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Work-life balance is the magical idea of having enough time to succeed in your career while still enjoying your life, family, and anything else you love that doesn’t revolve around making a dollar.
Now that nearly 1 in 5 people work 50+ hours a week, a true balance between home and job is harder and harder to come by.
So, how can you find a balance between hectic jobs and much needed “me time?” Millennials spilled their work-life balance secrets to help you step away from your boss’s 9 p.m. email and find more enjoyment in your life.
Work-life balance isn’t some self-indulgent thing millennials invented. Having a job that causes constant stress and sucks the enjoyment out of your life can be mentally and physically exhausting.
Here are some of the risks of poor work-life balance:
- Burnout. Working too many hours or facing constant stress at work can lead to burnout. Though burnout may look a lot like depression, some evidence shows that it’s a construct of its own. Burnout leads to fatigue, apathy, reduced confidence and pride in your abilities, and emotional exhaustion.
- Hating your job. A study of surgeons, known for their hectic working schedules, found that bad work-life balance often led to decreased job satisfaction. They’re saving lives and still not satisfied! That’s the dark side of poor work-life balance.
- Depression. It hasn’t been proven, but some evidence suggests that working long overtime hours increases your likelihood for depression. Working too hard often leads to poor diet choices, lack of sleep, and heightened stress. Even if that doesn’t result in a major depressive episode, it certainly doesn’t put you in a happy mood.
- Poor productivity. Oddly enough, working long hours can make you less productive. A study from 1917 found that a 7-day work week made employees less productive than when they had a day to rest. At the time, people were often working 70+ hours due to the war, but the fact that even 1917 industrialists thought “hey, let’s go easy on the working class” really shows you that work-life balance is a thing.
- Not getting the sunlight you need. This might seem weird because, most likely, you’re not a plant. But humans need sunlight, too! One study found that people who got regular exposure to natural light were happier with their jobs and felt better overall. People stuck under fluorescent lights and shielded from nature tended to be more negative overall and show symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- It can make you sick. Working all the time is stressful, and chronic stress can make you sick. One review found that people constantly suffering from stress had increased inflammation. Basically, stress makes your body feel like you’re under attack, so your immune system plays defense, increases inflammation, and tries to kill off the phantom invader. Unfortunately, when an actual illness comes along, that already taxed immune system doesn’t have the fight in it to hold off the germs. So, stress can make you feel ill now and make you more likely to get sick in the future.
Thankfully, work-life balance isn’t all bad news. There are ways to advocate for yourself, set boundaries, and prioritize the -life part of work-life balance.
We asked millennials how they found more balance in their life and these are their simple, yet powerful, tips:
Take a lunch
When Julia’s job went full-time work from home due to the pandemic, she had to make a few changes to keep things in balance. “Carve out break time in your calendar for lunch, a workout, something that’s not device or work related in the middle of the day,” Julia suggests. “The temptation to accidentally stay in one place for 8+ hours is real, so it helps to set times when you’re going to move around and fold some laundry or meditate.”
Whether you’re at home or at the office, try to get away from screens at your lunch break. This will help your mind decompress from the worries of work and make you feel refreshed for the second half of your day.
De’Nicea is a busy entrepreneur with a unique view on the workday. “I don’t believe in work-life ‘balance.’ Balance is where it’s stagnant and not really moving,” De’Nicea says. “Things fluctuate all the time, including responsibilities and roles. So I invite harmony in.”
For De’Nicea, harmony means staying in the present moment. “Something may appear to be urgent and pressing because we’ve created a story about the consequences and whatnot,” De’Nicea explains. “People spend more time analyzing the future than actually coming into the present and deciding to make ONE step.”
By focusing on the small things you can do now and worrying less about all the nebulous things you’ll have to do in the future, you reduce stress and make the workday seem less overwhelming.
Listen to your body
When things get really busy, you might not even realize how high your stress levels are until your body chimes in.
“Listen to your body for guidance about harmony,” De’Nicea recommends. Sometimes the body will send a message. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, muscular pain and headaches are common signs of anxiety.
If you’re used to being stressed, it may take physical pain to get you to stop and take notice. Have headaches at work? Come home to super stiff shoulders? These can be clues from the body that you need to take a break and find some relaxation.
Jené already balanced working full-time with an infant to take care of, but COVID-19 made it a little more complicated. Now, she and her husband work at the same company, from home, with a tiny adorable baby.
“It was complete chaos at first,” Jené says. “But we decided to be intentional and communicate what we think are realistic expectations for day-to-day life now.”
That meant having clear communication with her husband about how they’d balance baby care and work. “For us, this meant re-designing our office space at home to include all of the baby’s toys, bouncer, pack-n-play, you name it,” she explained. “We both have baby wraps and we pass off the baby-carrying duty when needed.”
If you have a child and a partner, ask for help and be clear about what you need. Be intentional around your work and your communication and you’ll enjoy family and work time a lot more.
A walk is as important as a meeting
“Put ‘me time’ on the calendar just as you would any other meeting,” Julie recommends. “You are important, too.” When you put something on the calendar, it feels official. So there’s no better way to ensure time away from work than scheduling in little breaks for yourself.
Rebecca E. uses the same trick. “I have a built-in, non-negotiable daily walk,” Rebecca says. “It’s pleasurable, good for my mind and body, and gives me ‘me’ time where I can listen to a podcast and take a break from work.”
If this scheduled break includes time outdoors, you get the bonus of grabbing some much needed sunlight! If you can’t make it outside, try reading a book, taking time to meditate, stretching, or doing anything that gives your brain a mini-vacation from work.
Turn off notifications
“Turn notifications off for your email and any chat/meetings app your company uses (Teams, Slack, etc) on your phone when you aren’t planning to work — it’s such a great way to make sure you actually switch off vs. getting sucked back in 24/7,” Rebecca S. suggests. “Also super important for not waking up and immediately reading a ton of work emails before you’re ready to address them!”
In a world of constant notifications, every one of them feels urgent. But unless you have a job that handles emergency situations, there’s just no reason to stay “on call” at all hours.
Turn notifications off and know that you can tackle it all in the morning, after your restful evening off, of course.
Put yourself first
It’s easy to assume you have to put everyone else’s (especially work’s) needs ahead of your own, but Janna thinks of it differently.
“I’ve learned to put self-care (usually rest) at the top of the list for myself,” Janna says. “Because nothing I do will be successful if I’m not taking care of me.”
If you’re running yourself ragged for a job, it’s likely you’re not doing your best work and prioritizing your mental and physical health can be good for you and for your career.
Sometimes things are hectic because you’re not giving yourself enough time away from work. Other times, things are hard because work doesn’t want you to have a life.
An overly demanding boss or office culture that praises the “first one in, last one out” mindset can make work-life balance impossible.
If you’re feeling the effects of burnout and chronic stress, try these tips:
- Give yourself a simple daily to-do list. Break down what actually needs to be done each day. Sure, it would be great if you worked 3 months ahead, but is that really necessary? Sometimes reducing your schedule to the things that need to happen can reduce your stress and workload.
- Ask for a flexible schedule. If work is wreaking havoc on your life, it could help to work different hours or occasionally work from home. It’s totally okay to ask for this. Frame the conversation with your boss around how your new schedule will help them. For example, will you be super productive at home if you don’t have to battle 2 hours of traffic every day?
- Talk to your manager. If balance is off because your manager gives you unrealistic tasks, try to talk to them. Instead of just saying “yes” to everything, ask if you can adjust the task to a more realistic timeline. Instead of answering their emails at all hours, answer them only during work hours. You could say, “I have a lot on my plate right now. Is there a way I could have more time for this assignment or delay some of my other work for this?” It’s likely the manager doesn’t realize all the tasks they’ve given you and a little talk can help them manage and reassess your workload.
- Talk to HR. If you talked to your boss and they didn’t listen or change their behavior, another option is to reach out to HR. Write down a list of all the things you’re asked to do, hours you typically work a week, and records of messages received after hours. If the boss is outright abusive, mention that. Again, try to have records of this behavior to support your case.
- Leave. A toxic workplace can make you physically sick with stress. If you’ve taken all the steps and nothing changes, you should look for another workplace. Of course, this is frightening and not always an option, but when you’re able, look for a workplace that values you as a person and gives you the time to enjoy life.
Looking for work-life balance can feel selfish but it’s critically important to your mental health, physical health, and even the work you do. Schedule time for yourself, turn off notifications, and set boundaries with your bosses to make sure you have a life outside of work.