Author: Kari Kagan, Psy.D.
Work-life balance. Perhaps a phrase that is so overused that it has become somewhat hollow or even mythical. When we think of the idea of work-life balance, we usually imagine a perfectly balanced state in which our time is wisely divided between work and other life activities, such as time with family, exercise, and recreation. When I have talked to people about their thoughts on work-life balance, the consensus is usually that it is something that most people would like to attain, but feel like they are never successful in attaining. This got me thinking that maybe work-life balance is not something that can be “attained.” Further, when we think of it that way, it becomes an all-or-nothing phenomenon: either you have it or you don’t. The problem with that view of work-life balance is that in a life that is full of unpredictable events, it is almost impossible to be in complete balance everyday, and feeling like we “failed” at it could lead to helplessness and giving up.
A more helpful and realistic approach to work-life balance is to think of it as an aspiration, or something that we can always be working toward, even if we are not always successfully living in a perfectly balanced state. From this perspective, the goal is to do the best we can to find a healthy balance for ourselves on any given day, and this may vary from day to day. For example, on days where work requires a lot of our attention, balance might be just finding time to eat and sleep. On other days, balance might be leaving work early to fit in exercise and to go to the park with your children. Aspiring toward work-life balance everyday allows for more flexibility and more opportunities to make decisions that will move you toward work-life balance, even if you are not always in perfect balance.
Aspiring toward work-life balance can have positive effects on health, stress levels, relationships, and mood. Here are some tips to help you find more balance throughout your day.
1) Keep track of what you do on a daily basis for one week. At the end of the week, evaluate how you spent your time and compare it to how you would ideally like to spend your time. Pick one thing in the week that you could do differently to move you closer toward your ideal balance.
2) Use your values as a guide to creating more balance in your life. Create a list of values, or a list what is most important to you in your life and what you want your life to stand for. Values could include family, friends, work ethic, giving back to the community, spirituality, etc. It is difficult to live in line with all of your values everyday because we may have values that are competing. For example, it may be difficult to stay in touch with friends when you have a busy work schedule. When values are competing, prioritize. Whether it is everyday, week, or month, think about what is most important to you and do things that are in line with that. When your priorities change (for example, a friend in need may take priority over work), change how you divide your time. This could help contribute to a healthy balance.
3) Plan ahead. Without deliberately planning activities that could contribute to more balance, we might always find an excuse to procrastinate. As such, it is important to schedule in activities that contribute to balance, the same way that you would schedule a meeting at work. If you keep a calendar, try adding “go to gym” (if that is part of your balanced life) in your calendar, rather than just seeing how you feel at the end of the day. Scheduling it often increases the likelihood of following through.
4) Think small. On those days that your balance is going to be less than ideal, don’t just give up! Remember, work-life balance does not have to be an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Think of small ways you can work towards a little more balance on a busy day. For example, take a 5 minute walk outside, send a quick text to a friend, or eat a healthy snack.
5) Respect how you choose to spend your time. For example, once you decide to put work aside, really do it. It is tempting to check that last email, but will it really make a difference? Most likely, it will not make a difference in your work but it will make a difference in how you feel.
If you'd like to learn more about these and other strategies for creating more balance in your life, please reach out to us for a free initial consultation.
Diana Gordon, Psy.D., Kari Kagan Psy.D., and Katie Leoni, Psy.D.
Drs. Gordon, Kagan, and Leoni practice psychotherapy in downtown San Francisco and Oakland. Their areas of expertise include anxiety, sleep, stress, depression, and addiction. They blog about these topics to provide research-based information about common problems and strategies to help manage them.