Living in balance
Tips to Improve Work-Life Balance
By Sheila Tucker
Complicated. That’s how I describe my relationship with work-life balance.
As an over-functioning overachiever, I am no stranger to living an unbalanced life. I once had a work bag I affectionately named Steve. Because, well, it sounded better to say I was spending my evening with Steve instead of working all hours of the night.
Eventually my body gave out. I became unwell. Even Steve broke under the weight of all the work. The full tilt of the seesaw let me go. It was like life jumped off the other side, and work came crashing down. I’d hit bottom, and I knew I needed to make changes.
But here’s the thing. Letting go of doing proved to be tricky.
Society tells us that more is better. We must be productive or, better yet, wear busyness as a badge. It’s become tied to our self-worth, sense of accomplishment and success.
There’s an internal battle with the constraints of time. Too much to do and not enough time to do it all.
The concept of work-life balance is somewhat elusive. It’s ever-changing and deeply personal. There’s an underlying mythical theme of control and accomplishment in all areas of our lives. — you know, when all the work and chores are done, and everything’s in perfect harmony.
The idea of perfection where everyone’s needs are met and we have endless energy sounds too good to be true. And, well, it is. Yet this is what we strive for, and we are often hard on ourselves, guilt-ridden or shamed for falling short.
Here’s the unfortunate truth: work-life balance isn’t a constant state of being where our shoulders are relaxed. We let out a long exhale and arrive. Instead, it’s constantly changing to meet our needs.
It’s enough to cause overwhelm and make you crave a nap. If only there were time. Which begs the question, how do we create work-life balance in a world that rewards busyness?
Well, it’s complicated. And it’s doable.
Let me share what I’ve learned along the way. Moving toward work-life balance is a multi-step process that you’ll continually repeat. It requires:
2. Action steps.
I’ve also included a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
Let’s dive deeper into each step.
Find a quiet spot where you can go inward. Take a deep breath in through your nose and blow it out of your mouth. Without overthinking, write down your first thoughts to the following questions.
- What are you prioritizing?
- What are you sacrificing?
- What feels like peace or calm?
- What’s already working for you?
- What do you need?
- What brings you joy? And, how can you do more of that?
If an answer doesn’t come right away, that’s OK. Don’t skip or rush through this part because it’s uncomfortable or difficult. Understanding your inner workings will lay the framework for your success.
Now that you better understand yourself and sense when you’re experiencing work-life balance, below are four action steps you can take today.
- Keep work at work. This also includes the mental load you may be carrying back and forth. Try this exercise. As you leave for the day, imagine your office doorframe is like a car wash. The bristles, glitter, or whatever you imagine removes all of the stress from your day.
- Say no. You have permission to respectfully decline. Insider tip: you may feel a twinge of guilt. It’s OK; still, say no if it doesn’t align.
- Ask for help. Really, ask.
- Right now, schedule one thing in your calendar that brings you joy. Then actually do it. Give your play or family time the same priority as a work event.
- Slow and steady wins the race. I know, I know this is not a popular stance in a world where we want it right now. And it creates more sustainability which equals an increase in positive results.
- Celebrate your wins, no matter how small.
- Focus on what works for YOU. Not your neighbor, co-worker, or that social-media person who looks like they have it all together.
- Let go of perfectionism. It will not be perfect. Perfection is unattainable because the bar moves just out of reach when you get close. Instead, aim for really good. This allows wiggle room to make adjustments when needed.
- Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Work-life balance is a lifestyle, not a one-and-done way of being.
Learn to notice your out-of-balance cues and make adjustments. One of my cues is resentment.
Sheila Tucker is a licensed associate marriage and family therapist and founder of Heart Mind & Soul Counseling. She specializes in working with couples and individuals to better their relationships so they can connect more deeply to themselves and each other. When not in the office, you’ll find her walking her pups or planning her next vacation with her husband.