The freedom that remote working brings today is a double-edged sword, but it doesn’t have to be. Set some rules and attach these to your free time, and you’ll find a positive shift towards a more enjoyable life.
Work and personal life aren’t opposites, and when given equal value they can work harmoniously to create what’s referred to as the perfect ‘work/life balance’.
What is work/life balance?
Work/life balance comes when you adjust your day-to-day activities to achieve a sense of balance between work life and personal life. It’s a concept that includes proper prioritising, and describes the relationship between your career and your family, friends and social commitments. Despite the worldwide quest for work/life balance, very few have found an acceptable definition of the concept.
The best balance for each person will vary over time, often on a daily basis. Your schedule will depend on circumstances, such as whether or not you’re single, married, a parent etc., and whether you’re first starting your career or are well established.
Work/life balance doesn’t necessarily mean an equal balance, it means finding a balance that allows for:
- Reduced stress levels, at work and at home
- Higher levels of job satisfaction
- Greater focus and concentration
- The opportunity to enjoy more family and social moments
- More time to pursue personal goals and hobbies
- Improved health.
There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all format that will see you through your career. Finding work/life balance is about accepting the need to be flexible and adapting to life as it changes.
There is, however, two key elements at the core of work/life balance. These elements are:
Achievement and enjoyment
Achievement and enjoyment sit at the heart of work/life balance, and are needed to create a solid foundation and answer the “why’s” behind creating such a balance -
“Why do I want a better income … a new house … to support the kids through uni … to rise through the ranks … to see the world … to eventually not come to work at all?”
Achievement covers accomplishments, superior ability, special efforts, attainment, fulfilment and procurement, while enjoyment covers pride, satisfaction, happiness, celebration, love, joy and a sense of well being. They’re the front and back of a coin - you can’t have one without the other.
The two are managed through constant review and by:
- Setting goals around the things you value the most
- Managing time effectively
- Creating boundaries
- Keeping a positive attitude
- Being aware of common stresses and how they can be avoided
- Building resilience
- Enlisting a good support system
- Doing something you love
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through good sleep, nutrition and exercise.
Why you need work/life balance
For those who work out a lot, you’ll know that the goal of exercise is to make you stronger and fitter. What you might not realise is that the exercise itself actually makes you weaker - it’s what happens during the recovery that makes you stronger and fitter. It’s the recovery time where the magic happens.
If you treat work like a good session in the gym, you can be sure that you will grow, get more knowledgeable, achieve more, and raise your level of satisfaction. But only if you allow yourself appropriate recovery time. Without the recovery, your efforts go unrewarded.
Research tells us that working is good for mental and physical health and well being. The benefits of work include:
- Financial independence
- Having a sense of meaning and purpose
- Providing activity and daily structure
- Building relationships and a sense of community
- The excitement of reaching goals.
But these same aspects that bring joy and physical and mental strength can also have a negative effect on health. Job stress, isolated working conditions, job insecurity, psychological demands, long days, a lack of rewards for effort, and lack of control in the job can make mental health problems more likely and can lead to burnout.
Work burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work. It’s generally caused by excessive and prolonged stress and occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands. The result is reduced productivity, sapped energy and a feeling of helplessness and resentment.
The effects of burnout spill over into every area of your life including your work, home and social life, and can make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flus. Ignored burnout can put you at risk of other more serious conditions including insomnia, depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease and immune disorders.
Signs you might be burning out include:
- Feeling continually tired
- Being more pessimistic than you used to
- Lack of motivation
- Constant frustration
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Slipping job performance
- Self doubt
- Interpersonal problems at home and work
- Excess drinking, smoking, binge eating
- Not being able to “switch off”
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Digestive issues, heart problems, depression and obesity.
Burnout is a gradual process and the earlier you recognise the symptoms, the less likely you are to suffer a major breakdown. Think of early symptoms as red flags that show something is wrong, and take steps to address the problem. Don’t just treat the issue just as stress because burnout is something very different. Everyone feels stressed from time to time in their job, but stress is generally characterised by over engagement. Burnout on the other hand is characterised by disengagement and feelings of emptiness.
Combatting stress before burnout strikes
The positive steps you take towards creating better work/life balance can put you in the driving seat of your work-related emotions. Social contact is nature’s antidote to stress, and by talking through your stress with others you can calm your nervous system and relieve anxiety. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be in a position to “fix” your work problems, they simply need to be willing to listen.
But being with others isn’t just about talking out your stress, it’s also about just “being”. Invest in your closest relationships, such as those with your partner, friends and children, and try to put aside thoughts of work and just “be”. Even being more sociable with your coworkers can bring greater balance, so long as these relationships are positive and not based on negative work chatter.
Other ways to prevent burnout include:
Set boundaries and clearly separate work and personal time
Set limits on the amount of hours you are willing to work and outside of these hours really switch off. These means stepping away from technology, not checking emails, switching off the phone, and saying no to things you really don’t ‘have’ to do.
Put those you love most first
The guys from work have invited you to go for dinner but all you really feel like doing is walking the dog with the family. If your family is your happy place, prioritise it and choose time with them first. No one lays on their deathbed and wishes they had spend more time hanging with their colleagues.
List what’s important
Spend some time thinking about what’s important to you and list your most valuable priorities. Take note of things from both the Achievement and Enjoyment categories and ensure you set time for the things that make you feel most ‘alive’. Consider your passions and interests and how you can fit them into your life simply.
Do what you love
Going to work day in day out when you don’t enjoy what you do is bound to take its toll eventually. Do what you love, love what you do is a popular motto of many of the world’s most successful people, so if you don’t love what you do, maybe it’s time to change your career?
Improve time management
Diaries, calendars, apps and to-do lists are all useful tools when it comes to managing your time. Keep track of how you use your time and make changes where you see wastage. Delegate when possible, avoid unnecessary meetings, shop online, or hire a cleaner/gardener to free up more time for your hobbies.
Review your finances
Consider the impact your finances have on your life and really weigh up if more money will equal increased happiness. Do you really need that new car or will the one you’re driving suffice? Do you really need to go to Mauritius for your holidays, or could you visit Hamilton Island instead? Spending less money could mean a lesser need to work, which in turn could lead to a fuller life.
In addition, make sure you’re prepared in case something was to go wrong. Ensure your car insurance is up to date, your home is covered, and that you and your family are protected by a comprehensive health insurance policy.
Maintain good health
Eating healthy food, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, drinking in moderation, avoiding illegal drugs - these are all ways to build a solid foundation that’s better equipped to manage work/life balance. With good health comes increased energy and with increased energy comes a willingness to embrace more.
Make sure to rest
Each week should include a few hours that are solely for yourself. No one else, just you. Read a book (a non-industry related book), go shopping, take a walk in the countryside, swim at the beach or book yourself in for a massage. Just make sure it’s something you truly enjoy.
More work isn’t necessarily better
The bottom line is that maintaining work/life balance is crucial for a number of reasons. Being at work more doesn’t mean you’re achieving more, with research suggesting that those most productive are the ones who regularly take time out for themselves. Studies tell us that we have a limited pool of cognitive resources and when these resources are drained they leave us with decreased capabilities. If you deplete your resources completely, your performance will obviously decline.
Working too much is counterintuitive. Productivity and performance starts with free time - the fuel for the energy, creativity and focus needed to succeed. Free time keeps you in good health by keeping you rejuvenated and ensures you longevity in your career. It will also lead to a more satisfied personal life and greater relationships with your partner, children, family and friends.
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