We’ve all called or texted friends and family to ask how they are only to get the reply, “Busy.” Or worse; “Stressed.” Burnout is real. Being forever busy is an epidemic of its own. And struggling to achieve work-life balance often feels a losing battle.
Perhaps we’re partly to blame. We work on our commutes. We work on our holidays (our next-level connectedness means no one is ever really out of office any more.) In the evenings. On weekends, and at times when we should be spending quality time with those most important to us. It’s non-stop. And hands up, I’m scarlet-handed. I’m passionate about what I do and it’s not unknown for my work to extend into unsocial hours.
The pressure to be “always on”
What if you miss something? The brief changes? The website goes down? It’s more often than not, fixable. Though we feel pressure not to mess up and to be available within a minute’s notice. Our desire to succeed can be all-consuming. Of course, no one wants to fail. Yet failure is the exact thing we need to grow.
Paranoia, humble-bragging, and social media’s false projection of perfection give us a sense of needing to be always on as well. When actually, to be our full, rested selves the best thing we can do is switch off.
How much responsibility lies with employers?
The saying goes, “healthy employees make happy employees.” And, in London, there’s been a huge surge in companies recognizing the demand for a workplace with benefits beyond the expected. Free Friday breakfasts, B2B events on-site so to accelerate the learning curve, yoga classes, kombucha in the fridge now as well as beer.
Good managers should be open to discussion too. Don’t be shy about asking for their time. Put 1:1s in with them if they haven’t with you. Flexible hours, a later start and finish, a day working from home are modern-day practice for many businesses, but it should become the norm.
What about the 4-day week? While far from common, this is gaining traction too. Microsoft’s recent trial in Japan netted the company a whopping 40% leap in productivity. US real estate firm Perpetual Garden also tried the 4-day work week experiment. It was so successful they’re reported to have adopted it permanently.
In my line of work, a lot of people work from home on Fridays. In no connection to my last sentence, I question how much work really gets done on Fridays anyway. If we’re pushing ourselves all week long, fatigue is inevitable. And if we know we have to get our to-do list done in four—rather than five—days it’s “carrot on a stick” logic. You’ll do it. Then, you can enjoy a relaxing, restorative three-day weekend.
At the end of the day our employers can help set us up for success, but ultimately they’re a business. It’s down to us to do the same and look out for our own business—ourselves.
Managing work-life balance is critical for further progression
You might have to adjust your priorities. Or get better at saying “no” gracefully, as CEO of Girlboss Sophia Amuroso recommends. Commit to leaving work on time to get to that gym class. And learn to accept that you can’t do everything—importantly, that’s more than okay.
Our professional and personal lives have become more entangled than ever before. Relearning how to switch off, adopting boundaries—gradually if need be—and prioritizing self-care stand us in far better stead against burnout.
So, how do we start to organize the chaos and prevent burnout?
Try to identify triggers and patterns. Make an effort to notice things that raise your stress levels. It could be that your commute is really hectic—can you switch it up in any way? Could you learn via podcasts? Watch a movie on that long journey so you use the time for you?
Planning ahead for busy spells at work—the festive period or summer vacation season—may help too. Including booking in your own time off. As a freelance writer, I’ve found that booking a weekend away or a holiday for some time ahead means I have to take time off. I’ve also promised I’ll eat well. It’s a small, obvious step, but crucial. It might be a little Mother Hen, but if we don’t ensure we are fit and well, no-one else is going to.
Don’t ignore stress—adopt daily strategies
Here are some things that I’ve found helpful. Hopefully, some will work for you, too.
- Make your workload visible. Make it clear to your peers what you’re doing and ask them for feedback. Not only will it help you move further, faster—you might also receive positive reassurance you’re on the right track.
- Plan even an hour off doing something you enjoy. A walk, reading a book, calling that stressed friend for some camaraderie.
- Change your work setting. Bizarrely, moving from my home desk to the sofa can help my productivity levels. You have to work out what works for you—and it might surprise you.
- Walk around the block. Getting fresh air really can change perspectives.
- How much do you allow interruptions? It’s okay not to respond instantly—don’t open yourself up to unnecessary interruption. There are plenty of reports out there to suggest it takes nearly 30 minutes to refocus from distractions.
- Say no. After all, we can’t do everything, and recognizing that is powerful.
Is work-life balance really achievable?
We might not like to admit that a lot of it is down to us. But with gradual changes and committing to making them, we can do it. A daily multivitamin, committing to that run, making your commute time for reading that book that’s been on your shelf forever. Those are great ways to start.
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