We’ve all heard of the term work-life balance. However, it’s become abundantly clear that few people in the legal and financial sectors know what it actually means. Oxford dictionary describes work-life balance as: “the division of one’s time and focus between working and family or leisure activities” – but how do you strike this balance in such high-pressure industries, and why is it so important?
Throughout this article, we will explore the importance of work-life balance to both our health and career success before outlining 16 actionable steps you can take to improve your work-life balance.
Why is work-life balance so important?
Whether you’re a lawyer, accountant or consultant, you’ve probably rolled your eyes at the phrase work-life balance before – and understandably so. These roles are incredibly demanding. They require long hours, allow very little room for error and rely heavily on your ability to manage stress. So why should you prioritise your work-life balance?
Perhaps the most effective way to relay the importance of work-life balance is to highlight the adverse effects imbalance has upon our mental and physical health.
Some of the negative effects of work-life imbalance are:
- Burnout: mental and physical fatigue from chronic work-related stress
- Health issues: chronic fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression and persistent headaches
- Strained relationships: excessive stress and absence due to work can drive a wedge between you and your relationships
- Poor work performance: if you are not at your best mentally and physically, you can’t perform your best at work
What’s more, the finance and legal sectors are significantly more susceptible to experiencing these side-effects due to the demand of their roles. For example, during tax season, accountants often find themselves working 60 hour weeks, which amounts to over half of their waking hours! Similarly, statistics show that “lawyers suffer from depression at a rate 3.6 times that of other professions.”
Handling this level of work-related stress whilst navigating daily life during a global pandemic is a lot of pressure to place on anyone’s shoulders. That’s why prioritising balance, setting boundaries and honouring your personal time is so crucial.
If you need further convincing to improve your work-life balance (beyond avoiding all of those adverse side effects), here are some of the positive side effects of maintaining a healthy work-life balance:
- Improved mental and physical health
- Greater job satisfaction
- Reduced stress
- More time for hobbies and socialising
- Increased productivity
- Improved work performance
- Happiness both personally and professionally
16 tips for a healthy work-life balance
Now that we understand the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, it’s time we outlined some actionable steps you can take to help you improve your work-life balance:
1. Decide what work-life balance means to you
To achieve the perfect work-life balance, you must first understand what balance means to you. Does it mean leaving work on time and not working weekends? Or does it mean limiting work-related calls and emails to office hours? Until you identify your ideal work-life balance, you can’t implement the steps to get there.
2. Assess how balanced you are
Achieving a better work-life balance means making positive and sustainable changes to your lifestyle. However, to do that, you must first identify which areas of your life lack balance. Only when you understand your downfalls and weakness can you take action and successfully facilitate change.
3. Identify what is preventing you from achieving a healthy work-life balance
Prioritising self-care is all well and good, but if you can’t identify what has stopped you from striking a work-life balance before now, it’s unlikely your new goals and plans will remedy the issue. You must find the problem to create a solution.
For example, if your problem is checking your work phone outside of the office, switch it off at the end of the working day. By removing the temptation, you’re able to switch off and enjoy your evening undisturbed.
4. Switch up your working environment
Typically the first 90 days in a new role sets the standard for how (and when) you will work. Beyond that, the only way to significantly improve your work-life balance is to change your working environment (or even your job).
Whilst this may sound a touch dramatic, there are plenty of actionable steps you can take to break the unsustainable habits you have created for yourself (and still optimise productivity).
For example, if you have a long commute to the office, consider working remotely once or twice a week (where possible). Employers are far more open-minded about flexible working since the pandemic, plus remote working can save you both time and money whilst eliminating those office-related distractions.
5. Enlist a coach
A coach can help you address any unhealthy working habits you may have formed. It is their role to objectively prioritise your wellbeing, thus making it easier for them to identify your unsustainable practices.
Together you can work to improve your self-awareness and, ultimately, unlock what has prevented you from achieving the work-life balance you so deeply crave. Then, once you’ve understood where you have been going wrong, you can work together to create and implement an action plan.
6. Set yourself goals and share them with others
Holding yourself accountable is one thing – being held accountable by your friends, family, and colleagues is another. The reality is the more well known your goals are, the more likely you are to achieve them. So start setting actionable goals and sharing them!
For example, tell your partner and colleagues that you aim to leave the office by 18:00, at least three times a week. If you continue to work past 18:00 after sharing your goal, I wish you luck – you’d better have several excuses ready.
7. Prioritise and delegate using the 5 P’s
Prioritisation and delegation are essential to a healthy work-life balance. By prioritising your tasks, you’re able to delegate your lower value jobs, saving you time and energy! To help you achieve this, here is a step-by-step guide to prioritisation and delegation – otherwise known as the 5 Ps:
- Plan – set yourself daily, weekly and monthly goals to help you improve your work-life balance.
- Prioritise – make your new plans a priority, add them to your must-do list (right next to eating and sleeping).
- Prospects – what are the prospects of implementing these new habits? What could you achieve? For example, are you striving for better mental and physical health?
- Pace yourself – finding a healthy work-life balance will take time, so don’t expect it to happen overnight. Instead, slowly but surely, work your way through your daily and weekly goals.
- Push down – To achieve a healthy balance, you need to free up some time – so start delegating some of your tasks.
8. Learn to say ‘no’
Do you find it difficult to say no to people? Despite your best intentions, accepting additional work in a bid to help others will only set you back. It isn’t to say you shouldn’t offer a helping hand – if you have the time, fantastic! But, if you’re already overwhelmed by your workload, you should probably reconsider taking on additional tasks.
If you are a culprit of perpetually helping others, you may just find that learning to say no significantly reduces both your stress and overall workload.
Essential read: How to say no to client requests without hurting your career
9. Schedule and diarise relaxation and leisure activities
Finding the perfect work-life balance is not just about reducing your hours – it’s also about honouring your time outside of work. Think of it this way – you schedule your workday to optimise productivity, so why not plan how to get the most out of your free time?
Start planning activities that bring you joy, help you de-stress and allow you to switch off from work. For example, activities like meditation and exercise can positively impact your mental and physical health whilst significantly improving your work-life balance.
10. Break down your goals into small, actionable steps
When setting yourself a goal, it can be tempting to try and achieve it all at once. Not only is this unrealistic, but it’s also a sure-fire way to burn yourself out. Try and resist this temptation and, instead, break your goal down into smaller, more manageable milestones. In setting yourself a realistic timescale, you’re still able to progress towards your goals, just without compromising your wellbeing.
11. Ask your clients for deadlines
If you don’t already ask your clients for deadlines, now is the time to start. Having a clear set of deadlines and completion dates makes prioritising your workload far easier (rather than scrambling to do everything at once). In turn, you can significantly improve your work-life balance by reducing your stress.
12. Implement an end of day routine
Creating a routine for the end of your working day can help you switch off and relax. One of our favourite tips is to write out a to-do list for the next working day. That way, you’re not thinking about what you need to do tomorrow once you’ve left the office.
13. Switch off your work phone and emails when you’re out of office
Emails, texts and work-related phone calls can all interrupt your personal time. Left unchecked, this can progress to working on weekends and (even worse) holidays. Make it clear to your co-workers that, from now on, you will no longer be checking your emails or answering calls during evenings or weekends. After all, a healthy work-life balance is nothing without clear boundaries.
14. Block out times when you’re unavailable
If you leave your diary open and available, you’re more likely to take on work that will bleed into your personal time. Instead, make sure to block out the times when you are unavailable for work. Visually seeing your evenings and weekends blocked out in your diary will make it more difficult for you to accept any work during these times.
15. Makes plans that encourage you to leave work on time
For some, having plans after work is the only thing that will encourage them to leave on time. So, we thought, why not turn this into a legitimate tip for work-life balance.
Schedule your evenings like you would your workday – but instead of work-related tasks, fill them with self-care rituals. Whether you spend your evenings at family dinners or working out, use this time to prioritise self-care.
16. Share your household chores
Having a healthy work-life balance means having the time to re-charge your batteries. If you are coming home from work only to don your apron and marigolds, then you may not be getting the time you need to decompress.
You deserve to enjoy your time after work as much as the next person, so start sharing your household responsibilities. And if all else fails, consider investing in a cleaning service or a housekeeper.
A healthy balance could be the key to your success
To those readers who have never maintained a healthy work-life balance, I hope this article urges you to reconsider your unsustainable working practices. Taking care of your mental and physical health should always be a priority – after all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Once you improve your work-life balance, you can maintain healthier relationships, boundaries and working practices. Subsequently, by welcoming all of this positive change, you can expect to see great success in both your personal and professional life.
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