A common struggle amongst most people is striking a balance between work and personal life. However, we often don’t know what “balance” looks like. It’s not that we spend eight hours (or more!) at work, and then get eight hours of fun or downtime. For most, that is impossible. And for some, even the phrase “work-life balance” can seem overwhelming.
How can we possibly maintain a healthy lifestyle with so many demands? I’ve talked with clients who wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety about work, bills, kids, relationships, etc. One way to move toward a healthy work-life balance is through mindfulness, a stress-busting presence practice that helps you get the most out of each moment.
Mindfulness can bring us back into balance by acting as a bridge between work and life. Mindfulness improves focus and concentration, which supports efficiency at work, and also deepens compassion and connection, which allows you to fully engage in personal time.
In an extensive research study out of Harvard University, Matt Killingsworth and colleagues measured people’s happiness levels at different points throughout the day. The study polled over 15,000 participants of diverse age, race, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Throughout the day, the research app would randomly text participants to ask them what they were doing, whether their mind was wandering, and how happy they were.
After compiling nearly half a million data points, the researchers found that people’s minds wander almost half the time! However, when people are fully engaged in what they’re doing – no matter whether it’s taking out the trash or eating a delicious meal – they tend to be 10-20% happier than people doing the same activity with a wandering mind.
Given this compelling data, the thesis of Killingsworth’s TED Talk on happiness is simple: Want to be happy? Be where your feet are.
Killingsworth’s study is one of the largest of its kind on the importance of presence for overall wellbeing, and its message applies to finding balance in work and life. We may never find perfect work-life balance, but we can practice simply being where our feet are: if we are at home, we are at home. If we are at work, we are at work.
It’s important to note that this practice of work-life balance is often challenging, and finding balance won’t happen by accident. You must commit to prioritizing work-life balance in order to reap the benefits from it. Here are seven simple, science-based practices to bring your work and your life into better balance:
1. Find your “why”
When setting out to do something new and often challenging, it’s important to know why you’re doing it to help you stay motivated when things get difficult. The simple yet powerful practice of intention setting marries your subconscious mind with your conscious will.
So, take a few moments to consider why work-life balance is important to you. What would it feel like to find better work-life balance? How would it improve your life? How would it affect you, your partner or your children? From this place of reflection, set a powerful intention to be balanced in work and life. The strongest intentions draw on thoughts AND emotions.
Examples include, “I am always finding my way towards work-life balance for greater ease,” or “I practice being where my feet are to maximize my effectiveness and enjoyment.”
For the most transformative results, revisit your work-life balance intention on a daily or weekly basis. You could even set your phone background to reflect your intention, put sticky notes around your house, car, and office to remind you to repeat your intention or schedule a weekly time slot to meditate on your intention and note your progress.
2. Make your job work for you
Since the average adult spends about a third of their adult life at work, it’s extremely difficult to have a happy life if you are unhappy in your job. Therefore, you can take some simple steps to make your job work better for you.
Workplace research confirms that flexible work schedules lower stress levels, increase productivity, and improve employee work-life balance. Consider taking advantage of your company’s existing policies or requesting the ability to shift your work hours, work from home, or bring your kids/pets to the office occasionally, if allowed. Find ways to be creative to bring your balance to your workplace. Your favorite music, pictures, food, and essential oils. Taking a walk on your break and listening to positive and affirmative meditations or audiobooks. Happiness at work has also been linked to opportunities for growth. Prioritize asking for new growth opportunities – whether it’s gaining job-related skills or a promotion. Being challenged will naturally lead to engagement, presence, and happiness.
Even if your job isn’t perfect, celebrate what you do love about it – perhaps the growth opportunities, the social connection, or the paycheck, among other things. Developing an attitude of gratitude will help you be happier, more engaged and more present in your daily work life.
I have found through working with my Coaching clients, those who are miserable at work are miserable in other areas of their life too. Ask yourself how much time you are feeling unhappy and maybe begin to make some small shifts in your life to bring about more happiness.
3. Set boundaries
One of the hardest parts of work-life balance is defining the boundary between the two. More than one-third of employees, for example, eat lunch at their desks on a regular basis. More than 50 percent assume they’ll work during vacation. Focusing on work at work and home life at home is a recipe for happiness and peace of mind. Create routines for starting and ending work to help you effectively transition from life to work and back again. Over time, these routines will become automatic so that your brain is wired for presence in every context.
Once you decide on routines and boundaries that work for you, share them with others! And stick to them. Avoid sending emails/texts after hours or on vacation – it sends a message that people can reach you at any time. If necessary, queue your responses for regular working hours. Communicating and maintaining your work boundaries is an important step in creating a work-life balance that works for you.
4. Start and end your day for you
Morning and evening routines are an excellent way to prioritize your health and wellbeing and give you a greater sense of work-life balance. Try spending the first 15-60 minutes of your day mindfully: drink water or tea, meditate, stretch, read a book, journal. It doesn’t have to be all at once.
Often times we don’t have a 60-minute chunk of time to give during the day. However, we can find 15 or 20-minute blocks of time. There are a ton of great resources on creating your ultimate morning routine. What you do is not so important as your motivation for doing it – reveling in personal time. The same goes for evening routines. You can read about evening routines that might include meditation, reading, stretching, and breathing. The important part is staying disconnected from work and screens so that you get an excellent night’s sleep and wake up feeling restored.
5. Practice doing nothing
Often times we feel crazy busy because we are filling every possible moment with stuff (a lot of it inconsequential). To feel truly rested and spacious, it’s important to carve out moments to do nothing. Consider taking breaks for daytime workouts, mindful breathing, or brief afternoon stretches. You might also plan for longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations. Paradoxically, taking more breaks has been shown to boost creativity, productivity, and overall health.
6. Be present for transitions
We make transitions all the time, whether it’s from standing to sitting or from work to home. Oftentimes our transitions can actually be the most stressful time in our day since we are usually running late. Consider adding transition time to your calendar. Then, use these transitions as opportunities to check-in rather than check out. Pause and take a deep breath. Notice any strong bodily sensations or emotions that may be present. Then, proceed with awareness. These little moments of presence will lower stress levels and help you feel more in balance during the workday.
7. Schedule tech-free time
Technology is omnipresent in our lives, and most of us subconsciously associate technology with work. Even when we’re not engaged with a screen, Alexa is listening to us, a TV is mounted on the wall, and our phone is in our pocket. The concept of propinquity teaches that the things closest to us in space have the biggest psychological impact on our world. In other words, things in our environment (like technology) require a designation of energy and awareness, affecting us even when we aren’t actively engaged with them.
Practicing a daily digital detox will allow you to fully detach from work and restore your ability to pay attention. Pick one activity or time every day when you can put your devices away for 15-75 minutes. Choose to be fully present for a tech-free immersive experience like taking your dog on a walk, playing with your kids, painting, or eating dinner with family or friends. Consider having one or more tech-free zones in the house (hint: having a tech-free bedroom helps you get a better night’s sleep!) to facilitate this daily digital detox.
Balance is simpler than you think
Believe it or not, work-life balance is not only possible, it’s simpler than you think. It’s important to remember that work-life balance is more of a reference point than a destination. It’s difficult to maintain perfect balance, especially for an extended period of time, but we can always be moving towards balance. As Anne Lamotte says, “Almost everything works again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”