A few days ago, my boyfriend looked at me, sighed and said, “I pretty much have zero work/life balance.”
It is totally true (that’s just the nature of his current situation, and we at least take solace in the fact that it should be sort of temporary) but I felt bad hearing this nonetheless, because I’m a person who has gone to great lengths to keep my work life and my personal life well balanced and at least somewhat separate (which, trust me, is easier said than done when you work from home on your computer — when work is portable, you pretty much always could be at work, so you need to set a lot of boundaries). But after hearing him say this, I realized that there are things you can do — even small, hardly-noticeable, day-to-day things — that will make your work-life feel a little bit more like your real-life, so you don’t feel like you’re switching on-and-off between two totally different lives and personas every day. Work is an important part of your life, and in my opinion, shouldn’t be totally separated, but rather integrated in a way that allows for fluidity and balance between the two.
So instead of the traditional “Work from 9-to-5 then give yourself a hard stop and pretend your job doesn’t exist until 8:59am tomorrow morning” rules, I’ve been thinking about the other (more realistic, imo) ways I find the balance between my work and all of the other pieces of my life. If you’re finding yourself in a difficult balancing act between what you do for money and what you do for everything else, these tips might help you even things out.
1. Bring a little “life” into your workday.
It is not always going to be possible to eliminate work from your non-work life, but something you can do is inject bits and pieces of your non-work life into your workday. This can range from bringing a few pictures of friends and family to sit at your desk, taking small walks outside of your workplace to parks or cafés you like going to in your personal life, listening to a playlist of music you love at your desk, etc. For me, even something as simple as wearing a warm hoodie or sweater that I love makes me feel comfortable and “at-home” even when I’m at work. Anything that reminds you that you are a whole person outside of your role at work will help you feel a little more balanced and comfortable during workdays that feel neverending.
2. Set up a morning routine that honors non-work values.
Giving yourself a little “me-time” at the beginning of the day where you can enjoy your life before your workday kicks in is important. Hitting the ground running will work — you’ll be productive and get a lot done. But here’s the thing: you’ll burn out. Mornings aren’t fun, and no one likes waking from a deep slumber in their comfy bed and dragging their ass out the door to the job they probably aren’t 100% thrilled to be at. So give yourself a little time to recharge in the morning and focus on the “you” you are before you turn on work mode, and you’re likely to feel a lot more relaxed throughout the remainder of your day.
3. Make space for non-work things during the week.
It is easy to get caught up in your 9-to-5 ~grind~ and dedicate all of Monday-Friday to your work-personality, only reserving the weekends for fun, personally fulfilling activities. But making space for things that bring you joy during the work week — even things as simple as going to happy hour with friends, or having a date at the gym with yourself every morning — makes you feel like a more well-rounded person who evenly distributes work and life pleasures throughout their day-to-day.
4. Schedule yourself time to do work outside of work.
It is easy to read advice that says “stick to your set work hours and don’t bring any work home with you,” but it is obviously easier said than done. It is unrealistic to believe that you’ll be able to leave the office totally behind every night. Some nights, you’ll need to do a little work after-hours. Some nights, you’ll want to because you prioritized something else during the day. Giving yourself a hard and fast rule to not do any work after 5pm is likely to set yourself up for failure. Instead, give yourself a window of time in your evening that is reserved for work if you have any to complete that night (and can be easily replaced with other personal activities if you don’t have work to do that night.
For me, that window of time is usually 9-10pm (the hour before I tend to go to sleep) because I find that between the hours of 4-8pm I’m ragged from the day and just want to putter around my house, watch TV, cook a meal, and relax with my family. If on any given night I have work that I didn’t complete during the day that needs to get done, I enjoy my at-home life until about 9pm, then settle in at my desk for an hour or so of work, rather than letting my after-work hours be a free-for-all and setting up my computer at my dining table to do work while I simultaneously try to relax.
5. Designate “work” and “non-work” spaces in your home and personal life.
Ruining your bedroom or your favorite coffee shop to sip lattes with your best friend at by turning it into a “work-zone” doesn’t honor the boundaries you need to set between your work and personal life. Like I said, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to go a whole life without ever having to bring some work home with you — but keep some spaces sacred, especially the ones that bring you the most comfort and happiness.
Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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