Work-life balance is the ultimate goal for every woman, right? There’s no worse feeling than looking back on the last few days, weeks, months (or longer)—feeling overwhelmed or physically and mentally drained—and realize that all you do is live and breathe work. Maybe the scale is tipped the other way for you. Maybe your life responsibilities related to home and family make it difficult for you to prioritize your career or professional life. Typically, it’s work that tends to take over, but either way, it’s safe to say that everyone wants to feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from striking that perfect balance, where you devote the right amount of time to work and to life. However, for many women, actually achieving and maintaining true and consistent balance is often an ongoing challenge.
No woman wants to feel like she’s neglecting her spouse or partner, children, extended family, or friends—or neglecting herself—because work or career demands have taken center stage. Work-life balance is undoubtedly most, if not every woman’s foremost goal. When both areas of your life are in perfect harmony, you feel in control, productive, and in charge of your life. But, maintaining that balance continuously isn’t always realistic. Many women are the sole providers of their households while others at least carry a good part of the financial responsibility. So, if duty calls and work must be prioritized, many women will work longer, harder, bring work home, or do whatever is needed to ensure that they take care of that source of income that is paying the bills every month. So, while work-life balance is the ideal scenario—the healthier way to live your life—it’s not always an achievable target. When you don’t meet the mark—when you can’t punch out (physically and mentally) at 5pm and put on your mom/wife/partner hat or fit in some self-care time—you might feel guilty. Many women believe they don’t achieve work-life balance because they’re doing something wrong! Yes, they blame themselves, believing they’re not “disciplined enough,” they’re “just not as organized as” other women, or they need to “create a better daily schedule.” Consider that it’s very possible that it’s not you. Work and daily life demands are tough on women. It’s not uncommon for the average woman to punch out of her day job only to punch into a second role, such as wife, partner, mother, or caretaker. Add to that the fact that smart phones make it possible to be connected to work at all times. Work-from-home jobs allow for certain conveniences, but also keep women continuously connected to work. In fact, especially for women who work from home, work-life balance often goes out the window because the devices and screens that you use for work are always just a few steps, or an arm reach, away.
So, if you haven’t yet mastered work-life balance, know that many women are in your shoes, fulfilling several roles and tending to multiple daily responsibilities, but then feeling dissatisfied with the time and energy they can devote to each duty and responsibility. Below, we’ll discuss a few ways you can rethink what work-life balance means for you and how you can enjoy a little more of it in your daily life.
Assess what type of balance fits with your life and your unique situation.
If you measure how you’re doing in the work-life balance department based on your friends, neighbors, women on social media, or your female co-workers, you’re likely setting yourself up for feeling guilty and disappointed in yourself. Comparing your schedule and personal life activities with other women isn’t the way to go, even if you think you can benefit from some work-life balance inspo.
A better strategy is to look at your own life and think about what can realistically work for you. Set achievable goals. For instance, having “me time” every day might be unattainable, which will leave you feeling guilty and unaccomplished when you don’t have time to read for an hour before bedtime or sit in a bubble bath every night. Instead, consider if you can work in a self-care hour twice a week. Apply this same mindset and strategy to other areas of your life that you believe need more balance. Quality time with your kids 30 minutes before bed time may be far more valuable than trying to squeeze in longer periods of quality time with your kids right after work when you have cleaning or cooking to tend to. If your situation is reversed and you need more time to devote to work, then consider scheduling in similar blocks of “work only” time during moments that make sense and when you can maximize your productivity. For example, if you work from home and find that you get distracted once your spouse or partner arrives, consider altering your schedule a bit so your day can come to an end when you’re more likely to get distracted or lose focus.
Aim to leave work at work, but avoid being hard on yourself if you sometimes miss the mark.
Work-life balance requires boundaries. If you commit to putting devices aside for the evening, it’s important to stick to that. If you decide that you won’t answer calls or emails at home, it’s important to do what you can to resist the urge to let work seep into your personal time. This is basically what it means to have work-life boundaries. The same goes for putting in 4 hours of computer time so that you can devote energy and attention to your family or partner later in the day. Boundaries work when you aim to stick to them the majority of the time.
However, remember that you set your own boundaries based on what allows you to tend to work responsibilities and ensure you have a life, too. But, it’s very important for boundaries to be flexible and reworked at times.
Feeling guilty because you had to work late a couple of days—or because you couldn’t get any work done at all—will only drag you down and could even lead you to throw in the towel and give up on trying to maintain work-life balance. If you do have to work late sometimes or if you did have an unproductive work week, just see this as a sign that you might have to adjust your usual work-life routine a bit. If you worked late and missed dinner with your spouse, commit to making them a nice dinner this weekend or reschedule your usual evenings of quality time together for the following day. Rather than getting down on yourself because of an unproductive work week, commit to waking up early on Monday morning and getting started on a new, productive week. Create a detailed schedule of things you need to catch up on and remember that no one is productive all the time. All in all, remember that your work-life boundaries are important to strictly follow, but leave room to make adjustments when needed. Boundaries shouldn’t trigger stress. They are positive guidelines you follow, meant to relieve stress and improve your quality of life.
Make plans and leave environments that might distract you.
Sometimes, to achieve work-life balance, you need to change your surroundings. This means that if you want to get out of work-mode at a certain time of day, you might need to physically remove yourself from settings or situations where you can access the devices you use for work or anything that reminds you of work. You might leave the office at 6pm, but if you spend the rest of the evening at home, you might be tempted to check email or work on that pending report.
If you’re thinking that checking email or doing a little work after work here and there is harmless, you’re right, but it also depends on your particular circumstances. For people who struggle with burnout, with workaholic-ism, or who are stressed or overwhelmed by work (or life), it’s critical to set clear and more strict boundaries, meaning that all work-related activities must have a clear beginning and end. Many women find that if they fully disconnect from work, starting Friday evening until Monday morning, for instance, they actually perform better, are more productive, experience less overall stress, and can enjoy their work and their personal life much more.
So, if a lack of work-life balance has affected you more deeply, removing yourself from work-related environments can be effective in helping you achieve that balance. Make plans to do a fun activity after work so you can truly disconnect. If you need to stay home after work to tend to children or household responsibilities, then consider making adjustments to your home environment by leaving your laptop in the office, putting your smartphone or paperwork in a drawer in another room, or turning off devices and keeping them out of view. You can apply the same strategy if you need to devote more time to work because life has been taking over lately.
Consider taking your work to a coffee shop or a public library. As a last resort, you can even just go into a separate room or put on some headphones, and set a timer. Commit to getting to work until the timer goes off. This is an effective way to get some productivity in your day when there are a lot of distractions around you.
Work-life balance will sometimes be easier said than done—an unrealistic achievement that can actually end up putting more pressure on women to do more, be better, or wear more hats. Tailor your work-life balance boundaries and routine to fit your priorities and your own life. Be willing to make changes and adjust your boundaries to fit the inevitable work and life circumstances that are often out of your control. Remember that balance isn’t only seen in your actions and activities. It is also—and maybe primarily—evidenced in your mindset. Balance will sometimes look and feel different, and that’s okay.
Arnold Gillo, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Therapist, a Behavioral Health Consultant, and the Clinical Program Planner for State of Nevada ICF Program