I am by no means a workaholic. I am the complete opposite of one. Back when I used to work retail and managers needed to cut on hours, I would gladly volunteer if I could. There were times when I needed the money, but I didn’t need it most of the time. The extra cash would have been nice, but it wasn’t necessary. It’s the same now with my paid time off. I work a nine-to-five job that accrues time off over time, but what’s the point of having vacation time if I’m never going to use it? I’m not saying to blow through all of your time off just in case you get sick or have an emergency, but we have to learn to treat ourselves.
But then there is the inverse of working too much.
There are some who don’t want to work at all. It’s pure unadulterated laziness filled with excuses, and that is just as bad as working yourself to the bone. There has to be some balance.
Balance is hard to accomplish, and it usually means you have to sacrifice some things. The best analogy I have ever heard was by author Nora Roberts. She was talking in the context of dealing with work and kids, but I think it’s perfect for work-life balance. She says that life is like juggling balls, but not all balls are of the same importance. So it’s more like life is juggling glass balls and plastic balls. Some of them are okay to drop from time to time, and some you can’t drop, or there will be significant consequences.
I got to witness a master juggler growing up. My mom worked some crazy hours and traveled a crap ton, but there was never a moment that I ever felt neglected or forgotten. But it’s because she made sure to put time and effort into spending time with me even when work got crazy. Another factor was that she was straight up with me about certain things. She is an accountant, so when the quarter-end came around, it meant that I probably wouldn’t have much time with my mom for a week or two since she was off working long hours, but I knew that going into it. There was always a conversation about it beforehand.
I played a lot of sports throughout my whole life. And since my mom worked a lot, I knew she couldn’t make it to every single game like the other moms could. But that was fine because we would sit down and pick a game or two every season that she would come to no matter what. She never missed a game. And you can bet your ass that I balled out every single time she was there. So I had to show my mom what was up. I watched her juggle and manage to get through all of the crazy times, and even though I joke about her being a workaholic, she is still a shining example to me about a work-life balance. (She still has some things she is figuring out, like reading work emails on vacation, but I digress.) But how does one even start to balance work and life?
Tips to Help You Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Learn to unplug
This is the one we all struggle with the most, especially after a year of telecommuting. It’s set this expectation that we need to be accessible at all hours of the day. It doesn’t take a lot of time out of your day to read that work email off of your phone and answer it. But while it might not take time, the cost comes at the expense of your peace of mind. If you constantly answer emails or phone calls, you never turn your “work brain” off.
There is only so much productivity the human brain can maintain before it crashes and burns. This is part of the reason the worker burnout rate is as high as it is. Learning to unplug and allowing yourself time away from your job to enjoy your life will help alleviate stress in the long run.
Build healthy habits
Most of us seek immediate results. It’s why fad diets are so popular. “If you eat only this food, you will lose 30 pounds!” But things like that aren’t sustainable. What happens after the diet is over? A change in work-life balance is the same.
You can’t just expect your habits to change overnight. Going cold turkey is most likely leading to you reverting to your old ways. Start small. Feel the small changes and take the small wins as they come and once you feel better, make more changes. Life isn’t a race, and habits are hard to kill, so if you want to do it right, you need to take your time.
To sum it up
Whenever I think of balance in my life, I always think about the bit from Parks and Rec with Donna and Tom, Treat Yo’Self. One day out of the year, they balled out spending money on themselves because they deserved it. And while the bit centers around spending money on yourself, the principle is still there. It’s okay to treat yourself nicely, especially after working hard. Sometimes you need to validate your hard work with a treat. It can be hard to remember to do that every day for ourselves when we get lost in the stresses and mundane things of our day today. There is more to life than work and climbing up the ladder of ‘success,’ but you also shouldn’t lay around all day with zero drive or motivation. We all have bills to pay, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves in our lifetime.
There seems to be a vicious cycle of getting a car so you can go to work to pay for your car and rent and utilities, and we can get so wrapped up in that cycle to take a moment for ourselves and do something we love. Hobbies are a thing for a reason. Spending time with loved ones can be a blessing, spending time alone can be refreshing, and feeling fulfilled from your job can give you purpose. Just make sure that one thing doesn’t overtake the others.