Career Advice

Perfecting Your Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is as difficult a principle to define as it is to achieve. Most of us know what a poor work-life balance feels like, but we’re not sure how to break free of it.

There are a lot of reasons to strike a better work-life balance, whether it’s protecting your physical and mental health and even accelerating your career.

We put together some of our best tips for perfecting your work-life balance that allow you to figure out what kind of balance you need, build sustainable habits to support your lifestyle, and advocate for yourself at work.

Figure Out What Work-Life Balance Means to You (and Your Employer)

There are a lot of people with a huge amount to say on the subject of work-life balance. And that in itself should tell you something incredibly important: work-life balance is a moving target. It means different things to different people.

So, before you start looking for solutions, it’s important to figure out what work-life balance means to you at this moment (and for the foreseeable future).

Use Your Intuition as a Baseline

The first thing to do is forget everything you’ve read so far, at least for a minute. Remember that some people need lots of time to recover from a work week and others don’t. You may have an inkling, but you won’t know until you have a real check-in with yourself.

You’ll find you’re able to use your own intuition (and employee rights!) to determine what a viable work-life balance means to you.

Then, you can check in with your manager and your company’s HR team to learn more about what’s on offer beyond bank holidays, statutory annual leaves,  and time to disconnect.

Even if you tend towards workaholism, remember that a balance of some type is important. If you want to be effective in your job and support your team, you need to follow the principle that says you must ‘put on your own oxygen mask first.’

So take time to have this conversation with yourself. You might be surprised at what you learn.

Work Smart so You Don’t Feel the Need to Work Hard

We’re told from an early age that we need to work hard to succeed. At the same time, it’s increasingly clear that working hard (long hours, weekend work, and taking only minimal time away) isn’t the key to success. What’s more, the need to work hard is increasingly dissipating in many corporate cultures, in part because that old concept of hard work doesn’t offer much in the way of work-life balance and burnout is rampant.

So, what do you do?

Smarter work could be the answer.

Instead of counting your success by the number of hours worked, you should optimise your productivity. Prioritise your time, strengths, and energy to meet your goals rather than relying on the brute force of long hours. By rescheduling and reprioritising, you’ll not only get more done in less time but you’ll start to feel less need to put in over-time.

Can’t Find a Way to Get Ahead? Talk to Your Boss

Are you struggling to find ways to prioritise or ‘work smart’ in your current role? The issue might not be your ability to prioritise or schedule your day. 

Check in with your boss about your workload. They may not know you’re struggling, and by letting them in, you can both work towards a shared solution. 

For example, they may redistribute tasks to someone with a skillset better suited for that task. Your conversation may also be an indicator that it’s time to grow the team to share the load.

Just remember: you don’t need to do everything. And (hopefully) no one is asking you to personally carry the burdens of your organisation. 

Asking for help when you need it can sometimes be the simplest solution to a poor work-life balance.

Start Your Day with Something for You

One actionable way to start to transform your work-life balance is by starting every day by doing something for you. Of course, this is easier said than done for those balancing work life and family life, but the ‘thing’ you do doesn’t need to be a massive endeavour.

The goal is simple: avoid rolling out of bed and into a Zoom meeting, wherever you can.

By starting your day on your terms, you will feel more empowered to stay in control of it. Even if you only have fine minutes to spare, give that five minutes to yourself. You might:

  • Read a few pages of a book

  • Go for a short walk

  • Cuddle the dog

  • Watch a funny YouTube video

  • Meditate for five minutes

  • Write in your journal

  • Sit quietly with your coffee

  • Take a turn around the garden or park

Do one better and not only build in time for you but use habit stacking to make putting yourself first a long-term habit.

Embrace Your Right to Disconnect

The joy of remote working means reclaiming some of your day, whether it’s from a commute, office chatter, or the queues at a coffee shop in town. At the same time, remote working during the pandemic has meant we’re almost always connected to our work. While we could get emails and notifications at home before, we now live at work.

While ‘living at work’ won’t always be the case even for fully-remote teams, the need to disconnect has never been more vital for workers across Ireland. The Irish government also recognises the right to put your phone down as a priority.

The new Right to Disconnect code of practice came into effect on April 1, 2021. It gives all workers in Ireland the “right to disconnect” (e.g., turn off notifications, not pick up the phone) after their normal working hours. 

The new rule comes with three parts:

  1. You can “disconnect” outside of working hours.

  2. A company cannot penalise you for not answering a message or taking a meeting outside working hours.

  3. Employees should avoid communicating outside of business hours.

The rule applies to everyone, whether you work remotely or return to the office.

Disconnecting is, of course, easier said than done, even with new protections. You may find you need to build safeguards in to help you get away from work-mode.

Some tips include:

  • Turning off notifications on Slack, Asana, email, or even your entire phone outside of set hours

  • Update your email signature with your working hours

  • Add an emoji to your Slack to let people know when you’re at or away from your desk

  • Remove work apps from personal devices

Another great option for fully-remote workers is to check out a co-working space or enterprise centre. These spaces simulate an office environment in your neighbourhood, which makes it easier for you to psychologically transition between work and home. You can find many co-working spaces online, and if you’re unsure if there’s one near you, get in touch with your local council. 

Letting your local government know you’re interested may help spur investment in these facilities. 

You can find your local hub using this list of resources from Grow Remote.

Support Your Team in Disconnecting

Are you in a management or leadership position at work? Or maybe you’re on your way to that role?

Leaders have additional work to do because even with the Right to Disconnect, you set the tone for the comfort level your team members have in accessing their rights. To do so, you need to be fully switched on to not only what’s on your desk but what you’re asking of others.

For example, before accepting more work for your team, you need to think about its impact on work-life balance. Do you have the resources in time and morale? Is the project at risk of bleeding over to nights and weekends?

Gatekeeping your team’s time is an important but often overlooked part of being a leader. So if you find that you have team members regularly working late, early, or on Saturdays, it may be time to check-in, review workloads, and prioritise.

Additionally, it’s up to you to lead by example. In short, you need to practice what you preach by avoiding out-of-hours emails, texts, and calls — even when prefaced with a “no rush, you can respond later.” 

Teams see these messages and may believe there’s an unspoken expectation for them to work these hours, too. Ambitious employees, in particular, may think working outside office hours is the best way to “work hard,” which can still lead to burnout and poor work-life balance, even if they opt to do so with no pressure from you.

So, what does this mean for you?

  • Lead by example and stick communications to work hours, even if you have a flexible schedule for yourself and tend to work odd hours

  • Review workloads on a regular basis and prioritise tasks to prevent overwhelm and allow teams to switch off

  • Set realistic and manageable goals and learn from past sprints or projects

  • Encourage breaks or even build them into the team calendar or schedule

  • Focus on productivity goals rather than time spent (don’t worry about whether someone works six or eight hours, but do step in and gather feedback if a project or task is taking more time than it should)

  • Have an open door for employees struggling with work-life balance

Ultimately, your team’s ability to switch off is part of your responsibility as leader. When your team can relax and perfect their own work-life balance, everything will flow more smoothly during the work day. It’s in your interest to think about how much time your team has to be themselves outside of work!

Add More Structure to Your Day

If you find your work-life bleeds over into your home-life, you may find it easier to balance the two by adding more structure.

Over the last year, it’s increasingly common to “just do a bit of work” simply because you’re at home and you’ve finished the entirety of Netflix. While it’s a rational argument to make, ”might as well” isn’t a healthy reason to check your email, update a presentation, or get ahead on your project. 

You may find it helpful to find a reason to log-off work if you tend to drift back to your laptop. For some people, it can look like setting up a schedule, calling a “hard stop” time, and letting colleagues know you’re done at a certain time.

Now that you have more options for activities outside of the home, it can also mean making plans. You might book a class or make a date to meet friends, but your plans can be as simple as committing to a walk in the park or a turn around a gallery.

You can apply the same principle to your weekends. If you struggle to put away your computer, create a schedule for your weekend and don’t include any form of work in it. Even writing something down can help deter you away from taking a peek at your calendar or project management tool.