Four Steps to Your Work-Life Balance: Implementing small changes in our lives to improve our well-being

While the typical workday ends at 5pm, many of us are still thinking about work long after. We’ll sneak in an email to a client after dinner, RSVP to Zoom meetings walking to bed after brushing our teeth, and unless the phone is on “Do Not Disturb” mode, we might even be woken with a start to a notification from a Teams message from a colleague. The line between work duties and home life quickly becomes blurred.

With the growing popularity of remote work and telecommuting, striking a work life balance has become especially challenging. When you work from home, it’s all too easy to skip a lunch hour and replace it with a two minute walk to the pantry for a bag of crisps to munch on at your desk. Working after hours can be justified with, “If I worked on site I would be sitting in traffic right now anyway”.

The advancement of technology has done wonders for our ability to connect with our colleagues, employers, and clients from anywhere in the world, at any time of day – but this can also come with a cost to our work-life balance. You might be thinking, “What’s the harm of replying to one email waiting in line at Marks & Spencer?” Being permanently connected – regularly checking your smart device for work-related notifications outside of work hours – leads to a greater sense of loneliness and higher and increased levels of stress1. These can result in a host of problems later down the road, from burnout and depression2, to strained relationships with loved ones3.

So what exactly is ‘work-life balance’, anyway?

A work-life balance is when we are able to foster a healthy, harmonious relationship between our work and personal lives, where both our career goals and well-being are tended to4. This means establishing that boundary between work and personal life; in other words, we get the tasks done on time within the hours assigned to work, and are able to dedicate the rest of our time to our relationships, health, hobbies, and overall well-being.

However, this is easier said than done, especially if we struggle with executive functioning. These challenges can make it more difficult to stay focused in the work day, work backwards from a due date, or to break up an overwhelming task into smaller chunks5. Not only does this aggravate our stress levels, but it can also lead to feeling compelled to work extra hours to avoid missing deadlines.

How do I know if my work-life is unbalanced?

Because we are all unique, the effects of an unbalanced work-life relationship can feel or appear different from person to person. Common signs of imbalance include6:

  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty ‘shutting off’ after work; thinking about work when with friends or family
  • Finding anything outside of work life uninteresting or irrelevant
  • Interpersonal relationships are strained because you are irritable or isolate yourself from them7
  • Pain (ranging from headaches to body aches)
  • Tummy cramps and indigestion
  • A constant sense of feeling like you should always be doing something

Finding your ‘Goldilocks Zone’

As a remote working twentysomething whose only dependant is a five year old cat, what work-life balance means to me is likely vastly different from that of, for example, a full-time working mum of two – who has to attend meetings, work around their kids’ needs, grocery shop, and so on. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the work-life balance, here are four steps we can take to find what works for us.

1. Be realistic about work productivity

Planning ahead and ending work at a specific time are useful ways to set work-life boundaries. But with executive function challenges, planning ahead and completing work on time can feel impossible8. A Connected Club member, Daniel, works from home and occasionally at his favourite coffee shop. He battled to stay focused in work hours and meet deadlines due to executive dysfunction.

We identified three obstacles to his productivity: noise distractions, procrastinating starting a large project, and time blindness.To overcome this, we asked him which obstacle he wanted to address first. He chose to address noise distractions.

In the workplace, noise distractions can be the chattering of colleagues. For Daniel, it was the grinding of the coffee machine at the shop and the lawn mower outside his home office. A useful solution we discovered works for Daniel is to pop on his headphones and listen to a colour noise when working9. You might’ve heard of ‘white noise’, ‘brown noise’, or even ‘pink noise’. These are static, steady noise frequencies that can sound like an air conditioner or like you’re sitting in an aeroplane. They can help drown out noises around you and enable you to focus better. You can find it on Spotify by searching for ‘white noise’, or access white noise videos on YouTube.

2. Take your lunch break

That lunch hour is more important than we may think. When managing executive function challenges, we can all too easily hyperfixate on a task and forget to eat. A helpful tip is to set a daily lunch time phone alarm. Making the time to step away from our workspace each day in our lunch hour serves as a good reminder to nourish our hardworking brains and bodies with something healthy and yummy, and do so mindfully10. If you can, use this time to meet up with a friend or colleague, or enjoy your meal in the sunshine.

3. Find an activity you enjoy outside of work

Having a hobby that has nothing to do with our work life plays a vital role in maintaining work-life balance11. Blocking out time for an activity we’re looking forward to outside of work increases our energy levels, creativity, and sense of satisfaction. In doing so, hobbies allow us to disconnect from thoughts about work, and reduce stress.

4. Set time aside to unplug

Allocating time to unwind and step away from technology is essential for work-life balance12. Whether it be taking your dog for a walk, a bubble bath, meditation, or reading a few chapters of your book on the couch, unplugging from our smart devices and turning off work notifications after hours helps us destress and practice mindfulness.

Conclusion

It’s important to be kind to ourselves when working towards a work-life balance. Everyone’s path to finding balance is unique, and can take a lot of trial and error. Taking the time to identify the aspects of our lives that are throwing us off balance is a good start. By being realistic with our productivity, taking our lunch breaks seriously, enjoying hobbies, and making time to unplug, we can begin to implement small changes in our day to day that result in a big improvement in our overall well-being over time.

Don’t miss out on our upcoming free livecast!

Join us for another live podcast recording as resident psychologist, Casey Anley, chats with one of our longstanding, treasured Connected Club members. Cecilia will be sharing her journey with discovering her ADHD diagnosis and how she found Connections in Mind, as well as her exploration into the world of food to support her well-being. It takes place on the 12 September at 1pm-2pm BST. Click the button below to reserve your FREE spot!

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