How to strike a good work-life balance

As reported on this blog, getting on well with colleagues recently topped a poll of reasons to enjoy your job. Today, we turn our attention to striking a good work-life balance which was narrowly pipped to first place in the same survey.

Love it or hate it, work is a huge part of our lives, and can easily spill over into our free time. Having a good work-life balance is all about ensuring it doesn’t, because letting work take over your life can do your health and relationships no good at all. Unfortunately, as the hardest-working, most stressed-out workforce in the EU, we Brits are famously bad at getting our work-life balance right:

  • UK employees work the longest hours in Europe.
  • Five million of us put in two billion hours of unpaid overtime in 2014-15.
  • 60% of all work absences are caused by stress.

Changing your working habits to create a good work-life balance doesn’t happen by itself – it requires active steps. Here are a few suggestions for how to get started:

  1. Work out how much of your life work is really taking up. That includes the time you spend on site or in the office, work you take home, the time you spend thinking about work, and even the times when work has made you too tired to do anything else. You will probably be surprised by how much it adds up to – and by how much of it can wait!
      
  2. Decide to make more time for what makes you happy. Knowing how much time you’ve been effectively ‘at work’ without realising it may be the wake-up call you need to start redressing your work-life balance. It’s important to remember that work will nearly always expand to fill your time (that's why your work-life balance got out of kilter in the first place!), so you need to know how you are going to occupy the time you have chosen to save.  
     
  3. Make a list of the things you enjoy. Make a list of all the things you haven’t had the time or energy to do for a long while. It can be something as simple as digging in the garden, meeting an old friend for a drink or taking your children to the park.
     
  4. Challenge yourself. Add some bigger goals to your list of everyday pleasures. What did you plan to do before work took over your life? Learn a new skill, perhaps? Experience a foreign culture, raise money for a good cause, take on a sporting challenge? If you decided to pursue these ambitions now, how would you would break them down into manageable steps to fit them into your busy schedule. And how would you take the first step? It could be as simple as getting hold of your local college’s course brochure or buying a travel guide book. What matters right now is getting the ball rolling.  
     
  5. Make some resolutions – and stick to them! Pleasant as this brainstorming exercise may be, you need to act upon it and make time for the things you want to do more of in your busy diary. But like New Year Resolutions, the trick is not setting yourself up to fail by aiming too high. So start with realistic goals and build up good habits. Schedule your commitments sensibly – maybe just a couple of things a week to start with for a couple of hours each. But treat them as high-priority, important appointments – these are the most important things you could possibly be doing with your time.

WorkSMART has put together a good work-life balance section which deals with all of this in more detail and has a bunch of advice on how to get your work and personal lives in sensible proportion.