steps to achieving a work/life balance

when I was in college, one of my roommates lived by the idea that you go to class and do work from 9 to 5. then whatever is urgent gets worked on until it’s done, but otherwise you shelve it until the next day. school is a job in itself, but it is not your life.

another person that I went to school with had the same philosophy, except that she didn’t stop at 5. she didn’t stop when the urgent items were done. she worked all night, going above and beyond so that she could know more than anyone else. she got five or six hours of sleep every night, at the very most, and worked herself to the bone.

as far as I know, they both still work the same way in their real jobs, now that we’re out of school. they’re both happy, they say, and while it’s true that everyone has their own way of working, I find it really hard to believe that the person working continuous 70-hour weeks is truly achieving a work/life balance. when work is your life, you’re not really living. at the end of the day, you should love what you do, but that shouldn’t be all that you do.

developing a work/life balance–having time to myself and to Harry and to my friends and to my hobbies–is something that I’ve dedicated myself to a lot this year. it’s hard, when you love your job, to not go home and plan for the days and weeks ahead. it’s hard to accept that some things just have to wait until the next day. but the most important part is realizing that your productivity during the workday has to come from yourself–you have to make the balancing act happen from 9 to 5 so that you can have the weeknights and weekends off.

  • prioritize your time. if you don’t know what the highest priorities are, ask. someone else will be more than happy to help you figure it out until you can do it on your own. in the end, everyone benefits from it, anyway.
  • manage your time. if it means making a list at the beginning of the day of everything you want to get done and then crossing it off, do it. there is no shame in lists, there is no shame in personal accountability, there is no shame in finding a time management method that works for you.
  • make longer-term goals for your work. look at your job and think about what needs to get done this week. this month. in the next six months. where do you want to be in a year? the day to day focus is crucial, but it’s just as crucial to keep one eye on the future, so that you know where you’re going. when you’re looking at the next month of your work life, the day to day prioritization can get a bit easier. know where you’re going so that you know what needs immediate attention. bonus tip: look at the last six months and see where you could have planned better to make your life easier, and apply that to the upcoming six months.
  • have hobbies or permanent plans for post-work hours. don’t let yourself veg out at home every night because you don’t have anything better to do. if it means taking a class, grab a friend and do it. Harry takes improv classes every week and loves it. we all have friends we don’t get to see as much as we’d like – grab them for a monthly cocktail or coffee. start small – monthly is doable, and if you do enough things monthly, the evenings add up. take time to recharge yourself in the best way possible, but be open to the possibility that filling your time with friends or hobbies might be a different yet still invigorating way to recharge.
  • don’t work at home. listen, this one is important. yes, it’s true that having a job means that you will work sometimes from home, sometimes after you’ve already left the office, sometimes when you don’t want to. but by making working in the evenings a regular habit in your life, you’re setting yourself up for long-term failure in your personal life.

it’s not about refusing to go above and beyond in your job. it’s about finding the daily path that works best for you so that you can preserve your work time for work and your home time for home. if you’re finding that you have too much work to complete during the day, maybe it’s time to work on restructuring how you spend your day and working it out with your coworkers or supervisors. it is entirely possible to go above and beyond while still keeping it inside working hours. in fact, it might be better.

if you know that you’re wasting your own time during the day, then stop it. make a plan. stick to it. make changes as necessary.

but most importantly, live your life. let work be a healthy, enjoyable part of your life, but don’t let work be your life.