It’s easy to end up feeling that all you do is work – especially over the past year where many more of us have been working from home, and since our whole lives are programmed into our smartphones.
Research has shown that the more hours you spend at work, the more hours you’re likely to spend outside of work thinking or worrying about it. So the question is, what can you do to avoid working longer hours, so you have more time to focus on your health and wellbeing?
The answer will be slightly different for each of us, but the tips below should offer a helpful starting point on your journey towards a better work-life balance. Achieving a healthy balance between work and play isn’t always easy, however, it is possible!
10 tips to help you achieve a work-life balance
1. Create boundaries and stick to them
It sounds simple, but often the first step towards creating a healthier work-life balance is to set rules for yourself and stick to them. For example, if you have flexi-hours and don’t have a working pattern set out by your employer, then it can be a good idea to create one yourself – otherwise, it can be easy to lose track of time and rack up lots of extra hours every week.
The same can be said for overtime – if you’re someone who is regularly offered overtime, but is desperate for more downtime, then try setting yourself a limit on how many extra shifts you’ll take on every month. It can be tempting to take every extra shift that’s offered to you, but it’s also okay to say no. You may be surprised at just how much extra time you have as a result.
Ultimately, only you fully understand the ins and outs of your current situation and how much work you can cope with on a daily basis. But if you’re finding yourself consumed by work and are spending more and more time worrying about it (even when you’re not there), then it could be time to put some firmer boundaries in place.
2. Schedule personal time
Whether you’re employed or looking for a job, it’s always important to set time aside to look after yourself. This will mean different things for different people, but generally speaking, it’ll involve things like making time to exercise, eat well, socialise, and/or explore your passions.
When you’ve got a lot on at work or you’re desperate to find a job, it can be easy to become so focused on the task ahead that you let other areas of your life slide. This happens to most of us at some point, but it’s important to be able to spot when you aren’t taking enough personal time, so you can readjust the balance.
You’ll usually know when you aren’t taking enough personal time, as you may find yourself feeling excessively tired, missing friends and family, or just generally not feeling like the best version of yourself. If you’re feeling especially run-down, then you might be experiencing burnout – which you can read about here.
Scheduling personal time isn’t always easy, especially if you’ve got a lot to do. But it’s okay to start small; for example, by setting aside an hour a day to do something that you enjoy. This could be anything at all – a gym session, cooking your favourite meal, meeting a friend for coffee, or taking your grandchildren to the park.
The key to setting aside personal time is to schedule it in, like you would a work appointment, otherwise it’s usually the first thing to be sacrificed when things get busy. Often, if we’re looking after ourselves well – both mentally and physically – we’ll feel more content and perform better at work. So don’t be afraid to make yourself a priority!
3. Let go of perfectionism
Have you ever come home from work and spent hours obsessing over whether you could have completed a task better? Or spent so long trying to perfect something that you’ve lost sight of what it is you’re actually trying to achieve? While doing your best is a good thing, aiming for perfect results can often leave us feeling constantly dissatisfied and can mean that we end up working more than we need to.
Perfectionists may be guilty of working extra hours on a task that’s already good enough, in an attempt to create the perfect solution. Sometimes this is helpful, or even necessary – but it can become a habit and we can end up striving for great with all tasks, when good may be good enough. If you want to work towards having a better work-life balance, then it can be helpful to be aware of this habit and know when to call it a day.
If you feel yourself becoming fixated on trying to perfect a task, you can always try stepping away from it for a few minutes and distracting your brain with something else. Often, once we step away from something and ‘change the channel’ – when we come back to it, we can view it with fresh eyes, making it easier to see that it’s good enough already.
Perfectionism may be one of the hardest habits to break during your quest for a healthy work-life balance – but it’ll be the one that is most valuable, because you’ll eventually spend less time worrying and more time focusing on other, more important things.
4. Stand up for yourself
It’s not uncommon for people to take on too much and end up feeling burnt out, simply because they want to please others. Perhaps you feel that in order to keep your job, you need to work longer hours than those of your colleagues to impress your boss. Or maybe your colleagues regularly ask you for favours, leading you to end up staying later than planned.
While it can feel great to please and help others at times – doing it too much can leave you feeling resentful and undervalued. The awkward part can be working out where to draw the line and when to simply say no.
If you’ve got into the habit of trying to please others and they’ve come to expect it, then it can sometimes feel daunting to stand up for yourself – but the good news is that after you’ve done it once, it gets easier.
As long as you honour your employment contract and remain polite and respectful to your boss and your work colleagues, then there’s no reason why you can’t successfully speak up and be honest when your workload is becoming too much. You may find that it highlights a need for change that was going unnoticed by your boss. For example, the need to hire extra staff or distribute the workload within the existing team better.
While standing up for yourself at work can help you to take steps towards a more balanced lifestyle, it can also be necessary to take similar steps outside of work. For example, if family or friends are making demands on your time that leave you feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. Everyone has their limit, so don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve reached yours.
5. Try and keep work and home life seperate
As many of us who have been working from home more since the recent pandemic hit might have found, it can be easy for the distinction between work and home life to become lost. It can be tempting to think about getting ahead of the next day by doing some extra work in the evenings or getting up early to log an extra hour or two before you start your official work day.
While you might get more work done by putting in extra hours, there will always be more to do and you can end up feeling like you’re living through a constant cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat, with little time for much else.
In order to avoid this, it can help to make a conscious decision not to log into work during your free hours and not to answer any emails before a certain time in the morning and after a certain time in the evening. If you find yourself in a situation where you do have to do some extra work, then it’s best to stick to some rules, such as allocating yourself a specific room to work in so that the work stops when you leave that room, and/or deciding in advance on a reasonable time to switch off.
If you have work-related emails set up to arrive on your phone, then consider whether this is necessary, and whether you can disable these notifications. Or, at least set time restrictions on when they appear, so that you only start when your working day actually begins.
If this isn’t possible, then you can still help yourself by doing small things like leaving your phone in another room when you go to bed and switching it off during scheduled personal time. This way, you won’t be tempted to get involved with any work-related tasks after you’ve clocked off, nor will you be encouraged to constantly think about work when you’re trying to do other things.
6. Work smarter, not harder
When you’re trying to work towards achieving a healthy work-life balance, it can be useful to take a step back and consider how you might be able to make the most of your scheduled working hours, so that you can finish on time.
For many people, this means taking steps such as; completing tasks within a set timeframe before moving on to something else and/or prioritising tasks better to make sure that the most pressing tasks are done at the start of the day and aren’t left until the last minute. By leaving priority tasks too late, you could end up working extra hours to finish them.
Some people also find that taking regular breaks (for example, 10 minutes every hour) improves their focus and makes them far more productive. It’s all about finding what works for you! If you struggle with maintaining concentration at work, then you might be interested in our articles 7 ways to improve your focus and 6 tips to boost motivation.
7. Cut the commute
Often, it’s only once we change a habit that we realise how much of an impact it was having on our daily life before. Commuting is something that some people don’t mind, others hate, and very few people really enjoy.
If you’re still commuting to work at the moment, you may think little about it each day as you enter autopilot mode and start up your engine or head towards the train station. But have you ever thought about how many hours a week you spend commuting? For example, by travelling for an hour and a half twice daily, you can rack up 15 commuting hours each week – which is 65 hours a month and 780 hours a year!
If you’re in the market for a new job, and you’re considering what sort of jobs you want to apply for, it’s worth thinking long and hard about the implications of a lengthy, daily commute. As a result of the recent pandemic’s impact on home working, it’s likely that a lot of companies will be more open to flexible working going forward – so it’s worth checking with employers what their policies are. While it’s not always possible to prioritise your job search based on this, it can make a significant difference to your wellbeing if you can.
It can also be helpful to adopt home working where possible, which can save money and allow you to allocate your commuting hours to something that you actually enjoy doing! Some people have an informal agreement with their boss about this, whilst others decide to work for themselves so that they can make their own rules.
8. Take regular breaks and make full use of your annual leave
Sometimes, work can feel like being on a roundabout or a ferris wheel. Once we generate momentum and we’re constantly working to get things done, it can be difficult to stop – largely due to fears that it’ll be difficult to get going again, or there may be even more to do later.
However, by taking regular breaks and making full use of your annual leave, you’ll have more time to take care of your personal wellbeing and will likely be able to take a more positive and productive approach to your work which will help you work smarter, not harder.
Taking regular breaks also relates to letting go and accepting that we’re not going to be perfect at all the things we do, whether we force ourselves to work on them tirelessly or not. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is step back, take a break, and focus on other things.
9. Consider going part-time
Making the decision to go part-time isn’t always straightforward – usually due to the financial and professional implications. However, many people say that they find it to be one of the most effective ways of restoring their work-life balance.
If you’re happy in your full-time job, but you’d like to give more time to other areas of your life, then it could be worth speaking to your boss about reducing your hours. Before doing this, check your company’s handbook to see if they have a policy on things like part-time working, flexible hours, and/or telecommuting to see what your options might be and how you might feel if you’re offered an alternative as a compromise.
It can also help if you’re clear on your part-time work proposal before you sit down with your boss. This could include details like which days/hours you’d like to work, plus ideas for why it might be in the company’s best interests too.
If you can see that your boss isn’t sure about the idea in the long-term, then they may still be open to you working part-time on a trial basis, with a plan to review in a month or so. Chances are, your boss would rather reach a compromise than lose a valuable, hardworking member of the team.
Alternatively, if you’ve recently retired or taken a career break and are thinking about going back to work part-time – or perhaps you’re simply thinking about making a career change – then there are plenty of different part-time roles that might be of interest, from tutoring through to consulting. Our article 15 part-time job ideas for the over 50s offers a few different ideas, plus tips on how to get started.
A note on topping up your income whilst working part-time…
Some people find that they can achieve a better work-life balance by working part-time and taking on a side hustle to top up their income. This could include anything from renting a room in your house to selling arts and crafts via an online shop. You can view more side hustle ideas in our article, here.
10. Consider a career change
You may find that the ideas above are enough to help you achieve a work-life balance in your current role, or you may not. If you simply don’t enjoy the nature of your work anymore and it’s doing nothing for your overall wellbeing and life motivation, then it’s important to remember that you aren’t trapped. There could be a new and exciting life chapter ahead, just waiting to be written.
Making a career change can deliver a mixed bag of emotions – exhilaration, fear, hope, etc – which are all completely normal as you take steps outside of your comfort zone.
Work can feel much less like work when it’s something that you’re passionate about and/or enjoy. Changing careers isn’t for everyone, and can come with significant risks and challenges, but if you’re not happy in your job, or you’re stuck in a monotonous routine which is driving you crazy, then it’s worth considering what other options might be out there for you.
While the advice in this article will hopefully give you some things to think about when you’re trying to create more balance in your life, it’s up to you to find your own balance based on your own situation and needs.
Sometimes, people realise that they actually like working a lot, whilst others may decide that they don’t want balance – they’d rather give up work altogether. Your needs and circumstances are entirely unique and your journey will be too…
Real-life stories from Rest Less members who've recently achieved work-life balance
We regularly speak to people who’ve made adjustments to their lives in order to achieve a better work-life balance. Each person’s journey is different – it’s all about finding something that suits your current circumstances and works for you.
Sue, Mandy, and Kim are examples of people who’ve struggled with achieving a work-life balance over the years. But each of them made significant changes to their lives as they approached 60, and now have more time to explore other interests.
Sue French, 60, from Nottingham, spent the majority of her career working with various communities including veterans, people with disabilities, and her local council. Although her work was fulfilling, on her 60th birthday, she decided that she wanted to leave her full-time job to explore other areas of her life.
Sue then landed a part-time job as a Member Pioneer with Co-op in her local community – which enables her to continue making a difference, whilst having more time to do other things, like enjoying being a new grandma, going to concerts, and working on her sewing.
Mandy Townsend, 59, from Kent, worked as a contractor for large corporate banks for 34 years but decided enough was enough when she found herself regularly staying up all night trying to finish her work.
Mandy wasn’t ready to give up work completely – both mentally and financially – so she decided to apply for a role as a part-time Customer Assistant in the ladies wear department at M&S. In her new role, she doesn’t bring her work home and is able to spend more time doing other things she enjoys, meaning she is happier and healthier as a result.
Two years ago Kim Wright decided to leave her high-powered management job to go in search of a better work-life balance. The change left her with more time to do the things she enjoys like volunteering to help others, blogging, and driving a patient transport ambulance part-time. Kim says that although she and her husband are now living on a shoestring, she’s living a happier, more fulfilled life.
If work stress is making you unwell
The constant evolution of technology has both positive and negative consequences for our work and home lives. On one hand, many processes are becoming faster and more streamlined, but on the other, many of us have our smartphones glued to our hands 24-7 – making switching off from work particularly difficult.
Whilst work is important and can contribute positively to our general wellbeing; working too much and having little time for anything else can have negative effects on our mental and physical health. If you find that your work schedule is making you unwell, then you may need to address your work-life balance more urgently, and you may not be able to do this alone.
Your employer may need to give you extra support – like time off, permission to attend doctors appointments, or working out what they can do to help your workload become more manageable. Acas offers guidance on the support that your employer should offer you when you’re unwell or dealing with excess stress at work, which you can find here.
Have you found a healthy work-life balance? Do you have any additional tips that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you. Join the discussion on the jobs and careers section of the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.