Work-life balance means having healthy boundaries between a person’s work life and the rest of their life. When most people think of work-life balance, the first thing that probably comes to their mind is having a workload that leaves them with enough time outside of work to do the things that are important to them. This is certainly an important part of work-life balance, but there are other important aspects to work-life balance as well.
Work-life balance also includes things like: whether a person has to be on call to do work on short notice; whether a person is expected to read and respond to work emails or other messages outside of working hours; whether a person has a predictable, regular schedule; and even things like whether a person has friends they see regularly outside of their work friend group.
The importance of work-life balance is not just a question of a person having more or less leisure time, either. Work-life balance has an effect on people’s physical and mental health, and the quality of their relationships with their friends and family. According to the Mayo Clinic, a work-life balance tilted too far towards work can lead to problems such as: fatigue that impairs the quality of a person’s personal and professional life; poor health resulting from stress; lost time with friends and loved ones; and, ironically, a worsening of the situation, as people who put a lot of time into work are sometimes “rewarded” with greater responsibility at work, often throwing their work-life balance even further off-kilter.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a challenge in the best of times, and these are not the best of times. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant an increase in both work and personal responsibilities for almost everyone. Even the many people who have lost their jobs are now engaged in the full-time unpaid work of searching for another job.
At the same time, the pandemic has caused a massive and sudden shift to working from home for millions of people, even those who are still employed. Working from home presents special challenges in maintaining work-life balance. Let’s look at some tips for keeping things balanced when working from home.
- Make (and keep) a schedule. One of the nice things about working from home is that it can provide some flexibility in terms of when you do your work. This can be nice, but it can also lead to poor boundaries between work time and the rest of your time. Try to set aside a certain part of your day as work hours. If you can, try to have those hours be at the same time every day. Try to avoid a situation where your work is spread throughout your every waking hour and interwoven with all the other aspects of your life.
- Try to confine your work to a set aside work space. Not everyone has the luxury of a home office. But even if you can’t set aside a separate room for work, try to set aside at least a part of a room as your dedicated work space. As much as possible, try to keep work and work materials in that area. Try hard to avoid doing work or having work materials in places like the table where you eat or the room where you sleep. Working in the same room where you sleep may even cause trouble falling asleep at night or otherwise keep you from getting good quality restful sleep!
- Set boundaries with work email and other forms of digital communication. Different workplaces have different norms and rules around this, but to the extent that you can, try to confine work communications to work time. If you are able to have separate work and personal phones, this can be helpful. And you should definitely have a dedicated work email address, even if it’s a work GMail or other account you make for yourself.
- Try to keep personal matters from mixing in with your work time. It can be tempting (and sometimes necessary) to attend to personal obligations during your work time, but if this means your work day then stretches beyond what you had planned on, try to avoid this in order to maintain separation between your work hours and the rest of your life. If you get your work done early and then want to take care of some personal chores: Great, go for it! But minimizing the degree to which the two interweave throughout the day can be a good way to maintain healthy boundaries between work and everything else.
- Try to minimize how much you think about work during non-work hours. Easier said than done sometimes, we know. But do the best you can. Some people recommend having a regular way in which you end your work day to help you shift gears from “work mode” to personal mode. When not working from home, this was a lot easier: the commute home usually marked the transition from work to home life. When working in your home, though, this becomes trickier. Taking a walk or bike ride, doing some other exercise, cooking a meal, reading for pleasure (ideally not on a screen), having a drink or snack, or calling a loved one to talk on the phone could all be ways to mark the end of your work day and help yourself mentally change gears. Even better if you choose is something that is scheduled and can’t easily be postponed, like plans to call a friend on the phone. This appointment can help you end your work day on time, even if you have more work to do. As long as that work can wait until at least tomorrow, it’s probably best to let it.
Striking a good work-life balance is always a challenge, and perhaps more so now than ever. It is important, though, and worth the effort it takes. It’s also important to keep in mind that creating a good work-life balance is an ongoing process for most people. As the demands of people’s work lives and personal lives ebb and flow, it might become easier or harder to do. What’s most important is to do the best you can and keep trying. We hope these tips help, and we’ll be discussing this and other related topics more in future posts.