Work-life balance is an important feature of a healthy life, but the way we live work have dramatically changed in recent months. Many of us are spending more time working from home, and it’s becoming more and more likely that the future of work will involve a ‘hybrid’ mixture of remote and office work. This means that the boundary between work and life may become even more blurred. So, as we begin adjusting to the ‘new normal’, how can we maintain a healthy work-life balance?
Whether you’re at school, in a job, starting up your own project, or juggling more than one of these, this article aims to help you understand why work-life balance is important and to help you figure out how to get there.
Why work-life balance is important
Maintaining good mental health
Balancing the time we spend at work or studying with the time we spend on other activities and responsibilities is important for a happy and healthy life. According to a Mental Health Foundation Survey, 40% of employees overlook other aspects of their lives due to work, which can make people more vulnerable to mental health problems. This is because working long hours every day can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety, irritability, and can even lead to depression.
When we spend more time with friends and family, find time to exercise and look after ourselves and pursue our hobbies, this can improve mental health and make us feel much happier in the long run. Isn’t that what life is all about?
Physical health is strongly linked to mental health. When we face increased anxiety and stress because we are overworked, this can have dangerous knock-on effects for our physical health.
One UCL study of over 10,000 office workers in London found that those who regularly worked three or more hours of overtime a day had a 60% higher risk of heart health issues such as heart disease. Researchers thought this risk might be linked with the added stress and lack of sleep that people experience when they work too much overtime.
So, finding a better work-life balance isn’t just about feeling better, but can actually be about living longer!
A more sustainable and successful lifestyle
Overwork can lead to burnout. We’ve all been there, after working flat-out every day to prepare for an important exam or to meet that vital deadline, it is easy to hit a wall. Once you’ve clicked submit, left the exam hall, or sent off that email, curling up and taking a nap is often all you want to do rather than getting right back to work.
It is impossible to maintain high levels of concentration for long periods of time without needing to take a break. You are not a robot! And then again, even robots need time to recharge. By making time for a life outside of work and productivity your brain can take a rest and reset. This means that you’ll avoid burnout and are likely to be more productive and successful in the long term.
Steps towards improving your work-life balance
Consider why you want to achieve a better work-life balance
The first step to improving your work-life balance is thinking about what balance looks like for you. We all have different limits and priorities.
Take some time to think about and maybe take note of the things that are important in your life. What are your goals? Your aspirations? Your values? What do you want to achieve in life? These might seem like big, scary, or just plain irrelevant questions, but what we spend our time doing on a daily basis adds up to the bigger picture. If you figure out what kind of things you care most about and want to prioritise in life, it makes it a lot easier to figure out what you want to spend your time doing on a smaller scale.
For me, what matters most outside of my professional life is my mum, my friends and my health. When I think about how much those things matter to me in the grand scheme of things, it makes it a lot easier to dedicate more time to them during my week.
Balance looks different for all of us. For some, you might be happy with work taking priority above all else. For others, work might only be one of your more minor priorities amongst many. Either is valid! But the key is to take a step back, consider the big picture, and figure out what balance looks like for you.
Time block your week
Try taking the time to sit down and block out time in your week for different activities and responsibilities. You might do this on a Sunday evening and sort out a schedule for the entire week, or you might take five minutes before you go to bed to figure out a plan of action for the next day. This doesn’t mean that every minute of your day has to be planned out precisely, but laying out the things you want to spend more time on can be really helpful for achieving that balance.
Of course, time blocking is not for everyone. Other things can get in the way and not everything always goes to plan. If blocking out time in your week for certain activities at certain times isn’t your thing, you can at least have a rough idea. Once you know what your priorities are, you can figure out roughly how much time you want to spend on them in a week and take it from there.
The key is to set boundaries between work and the rest of your life, and to make time for what is most important to you.
Try taking a digital detox
Many of us spend most of our time plugged in. Between your phone, computer, TV and video games, most of us don’t get much of a break from looking at a screen. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Spending our down-time on social media and video games can form a big part of the work-life balance we’re looking for.
But at the same time, it can become a stress-inducing habit which can be distracting from more important parts of life. I know I have a bad habit of coming home from a day of work and getting stuck endlessly scrolling on Twitter, getting bored of Twitter, closing it, and then just opening it again and continuing. With everything happening in the world, this endless connectivity can even take a toll on your mental health and has even dubbed ‘doomscrolling’.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that moving between work and mindless social media use can really be described as a healthy ‘work-life balance’.
Again, I’m not saying screen time can’t be part of a good work-life balance. But turning off your phone and computer an hour before bed can be good for your mental health as well as your sleep. In this time you could take time for yourself in a more meaningful way by doing things like meditating, skincare, reading or journaling. Maybe start by putting your phone away fifteen minutes before bed, and see if it makes a positive difference.
Wondering what to do instead of scrolling on social media? Check out Sarah’s blog on making the most of your free time.
Work can always pile on and become overwhelming, and it's okay to ask for help. If you find that your workload is becoming unmanageable, and is getting in the way of other things, maybe talk to someone about decreasing or better managing it.
This might seem impossible at school or sixth form because there is often little wiggle room with the workload. But speaking to a teacher or counsellor that you trust can really help. Although they might not be able to do much to help how much work you’ve got, they might be able to help you figure out smarter ways of working so that you can get the same amount done in less time. They might also be able to help you to prioritise and manage your work. It might not solve the problem entirely but can help take off some of the pressure.
Reaching out can also be especially difficult at a new job, where you might want to do as much as possible to impress the boss. It can feel scary and overwhelming to talk to your boss about taking on less work, and you might fear being seen as lazy or not good enough. But taking on endless work and neglecting other parts of life isn’t sustainable, and in the end, the quality of your work might suffer. Don’t be too hard on yourself, talk to coworkers about sharing out the workload, figure out what needs to be prioritised and be honest.
Reaching out and asking for help shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness but a sign of strength, and you will thank yourself in the long run if you do.
Remember that you’re not going to get it right every time
At the end of the day, you are not superhuman. Finding a work-life balance takes time and effort, and isn’t always possible. Life is never perfectly balanced. Some weeks you might be so busy with work that you barely have any time for yourself at all, while others might be spent entirely curled up in bed watching films and spending time with friends. The point is to find variety, and not spend your whole time doing one thing. As long as you’re happy and not always on the verge of burnout, that’s all that matters!
For more advice and guidance on the world of work, check out the Fledglink app where you will find more blog posts like this one, as well as skills workshops, podcasts and more.