Work-Life Balance: 11 easy ways to keep office matters out of home, even when your office is at home

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Now more than ever as nearly all of us work from home, the lines separating “home” and “office” are ever more blurry. And that makes it more important than ever to keep a good work-life balance. It’s a key factor in your overall happiness.

What exactly does it mean and how can you achieve it? Read on for everything you need to know.

What is a work-life balance?

Having a good work-life balance basically means that you are satisfied with the amount of time you spend at work and at home – neither too much nor too little of either. Allowing yourself enough time to sit back, relax, and reap the benefits of your hard work is essential to improving happiness, energy, and motivation levels, so you’re ready to get back to work when the time comes.

Why is it important to have a work-life balance?

Achieving the right work-life balance is essential for maintaining mental health. Overly intensive work demands can lead to mental health issues and sleep disorders in the long term.

Let’s say you leave work at 8 p.m. and decide to grab a quick drink with your colleagues. On a normal night, you would have time to call your mom and work out like you planned to. But since you won’t get home until at least 10 p.m., giving you only enough time to prepare for tomorrow’s meetings, your personal life will have to wait until later. Sound familiar?

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Those who are overworked often have a tendency to neglect exercise, family, and friends, and their personal lives suffer as a result. We’ve all experienced stressful days at work. In many companies, small stresses are simply considered a part of everyday life. And short-term stress can actually be good for you, as it increases cortisol levels, improves performance, and promotes concentration. On the other hand, long hours and too much long-term stress will have the opposite effect on your life and mental health.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how much time you should spend working versus relaxing. According to the Better Life Index created by the OECD, full-time workers in the UK spend an average of 14.9 hours a day on leisure and personal activities such as sleeping and eating. Out of 40 countries analyzed, they rank 20th.

Work is life: When the lines blur

How we work is constantly evolving. How you view work, whether as a curse or a blessing, depends very much on how you were socialized as well as your work-related values and beliefs about work. Even the term “work” can often be perceived differently from one generation to the next.

Though a 9-to-5 office job was the norm in the 1980s and 90s, there are many professions that operate under different working hours and conventions today. Even before COVID-19 forced many of us to work from home, plenty of people had already begun doing just that as widely available internet access made remote working easier than ever.

While working from home definitely has its positives, it can also make it harder to differentiate between work and life. That’s especially true if your line of work is deeply personal to you. If you love what you do, and you work from home, you may find it hard to get yourself to stop working at the end of the day when you’d probably be better off relaxing. It’s moments like these when the lines between work and life really start to blur.

Other jobs that involve a high level of emotional commitment can also be extremely demanding, even if you don’t spend much actual time doing them. Having the ability to set limits and tolerate frustration is key to maintaining your work-life balance, whether you have to witness the suffering of others on a daily basis or you simply need to complete a lot of projects before the end of the week.

Focusing on your personal life is also a big part of maintaining a work-life balance. Regularly taking time to relax and enjoy your friends, family, home, and hobbies will give you the energy and motivation you need to continue being productive.

Life is what you make of it

Before you create a work-life balance that works for you, ask yourself what you need to have a fulfilling life. Maybe your work actually brings you more joy than some leisure activities, in which case working more often might be better for you. Decide what’s important to you, and allot your time accordingly.

The balance between work and life will vary greatly from person to person because we’re all so different. It all depends on what you value, how you define happiness, and what you expect from life.

Ask yourself sincerely what you want to achieve in life and what values are important to you. Just because someone you look up to spends an obscene amount of time working doesn’t mean that you need to as well. What works for some isn’t always going to work for others.

It’s up to you to assess the situation, define your priorities, and implement what’s most relevant.

What’s your work-life balance like right now?

Take this opportunity to take stock and see where your work-life balance stands right now. Life moves fast and sometimes your workload increases without you even realizing it. Ask yourself the following questions and answer them honestly.

  1. How stressed do you feel about your job?
  2. Do you feel capable of meeting the demands of your job? Or do you feel overworked or underworked?
  3. Do you spend enough time on your social life?
  4. Do you have enough time for yourself?
  5. What helps you disconnect the most? Do you do it regularly?
  6. What do you think about when you get up in the morning? Are you eager to start the day, or are you already wondering how you are going to cope with all the things that await you?
  7. Are you able to disconnect easily after work or on your days off?
  8. Are you convinced that no project moves forward when you’re not working? Or does your team take care of these tasks?
  9. Are you satisfied with your work?
  10. Can you leave your phone on standby for a day without worrying about missing something?

Take a moment to really pay attention to each question. Write your answers down, letting your pen flow freely with your thoughts. Write down everything that comes to you, and once you’re done, step back to read what you’ve written and analyze whether you need to make a change.

11 tips for improving your work-life balance

Whatever your work-life balance looks like, our 11 tips will help you maintain it.

Tip #1: Ask yourself why you work.

Whether you freelance, run your own company, or work within one, ask yourself why you do what you do. Do you work out of determination, for your personal development, or simply to earn money for a nice vacation? All reasons are legitimate. In general, people who are able to find meaning and opportunity in their work are more willing to invest themselves. It’s up to you to decide what that meaning is.

Tip #2: Set your priorities.

What’s most important to you in life? What makes you happy and allows you to feel fully yourself? Who are the people you like to be with and why? Do you have time for these things now? Will your work allow you to give them more time in the future?

Set your priorities accordingly. If your career is at the top of your priority list, that’s great. But you might still benefit from making time for the people and activities you enjoy most. Plan your week so that you have time to work out, see your friends, or just do nothing.

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Tip #3: Imagine how great it could be. Then make it happen.

What’s your ideal work-life balance? Maybe you’re already living it? Or maybe you’re at a point that isn’t perfect but is already more than satisfactory? Congratulations!

If not, what could you do differently to get to your best? Look at both your work and your leisure time: maybe you can reduce your weekly work time, adjust it to be more efficient, or change your career path?

If that’s not an option for you because of strict work hours and demands, there are also things in your personal life that you can adapt to improve the balance. If bingeing TV makes you feel bad, try to spend more of your free time doing something that makes you feel good, whether that’s going for a walk in the great wide open or eating something delicious and nourishing.

Tip #4: Optimize your time.

Being as efficient as possible when you work will usually give you more time to focus on your personal life. Write a to-do list for the week so you know exactly what’s coming for you every day and how you can plan accordingly.

Set realistic tasks for yourself and incorporate time buffers for things to go wrong. Then you’ll see right away when a deadline needs to be extended or ask for help to finish a project, rather than the stress of realizing it’s impossible the moment it’s due.

Tip #5: Identify what wastes your time.

This is one of the most important steps to building a better work-life balance. Ask yourself what meetings you can afford to not attend. Do you really have to read all the emails you’ve been CC’d on?

How much time do you spend in total on social media? What meetings do you honor just to please others? When do messages or other things distract you from what you originally wanted to do?

Tip #6: Find out what gives you energy.

What are you really good at? What tasks do you find particularly enjoyable and are well suited to you? When are you really productive? Try to focus your attention on what works and become an expert at it.

The same goes for your life outside of work. What makes you feel really good and relaxed? What makes your body release a bunch of endorphins? Once you’ve cracked your code, make sure you give yourself regular opportunities to do these activities.

Tip #7: Stay flexible.

While it is good to make a clear distinction between work and personal life, it’s also essential you remain flexible. Let’s say you can’t finish a project until you’ve received an email, which will only come in at 5 p.m. Since you know you’ll have to work later, consider taking the afternoon off for yourself.

We all know it, and it’s not a taboo to talk about it. We’ve all changed the way we work since the pandemic and lockdowns started in March. Remote working, smartphones, and reliable internet connections have made it easier to keep working through lockdown; on the other side, working hours and the way we work have become more flexible than ever. You can answer emails during your time off and handle a personal matter during working hours, and no one can tell you differently as long as you’re getting the work done. Take your mind off of work when you’re off the clock as much as you can. Most people don’t expect an immediate follow-up unless it’s urgent anyway.

Tip #8: Spend some of your free time without your co-workers.

Team-building is extremely important. Maintaining good relations with colleagues makes work twice as enjoyable. But in a classic office job, you already see each other 40 long hours a week, so take advantage of your free time to hang out with other people about matters that are entirely unrelated to work.

On the other hand, if you’re not seeing your coworkers right now and you’re missing their faces, set aside 15 minutes a week to share a coffee over video chat. A friendly face and an understanding laugh can do wonders to release some pent-up stress.

Tip #9: Get the right amount of sleep.

So far, all we’ve talked about is doing things. But make sure you schedule enough time to do NOTHING – we mean sleeping! Getting enough restful sleep is the foundation of feeling good, productive, and motivated both at work and during your free time. Though the general recommendation is 8 hours of sleep, specific sleep needs vary from person to person. Find out what your body needs to feel well rested.

Tip #10: Plan your free time.

Do you tend to work overtime or stress in your spare time? If so, set yourself some time off outside of work and really stick to it. Making a schedule of when you plan to stop working in a calendar or a notebook may help you stick to it. Plan for at least one day a week where you do whatever you want. Make that day the same day every week and you’ll find that it quickly becomes a habit.

Tip #11: Feed yourself well.

Eating a nutritious and satisfying diet can improve your mood, fitness abilities, and motivation. Nutrition alone can’t fix all ailments, but if you stick to what keeps your own body healthiest (be it vegan, celiac-friendly, low-carb, or intuitive), you’ll be on track towards your best self. If you’re short on recipe inspiration, we have everything you need. Our recipe collection is packed with nearly 200 meal, drink, and snack ideas that are quick, healthy, and easily adapted to your needs.

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Our conclusion

  • A work-life balance refers to the relationship between work and leisure.
  • The definition of a good healthy work-life balance is unique to each individual. It doesn’t necessarily have to be split on a 50/50 basis.
  • Even if you thrive in a working environment, you probably need time off.
  • Finding what really gives you energy and pleasure is the best way to get the most from your free time and achieve a good work-life balance.
  • New ways of working can influence the balance positively or negatively. There’s always room for improvement.

Sources for this article

We at foodspring use only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  • OECD: Work-Life-Balance, (08.07.2020).    
  • Hämmig, O; Bauer, G. (2009): Work-life imbalance and mental health among male and female employees in Switzerland, in: International Journal of Public Health, 54(2), 88 – 95.    
  • Wang, J. L. (2006): Perceived work stress, imbalance between work and family/personal lives, and mental disorders, in: Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol, 41(7), 541 – 548.    
  • Yang, B.; Wang, Y.; Cui, F. et al. (2018): Association between insomnia and job stress: a meta-analysis, in: Sleep Breath, 22(4), 1221 – 1231.