Life Balance Tips — Kick Ass at Work Without Going Insane (or Why Spending Time Away from Work is the Best Way to Kick Ass at Work)
I’d like to start by acknowledging the irony that I’m writing a blog post about this—I’m going to give you some awesome work/life balance tips, but at the moment, I’m the poster child for work/life imbalance.
That perspective is what gives me such great insight into the problem.
I have a friend who told me years ago, “I know a guy who’s horrible at relationships—I go to him with all my relationship questions because he knows exactly what not to do.”
Something similar is going on here.
Work/Life Balance Tips for Those of Us Who Suck at It
Finding a balance between work and life is probably the most important thing you can do for yourself and your mental and physical health, both in the moment and in the long run.
But it’s not simple—work can often seem like the only thing that matters in the world, particularly in the moment. For many, everything depends on that job—and you can’t just let your family down.
That anxiety and fear often drive you to work far beyond when you should, sacrificing valuable time you could have spent with the people you’re working so hard for in the first place.
For others, work is life—you’ve devoted yourself to a career, and you’re going to be the very best you can be, often to the detriment of your health, your relationships, and your hobbies.
Neither is good—and even if you’re one of the lucky few for whom work is a joy; something you can’t wait to get back to the moment you wake up; something that consumes your thoughts and your dreams. That balance is still missing—and the rest of your life can suffer for it.
How do you keep work from becoming your life? How do you make room when it seems like there is no room? Here are some work/life balance tips from a bona fide workaholic.
Work/Life Balance Tips: Tip Numero Uno—Take a Personal Inventory
Taking inventory is where it all starts—all my work/life balance tips flow out of this.
Take a look at your life and see what’s in it.
We’re workaholics, so we love this sort of thing anyway—organize the hell out of it!
Each week, we have 168 hours. Each month, we have about 730. Ask yourself this: how am I spending those hours?
Am I spending them in ways that add value to my life? Do they make me happier? Do they advance my career? Do they help my family? Do they keep me sane?
If there’s even a question in your mind about the value an activity adds to your life, it might be time to cut it out.
2—Cut Useless Crap Out of Your Life
Hopefully, this is one of my work/life balance tips that’s obvious to you, but it might not be (sometimes, I just need to hear someone else say it).
Maybe this looks like 10 hours a week spent browsing Facebook, perhaps this means 4 hours a week involved in a student group, maybe this means 7 hours a week volunteering at a place you don’t love anymore.
Maybe this means 2 hours a week you spend talking to your crazy friend who refuses to take your advice and keeps wrecking their life, maybe this means an extra hour at the gym because you can’t put down your phone while you’re there.
Maybe this means that other project you took on at work that you’re too stubborn to admit you can’t complete and never should have started.
It can look like a lot of things, but they all boil down to the same thing—wasted time.
Everyone has the same amount of time each week—168 hours. A couple of years ago, I took a look at my life and realized I had a lot of junk that held no value to me, things I had gotten involved in just to “be involved,” that didn’t add value to my life.
I couldn’t get out of some of these for years, but I saw they were useless, I saw they added no value to my life.
So I started cutting—and no, I didn’t just walk away from things, but I began the process.
And you should do the same.
3—Stop Working When You’re Not Productive
This is probably one of my biggest work/life balance tips—and it’s so important I wrote a mini blog post inside this blog post just to address it.
I’ve found that the core of my workaholism is fear.
Fear that I’ll fail.
Fear that I’ll let people down.
Fear that I won’t do a good job.
So, I end up glued to my desk, working my little butt off…
But not being very productive.
I’ve learned the hard way that, sometimes, sticking to a task is the exact opposite of what I need to do.
Instead, I need to walk away for a bit, do something else, or even put the task off until the next day (or the next week).
Because, if I keep at it, I’m not going to do my best—and every minute I spend trying to force it lowers the value.
4—Force Yourself to Walk Away
This is different from what I described above, and it’s probably one of the most important work/life balance tips I can give you.
There are people out there who never leave the office. They’re there 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
At home, they’re at the office. When they play with their kids, they’re at the office. When they hang out with friends, they’re at the office. When they go to the bar to unwind, they’re at the office.
It’s all they think about—the fear is intense with them.
Now, it’s possible this is an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, in which case we’ve got other problems.
But, for most, this is just regular ole’ fear.
And what it does is rob the moment—and it makes your work suffer.
How? It’s simple really—you’re not recharging.
When you run on fear, your life in the moment suffers. When your mind is elsewhere, people notice—which means you never recharge—which means you’re less productive when you go back to work.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a workaholic solution—measure everything you do at work. Do it for two weeks without changing anything.
Then try these work/life balance tips and measure again for two weeks—and ask yourself honestly if you’re more productive.
How Do You Walk Away? Let Go.
Letting go of the problems at work and going back to life isn’t simple.
But it’s crucial.
This is probably one of the most important work/life balance tips I can give you:
For me to let go, I need two things—meditation, and trust.
For meditation, I use free guided meditations on YouTube, like this one.
They help me clear my mind and release my work fears that seem so pressing.
They let me walk into the rest of my life (you know, the part that matters) with a clear head and a willingness to experience those things as they happen.
The other side is trust.
Trusting my coworkers to do their job.
Trusting those below me to do their job.
Trusting that I’ve done my best.
Trusting that there’s nothing more I can do now, in this moment, and that I need to let this moment be what it is.
Maybe you’re not a meditator, but you can probably use more trust in your life.
You’re not the hero—stop trying to be it in your mind. Allow other professionals to do what they need to do, and if they might fail…
Then let them fail (P.S. that’s ok).
5—Focus on Core Tasks
Look, many of my work/life balance tips kind of center around this one assumption: you’re efficient at work.
But sometimes, you’re not—which means more time spent at work (but not doing work).
Usually, the reason I find myself still at work at 11 pm at night is that I’ve been wasting a bunch of time on a bunch of bullshit that doesn’t matter.
I’ve got some core tasks, some things that need to get done today, but I’m not doing them—I’m doing other, low-value tasks to procrastinate my way around doing what I should have done at 9 am.
Remember that personal inventory? It’s time to get granular with it.
Do one for two weeks and relentlessly catalog everything you spend time on.
Then look at it. How many hours are you spending on low-value tasks?
Are those hours taking away from doing a better job at high-value jobs? The ones only you can do? The ones that add the most value to your position and your job?
6—Find the Joy in Your Life to Recharge
The reason most people are looking for work/life balance tips is that the joy has been drained from their life. Work/life balance tips mean precisely shit if the “life” portion of the balance isn’t bringing you joy.
Just because an activity is viewed as objectively “useless,” maybe because nothing is produced at the end of the activity, doesn’t mean it’s a waste of your time.
Take video games. I play a lot of them, and many would consider them a waste of time.
However. They bring me joy.
And here’s the kicker:
They make me better at my job because they help me mentally recharge.
If I don’t recharge, I’m going to be crap at work. I’m not a worker drone—sitting here taking up space isn’t adding value to my position. I need a mind that works, and if I don’t recharge, my mind is worthless to me.
It’s like when I used to work at a college bookstore during rush, literally running and carrying heavy books all day long.
Some people would spend 16 hours there and then go out and party and get no sleep.
They came in the next day physically exhausted—and unable to work productively.
Their most valuable tool at work, their body, was worthless, and it was worthless because they’d run it down without recharging—they needed sleep to recharge physically.
I need an activity that brings me joy to recharge mentally.
Your mind is your tool—but it needs more than sleep. It needs a break. A break from fear. A break from problem-solving. A break from stress.
You need time spent doing things you love if you want to be good at work.
So walk away, and do something that you love, throw away the guilt, and just enjoy it. Maybe that thing is a sport, or working out, or spending time with your kids, or browsing the internet, or watching TV, or shopping.
Whatever it is, if it brings you joy, it adds value to your life, and…
It makes you a better employee.
This should probably be one of my top work/life balance tips:
It’s ok to have fun.
7—Ask the Tough Question: Is This Job Right for Me?
If you’ve read through this whole post (and actually, I applaud your perseverance) and you’ve found yourself thinking, “I can’t do this—I simply have too much work to do!” It may be time for the tough question:
Is this the right job for me?
I’ve tried to give you a bunch of work/life balance tips, but they mean precisely shit if you literally can’t do these things.
Can’t do them because your job is too demanding.
If you’re reading this post, if you’re even looking for work/life balance tips on the internet in the first place, that’s a strong indicator you might be in precisely that situation.
There are a few things you can do.
And quitting your job isn’t where I’m going first.
Here’s One of My Top Work/Life Balance Tips: Learn to Say No. Period.
I can’t tell you how often this is the answer.
The problem isn’t that you have too much to do.
The problem is that you don’t say no.
You say yes. To everything. Somewhere along the line, someone taught you (or you learned) that you should always be the person who says yes.
The person who does more.
The person who goes above and beyond.
Heroes have a nasty tendency to die.
But more often, heroes in the workplace (and in their life) aren’t like comic book heroes—they’re not saving people.
They’re just making other people’s burdens a little bit lighter.
Sometimes, that’s a good thing. It’s valuable.
But often, it’s one of two things:
Keeping someone from failing at something they need to fail at
Saving someone who needs people to stop saving them
And it’s getting in the way of you being a healthy, happy, productive employee.
So stop saying yes automatically. Start saying, “I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.”
If you can’t say no right then and there.
Let them live their journey. If someone is going to fail, and you know it, maybe you need to let them fail. Maybe they’re never going to grow until someone stops saving them.
Maybe that project at work isn’t something you should be doing. Maybe your boss needs to stop unloading a bunch of random crap on people and find another employee. Maybe that will be better for the business in the long run.
But if it’s getting in the way, if it’s keeping you from focusing on the valuable tasks at work, if it’s stopping you from being awesome (and making you crazy when you’re not at work), then it’s not worth it.
Start saying no.
But if that’s not it…
It Might Be Time to Move On
Even if I provide you a slew of work/life balance tips, if the job is wrong for you, they’re not going to fix the deeper issue.
Sometimes, it’s just not a good fit.
The job is more than you can handle.
The boss wants more than you can provide.
Your coworkers have no clue what they’re doing.
You can’t do what they need you to do.
It’s ok to admit that.
It’s ok to say, “I don’t think this is working out.”
Obviously, you should have a plan in place.
Maybe it’s time for a frank heart-to-heart with your boss. Maybe you need to explain, in graphic detail, how they’re destroying your life with the workload.
Or maybe that’s the expectation (and you knew that going in).
You’ve failed—you can’t do it.
Admit it, accept it, and find a better fit.
I can give you work/life balance tips all day long, but none of them matter if there’s only so much work you can’t fit in life. If you’re working 16 hours a day, six days a week, and 8 hours on your day off, there’s nothing I can do for you.
Sometimes the best way to balance is to walk away.
Now that we’ve become BFFs for life, don’t forget to check out our blog and join our email list—we’ll send you more awesome work/life balance tips like this (just kidding, mostly we’ll help you run your business, but that’s probably more useful to you anyway 🙂 )
Photo Cred: Ryan Tauss
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