What is work-life balance?
Achieving equilibrium between lifestyle and employment is tricky. Work-life balance is concerned with how each aspect of your week is prioritised and managed for not only wellbeing, but also the enhancement of both your work and play.
Lifestyle can cover anything outside work, including family, friends, hobbies, pleasure and spiritual development, among others. Getting the balance right can make you happier, healthier and more productive in all aspects of your life.
Why is work-life balance important?
There are many studies suggesting that failing to reach an effective work-life balance can be damaging to your health. Therefore, just being a little bit smarter about how you manage the distinction between your work and personal life could not only make you feel better about yourself overall, but also protect you from burning out.
A good work-life balance can provide a range of mental health benefits, including greater satisfaction with quality of life, lower levels of stress and physical improvements, such as better energy levels and longer life expectancy.
Conversely, a poor balance and feeling overburdened can damage mental and physical health.
Research from the Mayo Clinic in the US has recently indicated that doctors who work long hours are more likely to suffer from burnout and depression as they attempt to juggle work and home responsibilities, with those who are younger and female most likely to experience such problems.
A survey of vets in The Netherlands also underlined the importance of mitigating work stress, indicating that one in seven of those in the profession burn out within a decade of qualifying, with one in five female vets experiencing such problems just five years after graduating.
The art of saying no
If you are already feeling overwhelmed by the amount you have to do in one or even both areas of your life, think very carefully before saying 'yes' to anything else. If you are someone who agrees to do tasks or take on responsibilities only to regret it later, learning the art of saying 'no' sometimes could prove invaluable.
It is not a sign of weakness to recognise when you simply can't do something. However, for such a small word, it can be very difficult to say. Why not think in advance about ways to turn down things you do not feel would enhance your work or home life firmly and politely, so that you are prepared next time someone asks you to take on more?
Separate work and home attitudes
Compartmentalism is hailed by many as an important way of ensuring your work-life balance is a healthy one. Part of time management theory, it proposes separating out aspects of your life so you focus on them one by one to give each of them your full attention.
Failing to compartmentalise can turn lists of things to do into an overwhelming mass of responsibilities and it can be difficult to know where to start. It also means you will struggle to dedicate your attention entirely to whatever you are doing, as you will be worrying about the million and one other issues you should be addressing.
So why not switch off phones and electronic devices during family mealtimes or bedtimes so your loved ones don't feel that your mind is really elsewhere? That way, you won't be tempted to check that email that comes in from your boss, when you hear your phone sound during dinner.
Another way would be to make sure you are happy with your childcare choices so you can give your job your focus when in the office, knowing that things at home are being properly taken care of.
By concentrating on one thing at a time, you can start to see progress in the various areas of your life and achieve things incrementally, without getting daunted by the whole chaotic picture.
Create space for family time
Research covering 2,000 adults in the UK reported the average family currently manages to squeeze in just 36 minutes of quality time each day, suggesting that other responsibilities are crowding out having fun together.
Almost half of those questioned for the poll by Ikea said they felt the balance of their lives had tipped too heavily towards their jobs.
The results are echoed by a similar exercise for Tilda, which revealed half of 2,000 people quizzed believed their work-life balance was uneven and many felt unhappy.
Poor eating habits and lack of sleep resulted from the stress and anxiety of struggling to switch off from work. Over half (57 per cent) of the respondents admitted that long hours at their job had affected their personal life and almost one in three said they spent less time playing with their children.
To regain some stability in this area, make sure you prioritise family time and schedule it in as you would with work and chores. Home life can end up crowded out by other demands and left to holidays and celebrations, such as Christmas, rather than forming part of everyday life.
However, most people on their deathbed do not express regrets about not giving enough time to their jobs or to cleaning the house, so why not let the dishes wait or delegate tasks at work to enhance your home life?
Simple activities - such as reading a bedtime story, having a meal at the dining table with everyone present or arranging a weekend trip - can help families to enjoy each other's company.
Ask for help
Whether at home or at work, if you are drowning under a sea of chores or paperwork, simply asking people to help to ease the burden could restore some balance to your life.
Remember co-workers and partners are not mind readers and won't know that you have too much on your plate, unless you tell them. By reducing the amount you have to do, you will be able to focus more effectively on each item and may even find you gain a little free time as a result.
Don't forget to eat, sleep and exercise
Remember: we work to live, not the other way around.
Although you may feel too overwhelmed to start tackling your work-life balance, a little effort in this area can go a long way and leave you feeling much more content about all aspects of your life.
Putting in time now to enjoy yourself as much as possible can also mean you remain active as you age, with research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal claiming those who are happy maintain improved physical function and faster walking speeds in later life.
A total of 3,199 people in England were surveyed by specialists from University College London over eight years, with the more contented respondents retaining better levels of activity than those who were more pessimistic.
The good news is that if you are feeling overwhelmed at the moment, things are likely to get better as you become older. A study of 2,000 Britons for Skipton Building Society indicated that those aged 55 and over are enjoying the richest period of their lives and have a good work-life balance with fewer money worries, more free time and an established career.
But why wait until then? If you don't think you are balancing your work and personal lives as well as you could, make a resolution to yourself to start putting number one first a little more. It may be one of the best decisions you ever make.