There are only 24 hours in the day, but more and more often, we find ourselves wishing we could squeeze in extra time, if just to get a head start on that next project or to catch up with a friend. Sound familiar? These days, Americans as a whole are working longer hours than they used to. Combine that with parenting, nurturing social lives, maintaining health, pursuing passions that don’t involve work email, and getting it all done can feel like a Herculean task. To make matters worse, the effects of all this hectic scheduling show up on your skin in the form of undereye circles, unexpected blemishes, and overall dullness. And once you’re in this type of pattern, slowing down and finding some balance may seem like a pipe dream. While there’s no exact formula for creating a perfectly harmonious work-life routine, we know these tactics can help usher your body back into balance when things feel out of control.
Evaluate Where Things are Going Haywire
To start things off, you need to know what your pressure points are to get a greater sense of what can change. Think about the work responsibilities that take the most of your time and energy, the social engagements you tend to dread, the non-negotiables in your home life, how often you scroll through social media, and the stuff you wish you could devote more of yourself to. In whatever way that works for you, write down how much time you’re spending on each activity for a week. Breaking things down this way will help you start to shift patterns so you can make the most of your time.
What Does Success Mean to You?
Even with all the progress that’s been made over time, women are still being programmed into the notion that we can “have it all”—a successful work life, happy home life, great sex, healthy friendships, cooking skills, a regular workout routine—the list itself is already exhausting. The concept of having it all was developed in the 80s by Cosmopolitan Editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown as a rallying cry for women; a way out of the domestic role they had played in previous generations.
But this is a dated idea that doesn’t quite translate to the 21st century. Nowadays, the problem is we all have too much. So, to keep any semblance of balance, you must consider what you want from life, and try to eliminate the things that deter you from that path. If you change the parameters around how you evaluate success, it can help you feel more confident when you might need to change a work deadline, order takeout, or raincheck movie night with your friends.
Perfection Isn’t Realistic
Disclaimer—being a perfectionist and doing a good job are not the same thing. Wanting to do a good job is a perfectly reasonable goal, but striving for perfection isn’t realistic, and can have a negative effect on your mental health, and, ironically enough, productivity. Perfectionist traits tend to manifest early in life, when the most important thing is getting good grades and excelling in extracurricular activities. As your life changes and you take on more responsibilities, it means you have to figure out what to prioritize and deprioritize. Mastering this skill will be far more valuable in the long run than doing a few things perfectly and letting the rest fall by the wayside.
Know When to Shut it All Down
We get it, deadlines must be met, meetings have to take place, and projects need to keep moving forward, but when you are feeling haggard in your work environment, it will probably be apparent in your efforts. When the clock strikes leaving time, instead of cranking out those last few emails, Let things go until tomorrow. Your mind will be fresher, you’ll get home at a more reasonable hour, and, you show the people you work with that you value balance. Being invested in your personal time can actually help you prioritize what’s most important at work, so you can be more efficient at your job.
Own Your Work Schedule
Productivity can look different for everyone. There are those who may come into work ready to dive into the tough stuff immediately, while others may want to save that for later in the day. As long as the work is getting done, the way you schedule it throughout the day is completely up to you. If you tend to be more productive in the morning, get through the bigger assignments then, and know to reserve less important meetings or projects for later in the day.
Understanding how you work can help you compartmentalize so tasks feel more manageable. It will also teach you when it makes the most sense to take breaks during the working day. As you begin to adjust your schedule to your own periods of productivity, you’ll get more work done and feel more accomplished at the end of the day.
Curb Your Screen Time
Smartphones, laptops, tablets have made it much easier to connect to friends and keep up with work, but many walk a fine line between screen appreciation and screen addiction. Too much tech time is dangerous for a few reasons. First, you’re easier to access and might feel inclined to respond to a work project or request after hours.
There’s a good chance this will leave you feeling more stressed, and your coworkers might start to rely on your availability when you’re out of the office. Next, spending tons of time plugged in affects the quality of your interpersonal relationships. It’s difficult to engage with your loved ones if you are constantly getting notifications about what’s going on everywhere else.
Finally, if you look at screens before bed, it keeps your brain active, and blue light can actually suppress levels of melatonin; the hormone responsible for regulating your sleep cycle (). When you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, it impacts your productivity. Offset screen dependency by keeping your phone out of reach at work. Make a point of leaving your phone in your bag when you’re with friends and family and turn off your tech at least an hour before bed so you can get some solid shut-eye.
Your Social Life Matters
Demanding work schedules are exhausting and meeting up with friends after a stressful workday might be the last thing on your to-do list. But spending time with others is actually scientifically proven to make you happier.
So, make plans with your loved ones and stick to them, even if it’s just for a quick happy hour drink or phone call. Not only will it make you feel better, it will strengthen your relationships with the people who will be there for you in this job, and the next one and remind you that there’s much more to you than your work. And because your time is precious, it’s also important to assess the relationships that may no longer be serving you and limit the time you spend with people who don’t make you feel like a rockstar. Whenever you have a chance to engage, try your best to remain in the moment—phone away, ears open.
When you feel like you’re up to your eyeballs in stress, give yourself the time to work it out. Yes, it might seem like planning this time will just contribute to an even more packed schedule, and in turn a less healthy work-life balance, but the benefits of getting your heart rate up cannot be ignored. Exercise gets your blood pumping and oxygen flowing, which helps clear your mind and reduce stress. Pencil in a little time to exercise during the day—even if it’s just taking a walk at lunch. Your sanity—and blood pressure—will thank you.
Take Time for Yourself
When you’re trying to make time for so many work obligations and relationships, it’s easy to forget that you need TLC too. The truth is, to be an effective coworker, partner, friend, or parent, you have to take the time to recharge your batteries. This could mean doing something as simple as a face mask at night or spending a few hours every couple of weekends to pursue a hobby you’re interested in. Breaking out of your routine gives you the necessary time to reflect and remind you that the world has so many beautiful things to offer outside of work.
Give Yourself a Break
Yes, balance is nice, but it’s also ok to acknowledge when things are in flux. Sometimes you just have to show up for yourself, put your best effort in and know that it’s enough. Cut yourself some slack when things are piling up and remember these tips to get back on track when time is moving at a breakneck speed.