Everyone talks about getting a better work life balance, but have you noticed that it's rarely in a good context? We all complain about needing a better work life balance. We envy those who seem to have the whole work life and wellbeing balance nailed. And we find it darkly funny that the concept of a work life balance even exists when we have 34578486 things to do before 5pm and no bandwidth to even begin them.
Work life balance image from Shutterstock
And it's clear we're not alone. According to the latest stats, more than 10 million working days were lost to stress in the UK last year. Which means the toll of not getting a decent work life balance and looking after ourselves before we delve into that endless job list is getting steeper.
So, how do we really do it? How do we get our work done and stay sane and healthy, too? Well, we spoke to Kate Taylor From Up Coaching, who specialises in helping people connect to their creativity and get shit done while also ensuring they feel happy, they feel challenged and they feel that holy grail of balance.
She shared her top tips for ensuring you find that balance by putting yourself first, adding structure to your day and ultimately keeping your own health and happiness in check while you're at it.
#1 Put your own oxygen mask on first
How often do you put the needs of everyone else in your life above your own? We are very good at making sure that our partners, family, work, the dog, even the dog sitter, are all looked after before we even give a thought to looking out for ourselves. The trouble being, that if you’re not looking after yourself, and you’re looking after everyone else, then you could be in danger of running on fumes. Make a commitment to your own wellbeing. Whether it’s a yoga class, or have a long soak in the bath, me time is as important as doing the work.
#2 Work regular hours
We're often at the curse of staying that extra couple of hours in the office, or getting in earlier than everyone else, just to stay on top of the workload. Working longer hours doesn’t necessarily mean getting more work done. In fact, working longer hours decreases productivity levels and increases both stress levels, along with the risk of of heart disease. Do it like the Danes and leave work on time, even if you start with one day a week and then build it up. And don’t trick yourself into thinking that you can take work home with you, when you leave the office go and do something just for you and your own wellbeing.
#3 Quit multitasking
In the same way that working too many hours impacts productivity, multitasking has an even more detrimental effect on us. A study by the University of London has found that multitasking whilst carrying out cognitive tasks – such as emailing, or talking on the telephone – lowers our IQ levels to an equivalent of losing a night’s sleep. The effects long term are even more damaging: multitasking causes production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which wears out the body over time. Sticking to one thing at a time is better for productivity, our bodies, and our brain’s health.
#4 Curb your email habit
Here’s the thing with email: the more you send, the more you will get back, so don’t be a slave to your inbox. Get a better email habit by sticking to reading and answering emails for one hour a time, at a certain time of the day. You can even put an out of office on to let people know that they can expect a reply from you in those hours. The likelihood is that by the time it comes around, they will have been able to get what they needed by themselves anyway!
#5 Ditch your devices
How guilty are you of emailing, scrolling or double tapping last thing at night, and first thing in the morning? Devices in the bedroom should be a no-go zone. Not only does the blue light from the screen interrupt sleeping patterns before you go to sleep, but constant notifications popping up trigger cortisol spikes in the body. Reading emails before you even got out of bed sets tone for the day ahead, so if you’ve received an email overnight which causes you stress, this will create a pattern for your day. Spend time each morning creating a routine that puts you first. And if you use your phone for your alarm, then simply go out and buy an alarm clock. There really are no excuses!
#6 Remember to breathe
When we're feeling out of balance, the first thing which is likely to be impacted is your breathing. The knock on effect of this works at a cellular level as were not getting enough oxygen to our bodies to keep us healthy. Breathing techniques along with mindful moments allow us to centre in, and carve some time to bring us back to ourselves, and bring with it a sense of balance. Create balance in breath, brain and body with some alternate nose breathing. Close one nostril with your thumb and inhale for four, then take your ring finger to your other nostril to exhale for four. Not only will this regulate and get you breathing deeply, it also acts like a cup of coffee to awaken both the logical left side of your brain hemisphere, as well as your creative left side.
#7 Ease up on yourself
Here’s the thing Superwoman: you could work 24 hours a day and that workload would simply increase. We can often feel as though we should be able to cope with the demands of our jobs, and our home lives. We can also get caught in the trap of being incredibly hard on ourselves, and striving for more, better, bigger. Stop giving yourself a hard time. You are doing just fine, and you really don’t have anything to prove to anyone else. So, be realistic with just how much can be in one day, and ease up where you can to take some time back for yourself; get a better relationship with the magic work ‘no’; and ask for help if you are struggling. There really is no shame in admitting that you cannot do it all on your own, however much you believe you should be able to.