Resetting What Work-Life Balance Means

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No one is going to provide you with work-life balance.

You must seek it out. You must teach people how you wish to be treated.

You are in charge of the expectations people have of you.

Once you truly understand and believe that, work-life balance is easier to maintain. And this is coming from someone who a year ago, found herself mentally, emotionally, and physically ill over her lack of work-life balance.

A year ago, I had to reset what work-life balance meant for me. And I didn’t do it by quitting my job (though even though I didn’t want to, I really thought I was going to have to, trust me). I was suffering from chronic migraines. The kind of migraines that clustered for days at a time. I was constantly on edge. When the weekends came, I didn’t want to do anything but sleep. I was miserable.

Here’s what I did to reset and take back balance.

I defined work-life balance for myself.

Balance looks different for everyone. It’s not a “one size fits all” strategy. I took a hard look at the type of work I was responsible for on a weekly basis and evaluated how I could be most effective. I assessed my priorities and lifestyle outside of work - that included recurring doctor’s appointments for those migraines I mentioned, and even caring for my dog - and evaluated how my time in and out of the office should be divided. I work in a company that allows for remote working. I knew I was better focused on writing when I could do it early in the morning in quiet, so I asked for one day a week to work remote. I put blocks on my calendar in the mornings to focus on tasks so I wouldn’t have meetings during the time when my brain was best at tasks. I saved Thursdays for things that popped up, rather than ongoing programs, as we are lead-driven. I became a master of planning and balance in the office, so I could have balance outside of it.

I set boundaries.

If you answer emails the instant they come in, that’s the expectation you’ve set. If you respond to messaging like Slack at 9PM, that’s the expectation you’ve set. If you’re online on a Saturday night even though you’re at a concert with your friends, well then next Saturday when someone is looking for you, there’s no one to blame but you. I had to really look inward on this one. I was my own worst enemy. I had to turn off the notifications and stop checking emails after I left the office.

I set priorities.

To help with boundaries, I start each day by looking over my to-do list. Working in start-up tech marketing, I am not saving lives, but my to-do list really never ends. If I focused each day and week on crossing off all my items, I’d never leave the office. Instead, I pick one or two items that I prioritize as my main goals for the day. They’re realistic. I don’t tell myself I am going to build a whole new program in a day. Once I’ve finished that one item, I don’t add 4 more. Goal-setting keeps your balance in view.

I am honest.

It’s not weak to talk about your personal life outside of the office, especially if the culture in your office permits it. Be yourself at work. You have a personal life. You have a family. And remember: family first. If you’re worried about something going on in your family life, are you really doing your best work?

I take time off.

I used to save all my time off for the holidays or planned vacations. But who says your brain doesn’t deserve a mental health day or a personal day? This past year, after the holidays, I planned an extra day in between Christmas ending and going back to work to decompress from travel. Next month, my birthday is a Friday. I took the day off. I have no real plans besides sleeping in and getting my nails done. You don’t always need to have a plan. That’s called balance.

Work-life balance is about making deliberate and informed choices. But work-life balance is also about being open to change. No one has it perfect. Everyone struggles with it. But the difference between you and everyone else is that you’re making a conscious decision to reset what it means to you.