Do you feel you need to introduce yourself to your children when you return home from a long day at work? Do they introduce you as "Mrs." when other parents ask who is walking with them? This disconnect from your home life could be a sign your life has fallen off-balance.
If you've ever been concerned that you're working too hard at your job, then you probably need to revisit your life-work balance. Work-life balance is the elusive middle ground between working hard enough to maintain your standard of living and working so hard you don't have enough time to enjoy that standard of living.
In the dog-eat-dog world of American corporate culture, we often find ourselves driven to work harder, more efficiently and with more enthusiasm. When we work with such blind conviction, though, our productivity invariably suffers. In fact, an employee who works without regard for life-work balance develops a certain arrogance about them - a contrast to confident people who understand their own limits and realize the importance of life-work balance.
How, then, can we wrestle control back from our own workaholic selves? Here are 5 essential tips for achieving and maintaining a healthy life-work balance:
1. Surround yourself with supportive people
Our ability to achieve a proper life-work balance is often influenced by those around us. The more we are able to draw inspiration from others, the more likely we are to maintain a healthy work life. We want to be with people who encourage us:
to be productive at work and minimize "time sucks" like social media, surfing the web, and excessive water-cooler chatter.
to stop doing work outside the office.
reinforce to our colleagues and supervisors what makes up our personal life. (i.e., young children, aging parents, exercise regimens) and working with our peers to modify and optimize work so as to minimize disruptions to our personal life.
2. Serve a higher purpose outside of work
One of the most important ways to keep our work life in check is to develop a sense of purpose outside of work. When our life has higher meaning, we are less likely to let work consume it. For example, we might devote time outside of work to serving in our church and forming a closer relationship with God. Or we might work toward making our world a better place by giving and serving others through volunteering, community activism, and philanthropy. Sometimes our higher purpose might simply be our own families. For example, we might commit to spending more time with child-rearing, or to more romance with a spouse. As you develop your higher purpose, an added benefit is that you'll start to gain perspective on work - a perspective that will help you to further balance work and life.
3. Stay physically and mentally active
When we're not at work, the best way to maintain our efficiency and alertness at work (i.e., the type of discipline we need to keep our work from consuming us) is to stay physically and mentally active. Skipping a gym workout because we're too busy with work is a rough road to travel. Similarly, we should aim to exercise our minds as well - reading books, playing brain-teaser games, engaging in stimulating conversations and debates. The healthier we keep our minds and bodies, the better we'll perform as we get older and, yes, eventually retire and leave our work behind.
4. Cultivate hobbies and interests outside of work
If you cannot find time for hobbies and interests outside of work, you're almost certainly not maintaining a healthy life-work balance. That's why it's so important that we force ourselves to make time for hobbies and interests that aren't work-related. And it's equally important that we not allow our true hobbies and interests to become overshadowed by all of our non-work obligations, like cleaning the house, paying bills, or serving on our kids' PTA. Yes, our obligations are important, but we still must find time for the things we truly enjoy, even if that means hiring a housekeeper or saying "no" to the PTA.
5. Enjoy the compensation for your work
There is no reason to work hard at your job if you aren't able to reap the rewards from it. As we work to prepare for kids' college, paying off your home and being generous with others, we ought to allow ourselves opportunities to use even a small portion of our paycheck for something fun and entertaining. If you don't want to buy something for yourself, you can always buy something for a loved one - a gift that ideally will require your thought and personalization and time.
To be truly successful at achieving a proper life-work balance, the most important question you should be asking yourself at every step of the way is why you're doing something. Whether you're working 15 hours a day at your job or serving as a daily taxi service for your kids, you need to ask yourself why and critically examine whether it's really helping you achieve the life-work balance you desire.
If you find yourself surrounded by people who aren't encouraging nor promoting that balance, if you can't identify a higher purpose for your life outside of work, if you're compromising your physical and mental health for your job, or if you're struggling to maintain personal interests and manage your hard-earned money wisely, you want to revisit your life-work balance and figure out what you can do differently to readjust that balance. As you do this, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to live a happier, healthier life while not compromising your productivity at work.