Work life balance seems impossible to reach. Maybe you’ve come to this post in desperate search of a perfect work life balance solution to finally free you of guilt? Maybe you just can’t take another day away from your family, or one more day with a boss that just doesn’t get it…
I’ve been there and can relate. Finding a work life balance that actually works is challenging, and even if you get close to reaching it, it can just as easily be ripped out of your grasp.
So what’s the solution to this work life balance struggle?
Start from the core of what it is you really want, define your current work life balance, and then take explosive and directive action to accomplish your goal.
Too often our goals are undefined, meaning we have no idea if we will ever reach them.
Gear up and dive in to find a work life balance you’ll be happy with.
This post is broken up into three sections:
- Defining what achieving work life balance looks like for you.
- How to take stock of your current lifestyle, how out of whack is it?
- Concrete strategies for finding balance in work and life and getting you on the right track to happiness at home and at work.
This blog post won’t be a cure all if you are way off track, but it will steer you in the right direction.
I’ve fought balance issues most of my adult life, and I can finally say I am winning. We don’t ever “win” this game, but we can find work we love, spend more than enough time with family, and live a happy and productive life.
What does Work Life Balance Look Like for You?
You’ve been there.
Your boss just sent an email full of emojis and the subject line “I can’t wait for you to hear the news!!!” Sigh, you surely can wait to hear, but you click in right away anyway.
Your boss shares that every third Friday of the month will now be “A half day AND casual Friday.” And no you “won’t get paid” for time off that day, but at least you can wear “office appropriate casual attire” one Friday a month for a few hours.
Balance achieved! Right? Obviously wrong.
The above scenario is a bit extreme, but anyone who tries to answer work life balance with a suggestion anywhere like this is clearly missing a few screws. Yet, more often than not this is what happens.
We cannot have a positive work life balance with solutions like casual Fridays, take your kids to work Monday, or the occasional extended lunch break to run errands.
We need to recognize that it’s up to us to solve this issue. We cannot depend on our boss or higher level management no matter how “good” the company purports itself to be.
This moves a lot of folks to become entrepreneurs and buck the system entirely, but doing so brings along a complex set of its own issues.
Entrepreneurs and folks with more flexibility aren’t immune to work life balance struggles. It comes down to deeper issues revolving around our core values and wants, needs, and deepest desires.
If you fancy yourself an entrepreneur dive deeper and discover your unique Balance Point. Check out my book on work/life balance here and use a personal balance blueprint to find success. The concepts within are an expansion of this post, geared specifically toward entrepreneurs, hustling work-from-homers, or anyone picking up a new side hustle and wondering how to find the time to do everything.
So we ask the question “What is it we really want?”
I’ll hazard a guess that you desire success and the money that goes along with it. You also probably want ample time to spend with family, not having to always put work first. You also don’t want to be so exhausted that even if the family and work life are good, you have zero time to yourself.
What’s your unique balance point?
Answer these questions and gain clarity on your desires and think about what a positive work life balance looks like for you. Stop reading blogs and books with only work life balance tips and tricks. We will get to those and they can be super helpful BUT you need to hit the core of the issue first:
- What does the perfect day look like for you?
- Do you enjoy the work you do?
- Are you missing out on important family events or milestones due to work?
Even if you think you know exactly what you want, it’s beneficial to brainstorm here. Jot down what it is you really want and what you want your life to look like.
My “perfect day” (or a day that I feel hits a positive work life balance) involves some or all of the following:
- Getting to see my wife, work with my wife, and enjoy her company throughout the day. Yes, this means what you think it means.
- Working on challenging yet fulfilling work projects that I find stimulating and coincide with my Destiny Goals.
- Getting outside and either walking, running, or working out.
- Checking email no more than twice per day.
- Working out of a new cafe or coffee shop in a new place. Preferably travelling to a new country and working as a digital nomad.
- Having a home cooked dinner OR eating out and trying a brand new type of food.
- Brainstorming life goals and tasks for the coming days.
- Ending with meditation and prayer and appreciating the good day for what it was.
All of your days won’t look like the above. Mine sure don’t!
Hitting a positive work life balance is not measured in one day. You can’t do it all today, nor does it make sense to wait until you retire to fill your life with leisure. Millennials are killing it with grasping the idea of just going for it, but end up missing out on the other-worldly pleasure and satisfaction that delayed gratification brings.
So, don’t fret if one day happens to be filled with 16+ hours of work, it’s going to happen. If this is happening regularly, and you are working 100 hours a week, then something might need to change.
What does achieving work life balance look like for you? Answer that and then move on.
Analyzing Your Current Work Life Balance
I like to think in the timeframe of weeks. Weeks are a great length of time to judge progress with goals and to get a snapshot of your life, but aren’t so short you feel crammed to get everything into 24 hours.
Looking back on your last week did you:
- Get a chance to spend adequate time with your family?
- Get done everything you needed to?
- Feel so overwhelmed you wanted to get the heck out of dodge and leave everything behind?
- Have at least a few days you remember fondly?
- Do work that fully engaged and motivated you?
- Spend time alone thinking, praying and/or meditating?
Maybe you haven’t thought of these questions before? Maybe you are still wondering what you are even doing with your life?
This is okay. Everyone starts somewhere, but you owe it to yourself to dive in and get your hands dirty.
Figure out what your top priorities in life are, and make time for them. Make time to reach towards your most important life goals, make time to spend playing in the backyard with family, make time to take a deep breathe and recenter your life.
The only way to unlock a work life balance you are happy with is to start with what you want your life to look like, and then reflect on where you are at right now. Merge the desire for a balanced life with what your life looks like now.
The key to having it all and having a work life balance that works, is to try new ways of doing things, see how it goes, and then reassess your goals and action steps. It’s not rocket science to get started, but maintaining momentum can be the hard part.
Arm yourself by knowing what your ideal work life balance is, reflecting on where you are at right now, and then and only then moving on to what you can do about it.
Achieving a Balanced Work and Life (15 Tips)
Before we move on to the highly practical section here, I want to again stress the importance of starting with the above.
👍Gain a deeper understanding of what it is you want your work life balance to look like.
👍Determine what your balance looks like right now.
Once you have a clearer picture of the above you can begin to solve work life balance. Move on to the practical tips and tricks below to make small changes in your life today that will lead you forward in your quest.
Tip #1: Work Whenever There isn’t Much Else to do
This one is easy to say, and tough to implement. It’s useful to take advantage of times when there isn’t much going on. Whether it’s pouring down rain or you are stuck in an airport for twelve hours, find a way to get stuff done. This will allow you more freedom to play on the nice days and have fun when you get to your final destination.
Think about what time can be gained that is otherwise wasted.
Try reading on your Kindle app while waiting in a line. Do talk to other people if the mood strikes, but otherwise waiting in line could be considered wasted time. Fill that with reading instead.
Don’t counterbalance and fill every waking moment of “free” time with activity. I’m not one of those who ascribe to this type of lifestyle. Thoughtful ponderings and casual human interaction are important for overall growth as well. Mix it up and find what works for you.
Tip #2: Start, You Aren’t Missing Out
When you are lacking motivation and you’d much rather just go outside, sit down and get to work instead. For me, this works like a charm. I can still trick myself into thinking I’ll only work for a bit, but every time I open my laptop it turns into a two to three-hour work session.
This step is easier now since we just recently had an amazing Thailand adventure. We returned to stunningly beautiful North Carolina weather. I look outside and I’d much rather be out there than working on my computer, but having a recent major experience makes missing out on a nice day seem less important.
Start, knowing that you aren’t really missing out on anything as the work you are doing is important.
Tip #3: Be Intentional
Set aside time every day for the most important tasks for your business. This will allow you to be guilt free when you do something fun in the evening after a long day of work. It’s hard to find consistent motivation in work, even if you love what you do. For most of us, we will hit a wall and need a break.
Intentionality is the lifeblood of finding balance. Know what you plan to accomplish each week, month, and year, and set your tasks accordingly.
What I’ve been learning to do is to wake up every day with at least one idea in mind of a task I want to get done. Often it’s more than one task, but the one I get done is the most important to move forward in my goals. It’s hard not to get caught up in the busyness of tasks that demand attention, and being intentional about our daily tasks is how we move forward effectively.
Prioritize doing what needs to be done for your work. Put time into tasks and items that demand attention, but don’t forget to be intentional with your time for both work and play.
Tip #4: Get a Flexible Job
For me, as soon as I got into the world of online freelancing and passive income I was hooked. It’s been said entrepreneurs are the only people that will work eighty hours for themselves to avoid working forty for the man. This couldn’t be more true. I find value in making my own schedule, determining my own working hours, and keeping myself accountable. Some days are challenging, but having flexibility makes it all worth it.
After Thailand, we then went to Maine to see my parents. A week later we went to Pennsylvania to see other family members. The freedom to travel in this way is not possible with a 9-to-5 job with minimal paid time off.
The more flexible your working situation, the more time you will have for other pursuits, such as enhancing your skills for the job you already have. The more we make ourselves invaluable assets, the more leeway we have to strike the work/life balance we want.
I’m never going back to a less flexible job if I can help it, and it’s because of the freedom to decide what to do with my time. I can take a day and work on my next book, or take the day to freelance and work for clients. I can choose how much time to work and how much time to play. Sometimes this can add pressure, feelings of guilt, and other challenges, but it’s much easier to handle than limited vacation time, being on-call overnight, or working a full year for the chance at a small raise.
Hitting a positive work life balance is more attainable if you are the one calling the shots. Remember, even if you are living the 9-5 life right now, you are still responsible for cultivating balance in your life, no one else is going to do it for you.
Maybe you are an aspiring entrepreneur who’s reading this book in the hopes of finding tips to become what you were born to be. I say to you: Go get it! Make a plan and reach for flexibility. Work a side hustle until it becomes a full-time gig. Or just take a risk now and use your savings to float you while you work like crazy to light up the world.
Working as a full-time entrepreneur is one of the best feelings. If you aren’t already choosing how to use your time each day, find a way to get there.
Tip #5: Love What You do
“If you love the work you do, you won’t work a day in your life.” Author and speaker John C. Maxwell says this often. I love it, and I’m trying to live it. If you find something you are truly passionate about, it no longer feels like work; it becomes a calling and something you would probably do for free. With my writing I am getting closer, but I still have a long way to go.
I think we all have the ability to find work that we are passionate about. It won’t happen right away, but it’s worth it when you find it. When I write and get in the flow, the world flies by around me and I don’t even think about anything else. There is something out there uniquely designed for you and your passions and abilities. Maybe you already know what it is.
Tip #6: Find Purpose in Your Work
In his book Great at Work: How Top Performers Work Less and Achieve More, Morten Hansen, management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, shares that purpose trumps passion when it comes to productivity and meaning.
When answering the prompt, “What I do at work makes a strong contribution to society beyond making money,” only 17% of the 5000 employees surveyed agreed. These employees also had the highest performance rankings with their bosses.
Hansen further found interesting results when grouping employees into four separate categories:
- Low passion and low purpose: These folks were rated at the bottom 10% of performance by their bosses. No surprise here.
- High Passion and High Purpose: These employees rated in top 80th percentile for performance. Again, no surprise here. Folks who love what they do AND feel their purpose is fulfilled are the stars of the company.
- High Passion and Low Purpose: The results of the study are no longer obvious. Hansen found that these employees fell in the 20th percentile of job performance. These people love what they do and have a high level of passion, but they don’t know why they do it.
- Low Passion and High Purpose: These folks are shockingly in the 64th percentile of high performing employees. This means that one can be dulled by the work, but if it has a high level of meaning people will still perform well. Fascinating.
Consider finding purpose in what you do. It will lead to better results and higher levels of performance.
Purpose trumps passion in the realm of efficiency, but we still would do well to mix in passion too.
Tip #7: Schedule Fun Activities
If you don’t make time to have fun, it might not happen. Everyone who finds valuable work can enjoy it so much they forget to have fun. If you don’t take a break and proactively schedule fun activities, you’ll face burnout and an eventual lack of interest in your subject matter.
Learn to let go and to make time for fun. This applies not only to those with a lot of time on their hands, but to people with full schedules too. We all need to schedule time to take a chill pill once in a while and relax.
And remember too, the fun thing doesn’t have to be momentous. It could be as simple as taking a night off to go to the movies, ordering take out, or taking a walk.
The only thing you need to do is to schedule it and make sure it happens. Be intentional about carving out time for play.
Tip #8: Take a Wednesday Off
If you find that you are overworked and burning out by the middle of the week, stop working and take the day off, for Pete’s sake. If you find that you are putting too much focus on work, stop for a change and tune out all other distractions. Make time for rest.
This isn’t possible for everyone, and you certainly shouldn’t do this too often, but sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back.
If we don’t we will crash and burn quickly. I’ve ridden the roller coaster and it ain’t pretty. I’m gung ho for work on a Monday and Tuesday but by hump day I’m toast. I wake up unable to get anything worthwhile accomplished.
And instead of just calling it, what do I do? I try to power through, end up getting distracted, and put out subpar work that took me far too long to do. Not good.
I’ve learned that some days aren’t going to be successful. Some days won’t provide you the creative mojo you need. Instead, go for a walk and take the day to read. Give your mind a break from the constant stress of production and feed it content related to your niche.
Your day off doesn’t have to be a Wednesday, Saturday, or Sunday. Maybe you like to work hard for four days and take a long weekend. The point is to find what works for you and don’t stop experimenting until you find the sweet spot.
Tip #9: Take a Working Trip to a Foreign Country
What better way to combine both work and play than taking a work trip to another country? More and more jobs are becoming remote and location independent, so if this tip rings true for you, look into what it would take to get into a more remote job, or turn your existing job remote.
Our trip to Thailand this past year was fantastic for breaking out and doing new things. It sparked my creativity and at times it was hard to stop writing because I had so much in my head to get out.
Creativity lives and breathes when our brain is jazzed up by seeing and experiencing new things. Sure, it can be exhausting to travel and figure out a new routine, but the benefits far outweigh these inconveniences.
While there I worked at over thirty cafes, coffee shops, and coworking spaces in a foreign country. Compare that to working out of my home office, the same Barnes and Noble table, and the occasional Starbucks, and it’s no wonder I was able to produce quality work.
Beyond just work, consider how easy it is to take a break and experience new things. In Chiang Mai, Thailand alone my wife and I must have eaten at over fifty unique restaurants! We would often take a two-hour break, grab some food we hadn’t tried before, and then get back to work. It was the perfect mix of adventure and motivation to keep working as much as possible.
Be warned though! Travel is addictive and Miranda and I are already planning our next trips to see other interesting places. 😉
I don’t want to live with a single regret, and I don’t want you to either. Find a way to take a trip, just once, and your eyes will be open to new possibilities. We aren’t meant to stick to one thing our whole lives. We are meant for more.
Tip #10: Power Down Your Mobile Device
One of the worst things you can do when you finally decide to have fun is to keep the phone on. Don’t let the phone become an unshakeable tether to your work life. If you can leave it behind, do so. If you have to keep it with you “just in case,” shut it off or put it in airplane mode.
Being disconnected for even a few hours has healing powers. The average person looks at their phone 110 times a day and spends 23 days per year glued to their smartphone. Have you ever felt the phantom buzz, only to find out your phone isn’t even in your pocket? It’s at those times I think it might be time to leave the phone in the other room and disconnect completely.
We didn’t have cell phone coverage while we were on our trip. We could have put in local sim cards and had access to the local 4G network, but we chose not to. Instead our phones only worked when on WiFi.
Guess what? We were fine. We didn’t need to be connected 24/7 with access at all times. Sure, there were times when Miranda and I were in separate places and I wasn’t able to touch base with her, but such occurrences were few and far between. Plus, there’s WiFi everywhere in Chiang Mai so it worked out.
Tuck your phone away and get off the grid every once in a while. Trust me, it’s all good.
Tip #11: Check Email Only Once or Twice Per Day
This is one of those tips you know you should probably do but it’s almost impossible in practice. A few practical suggestions:
- Be intentional about checking your email. Too often I open up my email on my phone with no intention of responding. Am I saving any time by doing this, or are those minutes wasted?
- Don’t connect your email accounts to your phone. You probably don’t need to have access to it 24/7. Instead, check email only when you are on your laptop and are capable of responding in depth.
- Remember to set an away message whenever you might take longer to respond to inquiries. You should still do your best to respond in a timely manner, but with an away message, people won’t feel like you are leaving them hanging.
- Filter your email. If you use Gmail, you can set filters on incoming messages to establish a level of priority. If you have a few top-level clients you want to respond to right away, set up a specific inbox just for them and get notified when you receive their emails. Put all other emails into a separate folder you know is less of a priority. It might not seem fair, but we don’t get ahead by doing what’s fair, we get ahead by doing what works for us. Some people might have to wait for a response and that’s okay.
Mastering email is a challenging process. If you still can’t get it right and feel constantly overwhelmed, you might want to consider hiring a VA (virtual assistant) to sort email for you or to respond in your name when appropriate. Get creative and don’t feel stuck with email. There are always creative solutions right around the corner.
Tip #12: Work During Your Peak Hours of Focus
What times of the day are you at your best? At what time does it feel like pulling teeth to even open up your email, let alone trying to respond in a coherent manner?
Work when you have the best chance to get into the flow and do solid work. When I first wake up in the morning I am NOT with it. I can barely function right off the bat. I do much better work in the afternoons or evenings when the food, coffee, and a good workout kick in.
Find a time of day that works for you and schedule your day to utilize your peak focus time. Get your best work done when you know you’ll get your best work done.
Tip #13: Don’t Neglect Health and Wellness
On the grand adventure to finding balance, health and wellness often get tanked. We stop drinking enough water, stop finding the time to work out, and don’t even get me started on the food choices.
Make today the day you reset and make better decisions in this area. There are countless books you can read on the subject (This one is a great place to start), but you probably know what to do. Start doing it. Remember, you are in this for the long haul. Choose wellness.
Tip #14: Multitask Only When it Makes Sense
Multitasking is not how we get ahead. If we multitask too much we risk getting behind and not using our brain to its fullest capacity. A study done by the University of London found that multitasking’s effect on the brain is akin to staying up all night.
The American Psychological Association shows that multitasking is actually less efficient because it takes additional time to switch between tasks and it ends up taking a toll on productivity.
Next time you think about watching YouTube or checking emails at the same time as spending time with your kids, consider focusing on one important activity at a time.
On the other side of the coin, here are some activities fantastic for productivity that you can do simultaneously:
- Walking or driving while listening to audiobooks.
- Reading while listening to calming music.
- Make a phone call while doing the dishes.
- Exercise while watching the latest episode of your favorite TV series (it’s much better for you than watching whilst sitting down).
- Work while watching sports. Most of the time spent in sports games (especially baseball) is spent on things other than playing (like commercials). Get some additional work done when your favorite team isn’t up to bat.
Pick tasks that make sense to do together and won’t collide. Put time, energy, and your undivided focus into the big things that really matter.
Tip #15: Don’t Forget, You Run the Show
This one is easy to forget. It’s easy to get locked into habits and into doing things just because it’s the way you do them. Don’t forget to question why you do things the way you do, especially if you are finding less and less passion for what you do.
Life can still get stressful, difficult, and overwhelming. Even if we are strapped to our desks or enjoy working for ourselves, balance issues arrive. Remember you ultimately have the authority to dictate your schedule (you don’t have to keep going to a job you hate!). Build your day around what works for you and be the boss.
Use these tips today to begin to master the art of balance. When you can seamlessly slip from work to play as effortlessly as a dolphin dives into cool crisp waters, you will know you are close to achieving the work-life balance everyone so desperately wants.
Be intentional above all else. See where you need to improve and make a concerted effort to do so. It will take time but it’s well worth it.
As I mentioned above, determining your unique Balance Point can be tricky. Dive in to my book here and discover your personal balance blueprint to unlocking a work life balance you are happy with.