If you just wrapped up a 6:00 p.m. conference call and missed dinner with your family yet again, take heart: One of the biggest challenges facing forward-thinking employers right now is finding a way to rebalance their corporate culture.
The goal: Create a culture that’s less about being on call 24/7 and find a smarter way to get the job done. That means making it a priority to support the work and family needs of employees.
Work-life balance isn’t a new concept, but it’s getting more attention than ever, thanks to our always-on modern ways. In JUST Capital’s annual survey – which asks the American public what they care about most when it comes to business practices – work-life balance has consistently been one of the areas that Americans want companies to prioritize.
Across many demographics – liberal, conservative, high-income, low-income, men, women, millennials, and boomers – Americans made it clear that they want companies to make it easier to address work-life balance challenges by offering flexible working arrangements and day care services. These, among other forms of non-wage compensation, have very real financial value and can (and should) certainly factor into a person’s decision about where to work. But they’re not the only way you can find some balance.
Whether your workplace is ahead of the curve on this issue or not, you’re not powerless. Here are five things you can do on your own to add a little balance to your workday – without adding to your to-do list.
1. Ask for Predictable Hours
Maybe your workplace already offers flexible working arrangements, but if not, establishing a clear workday schedule is one simple way to create reasonable boundaries and promote work-life balance.
“Knowing if you’ll be home in time for dinner goes a long way in feeling less stressed,” says Julie Morgenstern, a time management, productivity, and organizing expert in New York City. “Studies have shown that predictable time off matters to people. It means we can plan to be home for dinner or make it to that night’s bowling league – or whatever activity brings you joy – without question.”
Establishing set working hours doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll work any less, you’ll just have a clear sense of exactly what needs to get done during those hours. You might even find it makes you more productive.
Of course there may be days when you have to stay at work beyond your predetermined end time, but it’s not as disheartening when it’s the exception, not the rule.
2. Unplug for 15 Minutes
Try setting a notification on your phone two to three times per day to take a 15-minute break. This can do wonders to restore balance and reduce stress, says Dave Wolovsky, a positive psychology coach in Brooklyn, New York.
Something as simple as reading a book or going for a walk around the block may be all it takes to decompress and return to your work feeling more focused.
Can’t spare 15 minutes? Try taking shorter, more frequent breaks throughout your day. It may seem counterintuitive, but research published in the journal Cognition found that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods, ultimately boosting productivity.
According to the study authors, this may be because the brain is built to detect and respond to change, so prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance.
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3. Align Exercise Expectations to Your Reality
Just because you used to fit in three 90-minute workouts per week doesn’t mean you’re failing if it’s not happening now.
“You may have to rethink your game plan, especially if you don’t have big blocks of time right now,” Morgenstern says.
Learning to create shorter versions of these activities – rather than giving them up completely – is key. For example, maybe you find a quick bodyweight workout on YouTube that you can do in your hotel room if you travel for work, or instead of kicking yourself for skipping yet another evening run, try building a 20- or 30-minute walk into your workday.
Even if you can only find five or 10 minutes to move your body, it’s still worth it. A study conducted by researchers from the National Cancer Institute and Duke University found the benefits of physical activity may add up, regardless of whether you do it in one concentrated session or short bursts throughout the day.
4. Embrace the Lunch Break
Lunch breaks are becoming less and less common in today’s working world. A recent survey by Tork found that nearly 20% of American workers worry their bosses won’t think they’re hard working if they take regular lunch breaks, while 13% worry their co-workers will judge them.
These statistics are a shame because regular breaks – both the short ones mentioned above and slightly longer lunch breaks – create better, happier employees.
“Taking breaks from work is important for recovery, and adequate recovery is critical for top performance,” says Jennifer Deal, senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and Affiliated Research Scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at University of Southern California (USC). “Energy isn’t unlimited, and just as athletes have halftime to rest during a game, employees need to rest so they can do their best work.”
What’s more, the Tork survey also revealed that employees who take a lunch break on a daily basis feel more valued by their employer, and 81% of employees who take a daily lunch break have a stronger desire to be an active member in their company. So it’s a win-win!
5. Do a 60-Second Sensory Inventory
It’s easy to get caught up in a seemingly endless to-do list during your workday. Deadlines loom, emails build up, and your stress level rises. That’s why building in some mindful moments throughout the day can be incredibly helpful for staying calm and balanced.
It’s as simple as taking 60 seconds to pause and be fully present: Tap into what you see, hear, feel, and taste. It may sound silly, but a quick sensory inventory like this is a very powerful way to clear the clutter in your mind and restore focus.
Want to take it one step further? Try progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and then relaxing each muscle group in your body: upper arm, chest, back, abdominals, lower arm, and so on. It helps to start with your head and work your way down to your toes, or go in the opposite direction by starting with your toes and working your way up to your head.
Either way, spend a few seconds on each area. This technique is based on the idea that the mind follows the body. When you relax your body, the mind also clears.
The Bottom Line
Your job is important, but it shouldn’t be your entire life. Achieving work-life balance requires deliberate action – from both your employer and you. In addition to the tips above, another way to improve your work-life balance is to seek out an employer who prioritizes it. Our Rankings are a great place to start.