7 tips to improve work-life balance

Struggling to disconnect from work after hours? Discover 7 strategies for achieving the balance you've always wanted between your job and personal life.


Do you find yourself working after work hours? Can’t seem to disconnect yourself from your laptop or smartphone to check your e-mails? Do you find yourself feeling tired most of the time?

Then chances are you need to revisit your work life balance.

This is even more important now that so many of us are working from home, where the line between 'office' and 'living room' are blurred. If you're finding it hard to know when to put away your laptop - you're not alone. But there are small steps you can take that can help you.

Why do we struggle to achieve work-life balance?

The two culprits majorly responsible for looking at your emails after hours are job insecurity and technology.

Now more than ever we're feeling the importance of showing our bosses we're productive. COVID-19 has impacted a lot of workers, some of them being furloughed, and unemployment predicted to rise.This may lead some of us to over-work, eager to show our bosses that we're valuable to the business - but whilst this may seem like a good idea in the short-term, in the long term, allowing yourself to work more than your contracted hours for a prolonger period of time will likely leave you feeling exhausted and stress. 

Seeking to strike a balance between your work day and your leisure time has actually been proven to boost your productivity at work as well as reducing stress levels. So here are some tips for managing that balance:


1. Contemplate how you spend time every day

Maintain a mental list of all the tasks you are doing from the beginning of a day and list them in order of priority. If you have an email that needs to go out before a certain time, turn to that first. If you have a big deadline to hit, move that up your list. Give yourself a maximum of 3 things to focus on during that day so that you know what you need to achieve.

Secondly, make a list of all the things that tend to distract you from work. Perhaps it's checking your phone or answering text messages. Perhaps as you go to make a cup of tea you find yourself unloading the diswasher, or picking up a chore that needs doing. Try to set aside time for chores into your longer work breaks, so you can help maintain your focus while you're working on your top 3 tasks. 

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2. Schedule time for leisure

I'm sure you've head of the Pomodoro technique - the trick of working for twenty-five minutes in a block and then scheduling in a five minute break. This helps us focus because it encourages us to focus for a shorter period of time, and it also means that we schedule time in for a break. 

When you're working from home, ensuring you're taking regular breaks is more important than ever. According to a study, remote workers work on average 1.4 days more than those who work in an office, which is an additional ten hours. This could be because we're not logging off, or because we're forgetting to take breaks.

Ensure that you keep to a rigourous lunch hour, the same you would do in the office. When midday rolls around (or whenever you like to take lunch) close your laptop and take yourself outside for a walk. Stretch your legs, get a change of scenary or pick up a book and have some quiet time. 

Breaks help by refuelling you and bringing positive energy to get you back into your work.


3. Plan an activity you would like to do after work every day

Making sure you have something to do when the work day is over gives you a reason to put your laptop down on time. 

It doesn't have to be something big - perhaps you want to organise your book collection, or go for a walk, or do some exercise, but make sure that you schedule it to start when your work day ends. Having something to look forward to - even if that something is small - helps you maintain your focus throughout the day and keep a positive outlook if you're finding your day becoming stressful.

4. Log off

We know it sounds simple, but when the end of the day rolls around - ensure that you log off. 

Disconnect from your work e-mail turn off your work phone and put your laptop away. Now that we're working from home, it might "feel" easier to keep your desk (/kitchen table) set up for the following work day, but chances are it will tempt you to quickly reply to an email, or to check you've not got too many meetings for the day ahead.

Be strict with yourself when you log off. If there's something truly urgent, your manager is likely to call you, rather than send an email. Anything else can wait until you log back in the following day. 

5. Set aside time for yourself and your family

According to the OECD better life index, the average person should be spending around 15 hours a day on leisure and personal time, including setting aside time for friends and family.

"Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being. A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation."

- OECD Better Life Index

Connecting with friends and family is increasingly important now. If you're living alone and working from home, you may be feeling isolated. Making sure to book in a video call with a friend or family member can help lift your spirits.

Ask your family to join at meal times, watch a show on the television which you think everyone would have fun watching or plan a baking day together. 

Spending quality time with family and friends - even if that is via a video link - not only enhances your relationship with them but it helps reduce stress. 

6. Get in touch with a mentor

If you're new to working from home or you want to start working remotely, then chances are you found it tricky to settle into your initial rhythm. 

Why not look for someone from your friends or family who you always thought of having a great work-life balance, and ask for some advice? Perhaps you can speak to them about how they schedule their work day, how long and how often the make time for breaks and how they ensure they keep up with their work priorities without sacrificing their own leisure time. Sometimes it helps to gain a new perspective - it may help you see where you can make time for yourself.

7. Communicate with your manager

If you're feeling overwhelmed, speak with your closest manager. Burn-out is costly, predominatly for you, as stress will leave you feeling fatigued, but it also costs businesses. Chances are that your manager does not want you to work every hour in the day, but they want you to take breaks for yourself as well. 

''As a manager of a team where I expect them to provide dedication, critical-thinking, and a high level of communication skills, I think that it's key to take employees in their full context.

If you're looking to get the best from your team then rise to the occasion to help your team when individuals need it most. It's key to have a reciprocal relationship where you are also flexible and accommodate their emotional and physical well-being.

Whether it's making flexible hours so that employees can pick up their children or reduce their commute time when attending a doctor's appointment, or making your projects work around vacation time for momentous occasions for them - managers should expect to build relationships in their process of forming and maintaining a winning team.'' - Abby Guthrie, Product & Content Manager, Educations Media Group

Ultimately, work-life balance is something that is achieved over time and stands the test of it. You need to ensure that the practices you put in place are ones that you can stick to, that the mindset you adopt can be translated back into the office or kept if you will continue working from home.

Speaking with your manager and working with them on your priorities will help you both.

Read more: How does your mental health influence your work performance?