When to Unplug: Restoring Work-Life Balance

Does it feel like you never actually leave work? Do you find yourself checking work emails when you should be relaxing? Do you have difficulty falling asleep because you are thinking about your “to-do” list for work? We live and work in an increasingly interconnected world that can make it hard to define where our work ends and where our personal life begins. Our smartphones are synced with work email accounts. Work is now an ever-present factor in most of our lives. If we let it, work can interfere with our relationships, increase stress, and decrease life enjoyment. When our work life and personal life are out of balance, it can actually make us less productive when we are at work and less relaxed when we are at home.

Here are some consequences of losing your work life balance:

Exhaustion. When we are working too hard, everything becomes more difficult to accomplish. This becomes problematic when our fatigue causes us to not engage in activities that we enjoy such as spending time with friends and family, going to the gym, or engaging in hobbies.

Difficulty Concentrating. This is often a byproduct of exhaustion. It becomes difficult to concentrate and be productive at work and difficult to be “mentally present” in our relationships with others.

Increase or decrease in sleep. This usually takes shape in three forms. 1. Difficulty falling and staying asleep. 2. Going to bed early coupled with difficulty getting up in the morning. 3. Difficulty falling and staying asleep during the week and then wanting to sleep all weekend.

Relationship difficulties. When we stay late at work on a consistent basis, it damages our relationships with friends and family because we simply are not physically present. The second, and perhaps more difficult to recognize, is when we are at home, but our mind is still at work. In this case, it is hard to genuinely engage with friends and loved ones and may give others the impression that we are apathetic or “not listening”

Tips on taking control back and restore work-life balance.

Re-examine your “to-do” list. It can often feel like everything on your to-do list is a necessity and needs to be done ASAP. However, in reality this is most often not the case. Separating your daily to-do list into need to-do, want to-do, and back-burner may provide perspective and allow you to phyically and emotionally disengage from work.

Self-Care. We often shrug off self-care by saying we are too tired or simply don’t have time to do the things we enjoy. What is self-care? Self-care is anything that you find fulfillment and enjoy doing. Whether it is something physical like going to the gym or eating healthy, a hobby, or engaging socially, it is important to set aside time for doing things we enjoy. When you think about engaging in self-care activities, you may often times tell yourself that you are simply “too tired to do anything.” In reality, engaging in these activities actually gives us energy and increases happiness so it is important to make time for them in daily life. If you have difficulty setting aside time for self-care activities, consider a more structured approach such as signing up for a class related to a hobby that you enjoy.

Increase your support system. When we feel stressed out, it is easy to withdraw from social activities or spending time with family because we are (again) “too tired.” This natural inclination is the exact opposite of what we should do. Spending time with people that care about us makes us feel stronger. Usually, feeling “too tired” only lasts until we are actually spending time with people that we enjoy being around.

Unplug. We cannot always unplug from work, so we have to take advantage of times that we can. If you feel that you over-check your work email, ask yourself, “Do I really need to check it now or am I checking it based on my own anxiety?” Give yourself permission to turn off your work cellphone during dinner with your partner or during “family time.”

Set boundaries. This includes when you physically leave the office and also regarding tasks at work. This can be difficult to accomplish for those trying to advance in their careers. We may feel implicitly or explicitly that we have to say “yes” to everything requested of us at work to “get ahead”. This can feed into the cycle of feeling taken advantage of at work and subsequently feeling resentment toward our employers. It is OK to respectfully say no to tasks that you feel you do not need to take on. Being the person in your office that always says yes may not always be beneficial to your career.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of ways to increase work-life balance. Work stress may lead to more serious issues of anxiety and depression, and it is important to get professional help when life becomes unmanageable.

Fostering a healthy work-life balance is an ongoing process that takes consistent effort. Both work and personal life are important elements of life, but remember, when one gets too much attention, it is usually at the cost of the other.

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