As many Americans continue to work and attend school from home, striving for work-life balance seems futile. Throw in the ongoing stress of pandemic restrictions, a volatile political climate, and financial insecurity, and you’ve got a recipe for a living room meltdown.
“The pandemic has further erased the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives,” says executive coach Katherine Porter, CEO and founder of The Transition Navigator. “Before the pandemic, we were connected to work 24/7 via technology, but we could ignore a device when we were out in the world. Now, not only do we always have our devices, but we never leave the office.”
Let’s face it: Work-life balance is a pipe dream right now. As a result, the usual healthy lifestyle advice just doesn’t cut it.
“Let’s leave balance to the gymnasts and aim for work-life peace,” says Porter. “Peace happens when the way we spend our days is consistent with our values and priorities.”
Here, therapists and coaches break down tactics to implement ASAP in order to keep your sanity intact and prevent self-judgement for lacking work-life balance. If you’re lucky, they may even rub off on your cubicle, ahem, housemates.
1. Put yourself first
You may have heard this one before, but do you actually put it into practice?
“The air travel safety trope applies,” says Karen Wade, Ph.D., R.N.-B.C., founder of the Nurse2Nurse Network, a free support service for nurses working in the COVID-19 environment. “Put on your own oxygen mask first, then help those around you with theirs.”
This adjustment can take a while—especially if you’re used to putting your colleagues, children, or partner first—but it will make a world of a difference. “These are emergency conditions and to remain vital during these times, our mindset about prioritizing our needs has to change,” says Wade.
Need some help with that? Wade recommends frequently asking yourself questions like “am I okay?”. If the answer is no, ask “what do I need to be okay?”. Schedule regular self check-ins on your calendar throughout the day until the practice becomes second nature.
2. Set clear time boundaries
Whenever possible, “use your calendar to define your work hours, schedule in breaks throughout the day to get away from your computer, and have an end-time that is set in stone,” says career coach Kate Tudoreanu, M.S., founder of Millenial Career Counseling. “At the end of the day, shut off your work phone immediately.” This way, you can maintain some sense of separation.
FYI: These are great practices to maintain even if and when you return to an in-person work environment. “You may not be breaking up the day with dog walks or helping your child solve a trigonometry problem, but you can still schedule breaks on your calendar to take a walk around the block or catch up with a coworker over a coffee break,” she says.
3. Take those vacation days, even if you’re not going anywhere
“Working remotely can mean that you don’t take as much time off work as you did before, but don’t neglect to take a vacation—even if it’s just a staycation,” says therapist and social worker Alisha Powell, Ph.D., L.C.S.W. If you have access to PTO, that PTO is available for a reason. “While you might be tempted to save it all up until you can travel again, consider taking a few days off to give your mind a break,” she adds.
“Schedule a day where you have nothing to do, and stick to it,” says Powell. “Don’t be afraid to make time for you and to step away from work so that you don’t burn out.” Need some inspiration on how to spend your day off? Consider incorporating some of these natural ways to kick stress to the curb.
4. Implement “intuitive scheduling”
“Work-life balance, to me, is tied to a method I call intuitive scheduling,” explains Antoinette Beauchamp, an empowerment mindset coach who works with entrepreneurs and C-suite executives.
“Intuitive scheduling is about creating a calendar that works for you and brings you peace of mind. It also goes hand-in-hand with understanding what your needs are, personally and professionally.”
If you’re tired, make space for scheduled rest. If you know you need to eat five times a day, make sure you always have snacks handy. Or, if you know you get burnt out from meetings, schedule them with buffers between them. Think about the times of day you work best at, and adjust your day accordingly.
5. Create an end-of-day routine
To further separate your work time from personal time, create a close-of-business ritual for yourself. “I’m a big fan of routines,” says Porter. “Our minds like certainty and routines are one way to add a predictable flow to our days.”
Keeping in mind that you don’t need to drum up anything too fancy, think of how you could signify that the work-day has concluded. “A short logging out routine at the end of your work-day can help with work-life peace,” Porter explains. “It is a signal that it is okay to stop working because the office is closed—whether the office door is shut or the office is on the coffee table.”
Your routines can be completely individual, but some ideas include jotting down to-do’s for the next day, turning on your Slack “away” message, or even setting smart lights in your workspace to dim at a certain time each day.
6. Schedule time to do at least three things you love each week
Ever walk past your home workspace on a weekend or night and figure “oh, I’ll just knock this one thing off” and find yourself sitting there for three hours? By consciously carving out time each week to devote to a passion project, hobby, or exercise, you create more of a boundary between your work life spilling over into your leisure time.
“While there’s nothing wrong with taking a break and having lazy days, there’s nothing like engaging in an activity that brings you joy. It could be an outdoor walk, trying out a new recipe, connecting with an old friend, or just sitting comfortably with an adult coloring book,” offers Powell. “Make it a priority to do three things every week that bring you joy. You’ll find that it will help you with managing stress and adjusting to change.”
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