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Building and maintaining a proper work-life balance is crucial for your mental health, performance at work and overall well-being. Even the most dedicated, nose-to-the-grindstone rockstar employees can’t spend all of their time working or thinking about the office.
You need to save a little time for friends, family members and recreation. “A proper work-life balance is the key not just to doing a great job at the workplace. It’s also key to having an enjoyable and satisfactory life in the long term,” says Max Ade, co-founder of Pickleheads.
Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t prioritize or teach young people about work-life balance very well. If you’re not sure where to start, read on. We’ll break down nine habits you can pursue to support a work-life balance starting today.
1. Set boundaries.
First, get into the habit of setting boundaries both in the workplace and with your friends and family members. Setting boundaries is important so you can get your personal goals completed every day and so you don’t let people take advantage of you, even inadvertently.
“For example, maybe you have a boss who likes to surprise you with overtime requests on Friday right before you head home for the weekend. Your boss is just trying to improve numbers for the company and bolster the performance of his business,” says Rachel Blank, founder and CEO of Allara Health. “Unfortunately, they are compromising the well-being of their employees as a result.”
You need to be able to set boundaries and tell your boss that you need to go home and rest. The same principle applies to all other requests. For instance, is a friend asking you to go out too much, and you need time to recharge at home? Set boundaries and tell them that you’ll only go out with them once or twice per week.
Setting boundaries can be difficult at first, but it’s an important habit that will become easier as you practice.
2. Turn off the work phone after hours.
Similarly, you should set a boundary between your work and home life by turning off your work phone when you are officially off the clock. While this doesn’t necessarily apply if you are a salaried professional, turning off the work phone is still a wise idea if you are on vacation.
“It’s difficult to ignore texts or calls, especially when we know that someone needs us at the workplace,” says Marcus Hutsen, business development manager at Patriot Coolers. “But constantly responding to these calls for attention slowly whittles down your mental health and your mood. All it does is keep your brain on alert and prevent you from properly relaxing when the workday is over and done.”
If you’ve noticed yourself becoming short or irritated more easily, it’s probably because you don’t get enough recreational time. Turn off your work phone whenever possible so you can fully rest and relax without having to wonder whether you’ll get a text in the next five minutes asking for a fix to a work problem.
3. Take regular breaks at work.
As you can tell so far, supporting a work-life balance means giving yourself plenty of time to recharge, whether that means lounging at home in bed or enjoying a recreational activity. You need to take regular breaks at work, as well.
Don’t focus on work so much that you never take a break. If your boss doesn’t provide you with ample opportunities for breaks, it’s time to find a new workplace.
“Generally, you should take a 15-minute break at least once every two hours,” says Asker A. Ahmed, director of iProcess Global Research Inc. If you sit in front of the computer all day, try to do something else, like get up and walk around or at least look at something else once every hour for a few minutes.
4. Learn to say, “No.”
Lots of people have trouble saying no to requests, particularly from their bosses, coworkers or friends. Simply put, you have to learn to say no so you can set boundaries as described above. More importantly, you need to learn to say no so you can stand up for yourself.
As you practice this step (and it’s harder than it sounds), you’ll become more confident in yourself and your abilities. This, in turn, will make it easier for you to set boundaries and maintain a good work-life balance for years to come.
5. Keep a journal.
It can be tough to maintain a good work-life balance if you don’t know where all your time goes. Your day might be so full of activities or tasks to accomplish that you don’t know how long you spend on certain things, like work, chatting with friends and so on.
With that in mind, consider keeping a journal. Writing down how you spend your day or your inner thoughts will help you determine:
- Whether you need to focus more on rest and recreation
- How much time you spend on work or chores
- How you can better distribute your time for better mental health
- And more
6. Develop hobbies outside of work.
A good work-life balance means enjoying activities beyond your professional endeavors. If you don’t already have some hobbies, get some.
In addition to being a great way to participate in recreational activities, hobbies are an excellent way to meet friends or even potential significant others. When you develop hobbies outside of work, you invest more of your time and thoughts into your life beyond the workplace, which is imperative for a strong work-life balance and mental health overall.
7. Schedule vacation time.
Pursuing a good work-life balance also means scheduling regular vacation time. Do not allow your life to be completely enveloped by your workplace obligations. In fact, if possible, you should schedule a vacation multiple times a year, even if it’s only for a few days. Consider visiting someplace new, or take the time to explore the outdoors.
This is doubly important if you have a significant other or a family. Karim Hachem, VP of eCommerce at Maxine of Hollywood says, “Spending time with these individuals is highly important. If you have an especially taxing job, scheduling vacation time should be one of your highest priorities.”
Odds are your workplace allows you to take PTO, or paid time off. Don’t let your paid time off accumulate for no good reason. Instead, use it and take full advantage of all the free time your company pays for—it’s a benefit that freelancers don’t enjoy.
This isn’t to say you should just take a vacation whenever it strikes you, of course. “You should consider others and how your absence will affect your workplace. Still, so long as you schedule vacation time well in advance, you should be able to take some time off guilt-free and recharge your batteries, plus spend some time with the people who matter to you most,” says Jae Pak, M.D., founder of Jae Pak MD Medical.
8. Manage your energy through diet and exercise.
It can be tough to pursue all of these strategies, as well as do your best at and outside of work, if you are constantly fatigued. Therefore, you can support a work-life balance by creating habits of exercising and maintaining a healthy diet.
Plan to do at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, especially cardio or weightlifting. This habit will pay off in dividends in the future, both in terms of how you look and how you feel. People who exercise have more energy, feel more self-confident and are less likely to suffer from issues like cardiovascular disease in old age.
Eating a healthy diet is also an important habit to pursue, especially while you are young. “Eat a well-rounded diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, healthy carbs and healthy fats. Try to avoid excessively sugary or fatty foods, and your body will thank you both now and in the future,” says Maegan Griffin, founder, CEO and nurse practitioner at Skin Pharm.
9. Practice mindfulness.
Lastly, you can support a work-life balance by developing a habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness means redirecting your attention and thoughts to the things and sensations around you rather than worrying or feeling anxious about what you can’t control.
For example, focus on the little things that make each work day happy and worthwhile. Don’t worry about the day-to-day routine or doldrums of everyday life. “Practicing mindfulness is a tough habit to get the hang of,” says Brandon Adcock, CEO of Wellful and co-founder of Nugenix. “But once you master it, you’ll find yourself happier than ever, and you’ll be able to pursue a better work-life balance thanks to your refreshed perspective.”
In the end, all of these habits can help you start and support a work-life balance for years to come. Practice them in conjunction with each other and you’ll feel better—and be more satisfied with each day—than ever before!