Americans are hard workers. According to Gallup, adults employed full-time report working an average of 47 hours a week—essentially a six-day workweek—and nearly four out of 10 people log more than 50 hours each week on the job. It’s no wonder we don't have much time left to play. We grilled mental health experts and career coaches to figure out how to find an appropriate work-life balance, even when our jobs are more demanding than ever.
1. SET REALISTIC GOALS.
Instead of blindly believing that you can do it all, decide what your priorities are and set goals that will keep you focused, Jaime Kulaga, licensed mental health counselor and author of The SuperWoman’s Guide to Super Fulfillment tells mental_floss. “Use the acronym SMART when setting goals for yourself: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound,” she says.
Many times, people set goals that are out of reach, either because they're comparing themselves to someone else or they're thinking too many steps ahead. “It's okay to dream big, but be sure that each goal you set toward your dreams is something that is realistic and attainable for that moment in your life,” Kulaga says.
2. IDENTIFY YOUR PRIORITIES.
Take time to list all of your life roles and circle the top five. “Those top five need time and attention, and if you don’t focus on these roles, you will feel the lack of balance in your life,” Kulaga says.
While you may not have a lot of time to spend on each of these roles (be it spouse, parent, or professional), think quality versus quantity. “Your children would rather have 30 minutes of your time where you’d talk to them and play with them than four hours when you’d do everything on your to-do list and don’t acknowledge that they’re there,” Kulaga says.
3. STOP LIVING BY YOUR TO-DO LIST.
You won’t get it all done, says Mary LoVerde, a work-life balance strategist, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. “There’s too much to do and not enough time to do it, so give yourself permission to not get it all done,” she says.
4. STOP MULTITASKING.
Researchers at Stanford University found that multitasking is actually less productive than doing one thing at a time. And those who regularly try to multitask, or who take in several streams of electronic information at once, have a harder time recalling information, paying attention, and switching from one job to another.
While you might think that doing more things at once will help you get everything done faster (and therefore give you more "down time"), it’s actually making you more frantic. So slow down and focus on one task at a time—you'll not only feel less stressed, but you'll get more done.
5. MAKE YOUR ACTIVITIES DO DOUBLE DUTY.
While you shouldn’t multitask, you can make sure that your actions do the multitasking for you, LoVerde says. We know we should be exercising because it helps us stay fit, and we also should be doing breathing exercises to stay calm—but who has time for all of that? Instead, take a yoga class, which does both, she suggested. And when you need to de-stress further, reach for a book instead of turning on the television—reading is calming and it also helps your mind stay strong. “Adopt the attitude that every action should have more than one benefit,” LoVerde says.
6. TAKE ONE MINUTE.
Carve out 10 strategic minutes in the day—one minute at a time—to take a break, says Jeff Davidson, work-life balance expert and author of Breathing Space. One minute every hour isn’t going to effect your work at all, but it does wonders for your mind. “You’re giving yourself permission to pause,” he says. “One of the laments from people who say they have no work-life balance is that they say they never have a break; but realistically, anyone at any time can carve out a minute for themselves.”
7. VISUALIZE THE FINISH LINE.
If you’re in a crunch situation at work, or are on a deadline, you might need to cut back on free time, Davidson says. “But continue to practice strategic pauses, continue to focus on the end result and how you’re going to feel when this is over,” he says. Recognize that this busy period is finite and take on a divide-and-conquer strategy: For these two weeks, this is where my attention needs to be. And then I will have more free time.
8. SAY "NO."
If you feel unbalanced, chances are that you say “yes” too much, Kulaga says. You may have earned yourself a reputation as the go-to person or the people pleaser, which can cause your work to pile up and take over your life. Saying “no” gives you self-control and confidence, and it lets the favor-asker know your priorities, Kulaga says. When you do turn down a request, be sure to provide other options or resources to get the job done.