Did you know that Sweden has downgraded from an 8 hour to 6 hour workday recently? Apparently businesses there have implemented this strategy as many as 13 years ago. There are several reasons why this is seen as a good thing that the US should adopt. Being a skeptic, I am extremely hesitant to believe the work dynamic that the US currently has in place will change in the near future. If anything I'm afraid it will only get worse until companies are having trouble keeping employees because our health has taken an extreme downturn, something that is not outside of reality.
An article on CNN recently compared work stress to inhaling secondhand smoke. The article reported that "high job demands increased the odds of having an illness diagnosed by a doctor by 35%" and "Long work hours increased the chances of early death by almost 20%." If those statistics alone didn't grab your attention already, I don't know what will. A few other facts to just throw out there, America has one of the lowest amounts of paid time off offered to its employees and those days are not even used by the majority of people. Paternity leave is almost unheard of and maternity leave is short, some companies don't even have it. With technology giving people round the clock access to one another, boundaries are lost. There needs to be a change. Many European countries have already been years ahead of us in adapting to a healthier balance of work and life but as always, the US is far behind.
I have experienced several different work environments from corporate to small business. I've spoken with professionals who make it their job to teach people how to find a healthier balance. I've tried to find that balance myself over and over again. I'm still learning but here are five steps I have found to be consistently successful.
1. Set boundaries. This is not as easy for people in certain professions like medicine and law enforcement but most other people can certainly make this happen. I have a PR background and one of the things I absolutely despise about the industry are all the fire drills. Let me tell you something, it is not life and death. There is no reason why people need to demand things at 9pm expecting a one-hour turn around. Sure, the 24-hour news cycle has really changed the dynamic of things but 95% of the time, what is perceived as urgent really is far from it. You need to set boundaries. Whether you work for a company or have your own business, there is nothing wrong with saying after this time I am away from my computer and will return in the morning. I will say this, set those boundaries early because it's much harder to get them in place long after you've let things go lackadaisical. I've been there before and quite recently too. All companies have business hours. It is in everyone's best interest to stick to them.
2. Make time for you. We are so often focused on one task or another we forget to give ourselves a breather. Take a little time each day to just focus on you. Read a book, take a hot bubble bath, have a cocktail on your back porch. Whatever it is that you feel like treating yourself to that day, indulge. You need some time alone to rejuvenate and let your brain calm down. I personally like to do this at night before bed so that it's easier for me to fall asleep. However, I confess. This is the hardest one on the list for me to be consistent with. I'm working at it though.
3. Prioritize. The best way to be productive at work is to prioritize. However that works best for you differs per person. I prefer to work in order of deadlines, that way I'm not slammed at the last minute. Figure out what you absolutely have to get done today, what can wait till tomorrow and what can wait till later in the week. This will help get more done during the work day which should leave you feeling less stressed in your personal time.
4. Eat Well. Be Active. I feel that these go hand in hand because it's the larger picture in terms of wellness. One of my past colleagues left her career to completely start a new one as a wellness coach. I respect her so much for doing that and look up to her because not only is she living her dream, she's helping people get on a better track with their lives. She's the one who really tuned me into being more mindful about what I eat and how active I am. I'll admit, some weeks (even months) are better than others but as long as we remain cognizant of what we're eating and how much activity we're getting in regularly, we already have made the first big step. Instead of buying lunch at work, pack your own. Not only will this help you save money (stress-reliever), it will also be food that you made and know exactly what it consists of. Take control of what you're putting into your body and make time to give it some action later on. Join a volleyball team, take Pilates classes, join a kickboxing club. Working out and being active is always much easier when it's doing something you love. Besides, getting in a workout regularly is a proven stress reliever. Just Google it.
5. Spend time with people you care about. One of the worst things I ever did was cut myself off from family and friends. I was so miserable in an old job that all I did was stay home by myself. I rarely went out on the weekends, never on weeknights. I secluded myself as I was miserable and that turned me into a person I hardly recognized. There are many benefits to spending time with people you care about. Social interaction is healthy for us on a basic and intellectual level. Not only that, it provides us with an emotional support system that is there for us when we're feeling not so great. These people also will most likely know when something is off with you that you might not recognize. Having people in our lives is as natural as breathing. Allowing them to be there for us is human. Keep a support group. Thrive from it. Giving back to them when they're in need will fulfill you in a million ways and you will most likely need it back someday yourself. The last thing anyone needs is to cut themselves off from the people who really care about them and have their back.
There are so many other ways to find a healthy work-life balance. These are my personal recommendations from experience. Tell me in the comments what works for you or what you've heard is good to try. I'm always open to new ideas and suggestions.