Whether it’s by choice or coercion, America is a nation of workaholics. Some workers struggle to find the off switch because they’re engrossed in what they’re doing and find excitement and fulfillment when they’re working. Others are feeling the effects of too much work and not enough workers. As a result, they have to put in extra hours to stay abreast of their workload. Collectively, Americans are becoming 24-hour workers, spending every waking moment thinking about work and responding to work emails. As a result, some workers neglect family, friends, and personal time.
Contrary to popular belief, being a workaholic does not lead to increased productivity levels. Often, it results in disengaged workers with high levels of stress, poor physical and mental health, and fractured relationships.
So how can you maintain a healthy work-life balance? Below are seven tips that can help you handle all of the competing forces in your life.
1. Use Your Vacation Time
Americans leave 169 million days of paid time off (PTO) on the table, according to a study conducted by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association. Currently, workers take an average of 16 vacation days each year. This is down significantly from the 20 plus vacation days Americans took on average, just 15 years ago.
Sherry Dixon, senior vice president of Adecco Staffing USA, tells Investopedia, “This is extremely problematic when you consider that taking a vacation increases productivity by 80%.” It is important to note that working all of the time will not necessarily make you more likely to be promoted, rewarded, or even appreciated for your efforts.
Dixon says that taking a vacation day is a guilt-free way to spend time away from the office. Taking one or more vacation days doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go on vacation—you can spend time with your family, explore your city, or even sleep. “The important thing is to ensure you feel in control of your personal life,” says Dixon. Since it’s difficult for some people to commit to taking vacation days, at the beginning of each quarter, Dixon recommends that employees select at least one vacation day to take within the next three months.
2. Go Off the Grid
If taking vacation time is problematic, consider a weekend excursion to get away from the congestion and busyness of your usual routine. Abbi Whitaker, co-founder of The Abbi Agency in Reno, Nevada, recommends going off the grid at least once a month. “Living in Nevada, this is a bit easier since we have a ton of open space and can easily disappear into the desert to go hiking, camping or hot springing with our family.” Whitaker says this helps her family to unplug, and they return feeling energized.
3. Make Time for the Kids
According to research by Project Time Off, 75% of children say that their parents bring work home, and 59% say they are upset when their parents prioritize work over spending time with them. While you may not be able to avoid bringing work home, you should be sensitive to the fact that your kids may feel neglected and become resentful. Whitaker says she and her husband try to have an individual “date night” with their kids once a month. “This gives us one-on-one time with each child and a chance to truly focus on just them for a few hours.”
4. Prioritize Your Days
One way you can avoid getting bogged down at work is by prioritizing both your professional and personal life. At the start of each day, Dixon recommends creating a to-do list and deciding which tasks are most important, which tasks can be postponed, and which tasks should be handled by a colleague. She also recommends that you prioritize your various responsibilities across your professional and personal life. If you see that ‘spending time with family’ is your number one priority, you are more likely to leave your desk at a reasonable time every day.” On the other hand, when finishing a big project at work is your top priority, Dixon says you may need to schedule your social activities around your work responsibilities.
Also, streamline activities that waste time and drain your energy. Avoid meetings unless your presence is mandatory. When you call a meeting, make sure you follow the rules of effective meetings to ensure you’re not wasting someone else’s time.
5. Communicate Your Needs
Sometimes you have to speak up for yourself if your work duties are interfering with your personal priorities. “A good manager will understand that health, family, and other personal responsibilities need to be tended to, and will have no objections if you maturely communicate your needs,” says Dixon. However, when you go into the meeting with your manager, Dixon recommends being prepared to offer potential solutions to your work-life imbalance. For example, she says that maybe you can suggest working from home a few days a week to make it easier for you to spend time with your family. Or, if you need to work your fitness routine into your daily schedule, suggest flexibility to come into the office earlier and leave earlier.
6. Consider a Work-Life Blend
If you think it’s impossible to achieve a healthy work-life balance, you may need to adjust your mindset, according to Dixon. Instead of trying to draw a line between work and personal life, consider joining the two. For example, if you answer business emails on the weekends, Dixon says you shouldn’t feel guilty about receiving a personal phone call during traditional working hours. If you have a passion for fitness, Dixon recommends starting a fitness program at work—one that will allow employees to take time during the workday to exercise.
7. Make Work Fun
Take steps to make your job as enjoyable as possible. If you know that you’re going to have to spend ten hours a day working, Whitaker recommends creating ways to have fun. She advises against taking yourself too seriously. Instead, she encourages a balanced company culture. “Instead of always trying so hard to be ‘professional,’ realize that sometimes it’s okay to be silly.” Whitaker says her organization has company-wide lunches to allow employees to relax, laugh, and talk about their lives.
The Bottom Line
Work is an essential part of your life, but it’s only one component. Learning how to successfully balance your work with the other parts of your life will help you focus on what’s important, and make you a more productive, healthy, and well-rounded person and worker.