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What to Do When a Healthy Work-Life Balance Seems Impossible

Creating barriers between your work and personal lives is a necessary act of self-care. Here's how you can do that.

Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe

I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.

Work-life balance refers to how you divide your time between work and your personal life (i.e. leisure time and time spent with friends and family). There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to achieving work-life balance. There is no absolute, optimal balance that will work for everyone at all times. Some people may be at a point in their lives where they feel content dedicating a large portion of their time to their career, but for others, such as those with children and personal projects that are more meaningful than their career, they may want to give more attention to their personal life.

Achieving work-life balance is, therefore, a very individual matter. But one thing’s for sure: a lot of people feel they don’t have work-life balance – and aren’t close to having it. In terms of modern work culture, the problem is that many people feel their lives are dominated by work and starved of the other essential activities that promote health and well-being. If you’re in a busy job, always doing overtime, and unable to switch off at the end of the workday, the idea of creating more balance in your life can seem impossible. There’s not any actual time to add more life into your life.

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But a work-life imbalance is not unsolvable. It doesn’t have to be a permanent problem that you simply have to put up with. Here are some options of how to dedicate more time to the things you want to be doing.

Make Your Personal Life a Part of Your Schedule

Yes, it may sound a bit calculated, but planning your social life and leisure time can help you to find more balance in your life. You may want to spend every evening after work slumped on the sofa, bingeing on a TV series. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, from time to time. It’s also understandable that if you are feeling overworked, you might not have much energy left in the evening to do much else.

However, by putting aside one or two evenings in the workweek to spend time with friends or family, you can make noticeable changes to your overall well-being. It can also help to have a routine activity your repeat each week with friends or family, which you can look forward to. This might be going round to someone’s place for dinner or to watch a movie. Moreover, make sure that you avoid checking work emails when spending time with others and, if your job a source of some stress, refrain from talking about work after work.

Use All of Your Vacation Time

In many countries, there is a culture of overwork. Many of us feel expected to work until we’re exhausted, with little time left to relax, unwind, and have fun. This culture of overwork can be so powerful that people will leave some of their vacation time unused. But this vacation time is there for a reason. It’s to ensure that you have space to recharge and enjoy time away with others or with yourself if traveling solo is something you’re into.

By making sure you use all your vacation time and use it for occasions and trips that really matter to you, you’ll be able to create a more well-rounded sense of life satisfaction.

Consider Freelancing, Remote Work, or Contract Work

The problem with allocated vacation time, however, is that it often doesn’t feel enough for many people (especially those in the US, who may have only 10 vacation days a year to work with). If you stay in the same job, you will often only get increased vacation time for each year you spend at the company. For some companies, you may need to wait five years before you see an increase. But this doesn’t mean you have to abandon your career path entirely in order to seek out more free time.

You can work in the same industry, doing the same work, but do so on a freelance or contract basis, or by working remotely. By freelancing, you will have the flexibility to decide when you want to take time off (although, of course, you don’t get the benefit of paid vacation). With remote work (even if you work full-time as a permanent employee), it will be easier for you to spend time on non-work-related areas of your life. Remote work, for instance, eliminates all the time you would otherwise spend commuting. Finally, many people opt for contract work because it tends to involve a higher hourly rate, enabling contractors to take a significant amount of time off – months even – between projects.

Try to Eliminate Wasted Time

The Stoic philosopher Seneca argued in his essay On the Shortness of Life that life is only short when we fail to use our available time wisely. If, on the other hand, we are not wasteful with our time, we can live a full and fruitful life. Many of us may spend long days at work, but it’s also true that we waste a lot of time, and we waste this time doing things that often make us unhappy (such as habitually using social media).

By making a conscious effort to practice self-discipline and eliminate distraction as much as possible, you can potentially add extra hours into your day. And these hours can be spent on activities and habits that add more balance to your life and better serve your well-being.

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