3 Tips That Will Make You Feel Less Busy and More Balanced in 2020

In December, a team of Russian and American scientists revealed that even wild tigers with young cubs struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Although we don’t have to hunt for our food or guard the front door in the case of hungry predators, we know what it’s like to have competing needs in our lives. Like tigers, we have to work for our food and care for our families, which you can’t do simultaneously.

But unlike tigers, we have a prefrontal cortex and lots of tools. So, let’s put them to use this year and this decade to make our lives less busy and more fulfilling.

Ask Yourself if You Exhibit Any or All Signs of Poor Work-life Balance

When thinking about work-life balance, if your work is doing the heavier lifting, you may resonate with one or more of these statements.

  • I work longer hours than my coworkers.
  • It’s hard for me to unplug from work when I’m off the clock.
  • My work is having a negative effect on my mental or physical health.
  • Too much of my identity and self-worth is wrapped up in my work performance.
  • I no longer do the activities that used to bring me joy (e.g. Zumba, open mics, camping).
  • My work is definitely putting a strain on my relationships.
  • I always feel behind at work. It feels impossible to catch up.

While it’s normal to identify with these situations from time to time, these circumstances shouldn’t be ongoing. If they are, then like many of us, you’re likely off-balance. Fortunately, there are some easy ways you can self-correct and find your equilibrium again. Here’s how:

1. Protect Your Off-time by Making Your Work Day More Productive

How is it that, on average, we only spend 2.8 hours on productive tasks each day, yet work more than 34 hours in a week?  The truth is: Our time at work isn’t well spent. Technology is great, but it creates a lot of interruptions. Here are three ways you can limit them:

Check email twice a day

We spend a third of our day checking email. Schedule a time in the morning and a time in the afternoon to send and respond to emails, and you’ll find you have the time and the headspace you need to knock out projects big and small.

Get in the habit of prioritizing

Did you know the average employee attends 62 meetings each month? It’s easy to feel behind when you’re not protecting the time you need to work through your tasks and assignments. To avoid getting overbooked, schedule weekly blocks of dedicated work time. Or, if you don’t sit through a lot of meetings due to the nature of your work, see if there’s something else competing for your talent or attention, and make sure they don’t overpower more important tasks.

Reid Swetland, a longtime counselor for Gordon’s on-campus Counseling Center, explains, “One way for people to prioritize tasks and responsibilities is to ask, ‘What is valuable to me getting a task done well? Do I need alone time or time to collaborate with a colleague or both?’”

Be in control of your social interactions

As much as we love our coworkers and clients, we all need time to work by ourselves or move on to the next task. Sometimes, our workspaces are too exposed and all we need is a little peace and quiet. If your desk is next to a snack area, busy conference room or coffee station, ask your supervisor if you can move to a quieter location. If that’s not an option for you, invest in some noise-cancelling headphones or see if you can work a day or two from home. If you’re a healthcare professional or freelancer, you may need to establish boundaries around how available you are for a patient or client, or practice polite ways to end conversations you don’t have time for.

2. Give Yourself a Digital Curfew

A lot us are more tired than we ought to be. Sure, it helps to get more sleep. But, sometimes more isn’t the answer. The quality of our sleep matters even more than the quantity.

One of the best ways to increase the quality of our nightly slumber is to enforce no-screen time before going to bed. Blue light from screens interferes with our circadian rhythm and prevents us from getting enough REM.

A simple way to ensure better sleep is to remove screens from your bedroom. Instead of relying on your phone to wake you, invest a little money in an alarm clock (some even imitate a natural sunrise and the chirp of morning birds).

It’s also easy to replace your before-bed browsing habits with reading a book (chances are you have one that’s been sitting on your bookshelf for years). Many inspirational people from Bill Gates to Barak Obama read before falling asleep, so why not give it a try?

3. Schedule Alone Time and Use It for Something Worthwhile

Today, work is mostly collaborative. It’s estimated that we spend 80 percent of our workday collaborating. This is draining for introverts and extroverts alike. Although you can advocate for more solitude during the workday, it’s also a good idea to schedule some “me-time” outside of work. It can be hard to pull off for students, parents and people with time-intensive side hustles, but there are methods for working alone time into daily life, such as:

  • Taking the scenic route home.
  • Going for a morning run or starting your day with a morning meditation.
  • Asking to be alone while you perform tasks like cooking dinner or folding laundry.
  • Giving yourself 30 minutes of quiet before you go to sleep.
  • Going for a walk by yourself after dinner.

It may be tempting to spend your evenings watching Netflix or go out with friends, but try to find leisure activities that are more meaningful to you and give you the space for creativity, rest and reflection. On a night when you’re tempted to watch another episode of your favorite show, try something else. You could read a book, practice yoga, learn an instrument or shoot some hoops.

Of course, there will be days where we are more balanced and days when we are far from it. And that’s okay. Swetland concedes, “Life is never really balanced, but when we know what is valuable, we make more informed choices that lead us to feel like we’re better able to manage.”

Sure, we’ll never achieve a perfect balance. But the effort goes to show how much we desire for our choices to reflect what’s most important to us. It’s a relief to know that for most of us work-life balance is achieved through small changes, not big ones.