work uniform’
If you don’t already have a job that requires you to wear some kind of uniform, such as protective equipment, on a regular basis, then perhaps you should consider coming up with your own dress code for work.
One study suggests that there is such a thing as “enclothed cognition,” meaning that what you wear can influence how you think about yourself and others. Different clothes have different meanings for different people, so this is an individual mental experience.
Thus, picking a particular set of clothes to serve as your “work uniform” might boost your confidence and allow you to perform better while in a work environment.
At the same time, having different kinds of clothes and accessories for work and for activities outside of work could help you to draw a mental line between one context and another.
4. ‘Bookend’ your commute with a good read
Existing research shows that reading can improve your life in more ways than one, and one of these ways is by significantly reducing stress levels.
In a study by Dr. David Lewis – who conducted the research at the University of Sussex in Brighton, United Kingdom – noted that books “cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”
So why not bookend your commute to work – or your self-set business hours, if you work on a freelance basis, for instance – with a good story, or some inspiring poetry?
Reading might help to dissipate potential anticipatory stress before work and ease the way into a more relaxed headspace after.
5. Delegate chores to indulge in ‘you time’
New research suggests that delegating, or “outsourcing,” responsibilities such as house chores can greatly improve life satisfaction. If you leave work to return to a sink chock-full with dirty dishes, that will not do much to alleviate stress and will instead contribute to your physical state of exhaustion.
Instead, try to delegate chores where possible, or consider hiring someone to help you. That way, you can free up time to do what really counts: engaging in activities that improve your mental and physical well-being, such as hobbies.
One U.K.-based campaign suggests that leisure activities not only decrease stress levels but can also have a beneficial effect on your work by improving your creativity and making you more mentally “flexible.”
Life outside of work, says Prof. Robert Lechler – who is the president of the U.K. Academy of Medical Sciences – “is not an added extra – it is integral to who we are and the skills we must develop to be successful.”
All jobs are different, so not all of the tips given above may fit your current situation. The key is to do what’s best for you and your well-being.
Do you have a personalized strategy for maintaining work-life balance? If so, what does it entail? I look forward to reading your opinions.
Gaia by the Med Retreats and PTSD Coaching specialises in non-invasive, brain-based techniques that help clients alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, trauma and anxiety. These techniques are simple and easy to use and can be self administered once the client learns how to apply them, resulting in a powerful and beneficial long term impact.