In some professions it is incredibly difficult to identify what work/life balance should look like and how to actually achieve it. Everyone seems to be on the treadmill; working late, coming in early, eating at your desk and working weekends. The problem is that lack of work/life balance over an extended period can lead to burnout, which often sneaks up on people and isn’t recognised until it is too late. Burnout can be dangerous so it is important that people recognise the symptoms ahead of time.

What are the signs that you are not achieving work/ life balance?

Signs that suggest you don’t have a good work/life balance include working for long periods without leaving your desk, taking work home every night, checking emails when you should be ‘present’ with family or friends, working weekends and eating lunch and/or dinner at your desk. More serious symptoms may include consistent health problems such as headaches, back or neck pain, constant fatigue or insomnia. Other signs that you are heading for burnout may include a negative attitude, loss of confidence, inability to concentrate, losing your temper, crying for little or no reason and feeling detached from friends and family.

Strategies for improving work/life balance

The first step to improve your work/life balance is to make some choices about what you want out of life. What are your most important values and how do you wish to spend your time.

The next step is to start communicating at work and home about what needs to change to make sure your values are being met.

  • Set some expectations at work with colleagues and clients about when you will and won’t be working so people don’t expect you to be available 24/7.
  • Learn to say ‘no’ occasionally to new projects and extra commitments that will eat up your time and won’t contribute to achieving either your work or personal objectives. This is particularly important for those personality types that are very service-oriented and tend to put other’s needs before their own.
  • Ask for extra resources if you need them.
  • Delegate where you can to free up your time for what is most important.
  • Brainstorm any small changes you can make that will have a big impact overall; such as forcing yourself to have a lunch break several times a week to exercise, leaving the office at 5pm twice a week to have dinner with the kids or having lunch with a friend rather than a work colleague.

Setting aside personal time

The final step is to plan ahead and set aside personal time to make sure you are spending time with friends and family that is free from intrusion. Set some ground rules in regard to turning off electronic devices for a certain time period every evening and weekend that will allow you to give your full attention to those people and the activities that are most important to you. Plan a holiday every year and try and follow a daily routine that includes some time for yourself every week that is unrelated to your career.

Work/life balance is important in order to maintain health and well-being on a long-term basis.  If you are experiencing some of the signs outlined above, perhaps it is time to think about what work/life balance really means to YOU.  Forget about what it means to your colleagues, think about what YOU are willing to accept and strive to make some small changes to express your own definition of work/life balance.