Sometimes, it seems like all the advice we read on work-life balance is about the big stuff that’s largely outside our control. After all, if you’re not the boss or a millionaire, it’s pretty hard to just give yourself a reduced/flexible schedule or announce that you’re absolutely not available after-hours for emails. So what’s a regular Joe or Jane to do?
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The first thing is to do is take a deep breath. When you’re already stressed out, it’s easy to get wrapped up in that feeling of powerlessness and strip away any agency you might have. No matter how busy you are, you can make tiny changes that will add up to big results in the work-life balance department. (Hat-tip to Charreah Jackson at Levo League, who offers a great article on this subject from the perspective of balancing careers and relationships.)
Here are a few ideas to start:
1. Decide when you’re going to answer your emails.
Maybe you can’t take Lifehacker’s advice and skip the trip through your inbox first thing, but you can almost certainly move from checking your email every time that alert pops up. (Start, of course, by disabling that concentration-shattering envelope/bleep-bloop/bell.)
If your boss expects you to be right on top of your mail, ask if there are times that are better for checking it. Come armed with proof that email sucks productivity out of the day, and be prepared to demonstrate that allowing you to move to a twice-daily or even a once-an-hour system will save the company time and money.
2. Put down your phone.
Your company might expect you to be available after-hours, but unless you work for absolute monsters, there’s probably a limit to your electronic tether. Not even doctors are on call all the time. If you can’t negotiate whole days off from phone duty, pick an hour of the night at which you’ll no longer check your phone.
Get an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of using the app on your smartphone. You’ll improve your sleep hygiene by purging your bedroom of extra light, and curb the temptation to check your mail when it’s 3 a.m. and you can’t sleep.
3. Reward yourself.
Do you notice things slipping to the end of your to-do list and staying there? These items can grow in your mind until they’re much more daunting than they would have been if you’d had the time and inclination to tackle them right away. Once a day, try to do something from the bottom of your list. Then, reward yourself when you’re through. If you’re home, take a nap. If you’re at work, free yourself from your desk and take a short walk.
You’ll feel better having crossed something off your list and be able to concentrate once you’ve given your brain a chance to reset.
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