In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has become a permanent feature in most employees’ lives. While it has been hailed by many as a remedy for better work-life balance, the demands of this arrangement have also blurred the distinction between work and personal life, making it difficult to strike a proper work-life balance for many worldwide.
Remote work, especially during quarantine and lockdown circumstances, can place a mental strain on those who are trying to keep afloat and can lead to chronic burnout. This realisation of self-worth and mental health has led many to resign from workplaces with negative company cultures that do not prioritise employees’ well-being.
At the same time, balancing the work-life equation between your job and your personal life is truly a complex balancing act. Receiving an innocent work email at 6pm can set you back by a few hours if you decide to click on it, reply to it or perhaps even act on it.
Some might decide to move towards work-life integration (i.e. spend time folding clothes while listening in on a conference call). However, bear in mind that you still need to consciously balance “work” and “life”, and not allow work to take over.
Thus, everyone needs to put into place routines, set clear boundaries and create a mantra of sorts to safeguard your personal time and improve your work-life balance.
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Set your boundaries
The first thing you need to know about achieving and improving work-life balance is, it doesn't just happen. Harmonious work-life balance begins with you, proactively setting priorities.
To begin, a large part of achieving work-life balance can be done before starting work. By recognising your priorities and laying out boundaries for work, you will be taking a huge step towards finding the ideal equilibrium even before setting foot in the office.
Recognise your priorities
An ideal place to start would be to find out your priorities in life and, by extension, in work. Work will take up a significant portion of your life, so spend some time to ponder these questions: What is most important to you? What aspects in life can you not compromise on?
Naturally, this would vary between individuals. For instance, your overall health may be the priority, so setting aside time to exercise takes precedence. Others may want to set aside quality time for family and friends, pursue hobbies, or even focus on themselves.
Layout your own rules
Once you have identified your priorities, set boundaries for your work life. Decide how much time you need to set aside and, in turn, the point of the day beyond which you switch off from your job.
This is important to do early on. It is very easy to get engrossed in your work and eventually compromise on your priorities. For instance, you can set a rule that you will work only within work hours. This means no entertaining late-night phone calls or last-minute work emails.
Once again, this will vary from person to person. In some cases, other factors may have to be kept in mind, such as work deadlines, emergencies, or your colleagues, if you are working with a team. However, at the end of the day, the goal is to have control over your own time.
Find a company that fits you
Aside from proper planning on your part, it is equally important to work in an organisation that focuses on its people. Work-life balance can be challenging to achieve if the company you work for does not prioritise employees' well-being.
Organisations may offer employee benefits such as allowing off days on special occasions, allowance to spend on wellness products like gym memberships, off in lieu for overtime, or flexibility in work arrangements.
Some companies may not be able to offer a lot of employee benefits and that is understandable especially if it is a small or new company. Therefore, regardless of benefits, the least any employer can do is to not contact you on your rest days and not contact you about work outside of work hours.
Even if it is a company with long working hours, make sure it has proper policies of caring for and valuing its employees’ work-life balance.
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Manage your work and leisure time effectively
Once your priorities and boundaries are in order, it is vital to effectively manage your work and leisure time. Improving work efficiency and taking adequate breaks are two of the best ways to improve your work-life balance.
Improve your work efficiency
Becoming more efficient at work may feel easier said than done. You can use simple tips and tricks to boost your productivity at work, allowing you to free up time for your other priorities and personal endeavours. One way is to prioritise the tasks that you have at hand.
Ideally, you should be given a set of KPIs by your manager. Prioritise your tasks according to the KPI given. Ask yourself, which task helps you hit this KPI? When completed, which tasks will help me hit my KPI sooner rather than later? This will allow you to see the order in which tasks need to be done and help you get maximum returns for your effort because you are now prioritising tasks that are of most value to your company.
Technology is also an increasingly helpful tool to use to improve your efficiency at work. Many apps and tools allow you to better organise your work processes and help you get through the checklist much faster. Tools such as Monday.com, Evernote, RescueTime, Any.do, and Trello can be beneficial to explore.
Manage your workload
Job satisfaction plays a significant part in achieving a healthy work-life balance. If you have a huge workload and have problems coping, it is crucial you speak with your immediate supervisor to find the right balance. And if your managers are unable to help you find solutions and achieve balance, then it may be time to look for another job.
It is one thing to keep a positive outlook and to want to impress your bosses by completing a long to-do list, but it is quite another issue if your employer disregards your health and well-being or if the amount of work consistently eats into your personal time.
Manage your breaks well
A balanced life is more than finding the middle ground between your work and your non-work life. Aside from setting clear boundaries between work and play, it is essential to take into account your physical and mental well-being. Mindful habits, such as eating at regular hours, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep, contribute significantly to your overall well-being. And that creates more balance on the “life” component of the work-life balance equation.
Taking breaks during work hours also contribute to better work efficiency and help you stay productive throughout the day instead of falling into a lull as the day wears on.
To improve work efficiency, try the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method that involves taking a five-minute break for every 25 minutes of work.
Do not be shy to make full use of your allotted leaves as well. Consider taking vacation time where you can use the time to prioritise your well-being. Allow yourself the time and space to relax and recharge.
At this time, do your best not to get involved in work-related tasks. It is an essential aspect of work-life balance not to let your professional life overlap with your personal life.
Related: Tackling mental health and wellbeing at the executive level
Burnout from poor work-life balance is real, but it can be avoided if you start thinking about your well-being. Ultimately, maintaining good work-life balance is about being conscious and intentional about your decisions, and setting priorities for life outside of work. You can devote time to work-life and still make time for your interests and passions for a great work-life balance.
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