Work Life Balance

19 Strategies You Can Try to Improve Your Work-Life Balance

Having a healthy work-life balance is one of the most important factors in maintaining a positive physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

Taking the steps to improve your work-life balance will have huge benefits on your career, mental health, relationships and more. Here are 19 improvement strategies you can try to incorporate in your work-life balance.

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1. Establish boundaries and stick to them

How many times have you been at home when your phone pinged with a work-related question from a colleague. Or maybe you were at work and you got a call from your partner asking a non-urgent question.

Setting boundaries with the people in your life can be one of the most helpful things you can do to improve your work-life balance. Sure, urgent things pop up every now and then, so dealing with a personal call at work or fixing a work issue at home will happen, but it should be the exception, not the norm.

But setting boundaries doesn’t just have to be with other people, it can be boundaries you set for yourself, whether that’s not doing any work on the weekend or not checking social media when you’re at work.

2. Get the fundamentals right

Eat, sleep, exercise. You need to get the fundamentals right first and you need to make them a priority in your life. There’s no point in trying to figure out the best to-do list system or the latest trends for productivity hacks, if you’re only getting four hours of sleep a night and eating McDonald’s every second night for dinner.

To achieve any semblance of healthy work-life balance, you need to eat right, get adequate sleep (7-8 hours for me, might be more or less for you), and get some form of regular exercise in your routine.

3. Have a morning routine

Establishing a morning routine has been all the rage these past few years, with many people believing the ‘perfect’ routine will be the magic bullet to all their balancing problems. While it may not be the one solution that solves all your problems, kicking off your morning in the right way can help you get on track of the rest of the day.

Your morning routine might involve:

  • Exercise – Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger gets up at 4:30am to get a work-out in.
  • Reading – Warren Buffet starts his day off by reading six newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The New York Times, The USA Today, The Omaha World-Herald and American Banker.
  • Spend time with family – Richard Branson wakes up at 5am to exercise and spend time with his family.

4. Have an evening routine

On the flip-side of a morning routine, some people just aren’t early birds and the thought of doing 5am wake up calls would be a nightmare to them. Evening routines can be just as helpful as morning routines; you can use them as a way to clear your mind and prepare for the next day: journaling your thoughts, laying out tomorrow’s clothes, etc.

Buffer Co-founder and CEO Joel Gascoigne shared his example on the company blog:

For me, this is going for a 20-minute walk every evening at 9:30 p.m. This is a wind-down period, and allows me to evaluate the day’s work, think about the greater challenges, gradually stop thinking about work and reach a state of tiredness.

5. Avoid multitasking and focus on the task at hand

Multitasking is overrated. While it may feel like you’re being productive when you’re answering emails on one monitor, writing an article on another, replying back to WhatsApp from your partner, participating in a Slack chat, all while listening to some Jazz Vibes on Spotify; you’re actually doing more harm than good.

MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller says that our brains are “not wired to multitask. When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”

So do yourself a favour, close all those tabs and just focus on the task at hand.

6. Start a journal

Jotting down your thoughts and feelings when you’re overwhelmed can work wonders for your mental health. Whether it’s the first thing you do in the morning or last thing you do before sleep, writing in your journal can help alleviate any nagging thoughts, relieve anxiety and empty your mind.

Starting a journal can be intimidating at first, but you can kick things off just by writing everything for 5 minutes at a time, and from there you can slowly increase the amount of time you spend on it.

7. Take care of your relationships

Friends, family, kids, husband, wife, brothers, sisters; all these relationships matter when it comes to having balance in your life. I would argue that having strong relationships with the people you love and care for, is the single most important thing when it comes to having a healthy work-life balance.

In our interview, Mandar Karlekar, Product Management Consultant at Thiga, said:

There’s only one override to all the workload and scheduling, where priority and order are perfectly okay to be ignored and that’s family. Always make time for family no matter what, literally everything else can be adjusted and/or replaced.

I couldn’t agree more.

Working from home and need inspiration? Grab a copy of our Workflow book, featuring beautiful home office ideas and workspace inspiration from around the world.

8. View balance as work-life integration

For some people, it’s simply impossible to attain work-life balance in the most traditional sense.

For roles like CEOs, startup founders or small business owners, their work is their life and it might be difficult to establish any sort of boundaries between the two. In cases like this, you might want to aim for work-life integration instead. This might involve leaving work early to pick up your kids from school, and then doing some work at home later in the evening or taking your family along to a work trip overseas.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff, Founder of mindful productivity school Ness Labs, believes in using your work life and personal life to fuel each other:

I don’t believe in work-life balance in the traditional way. I think that your work should fuel your life and your life should fuel your work. I don’t think blurred lines between the two are a bad thing. The energy from one can fuel the other. Personal and professional growth are deeply intertwined.

9. Start a side hustle or passion project

Starting a side project can seem counter-intuitive to achieving work-life balance, but in my experience, having a passion project can really help to take your mind off work and channel your energy towards something you love doing.

Your side hustle might be linked to your day job, e.g. a corporate digital marketer freelancing for musicians, or it might be completely separate to your profession, e.g. painting or pottery. Whatever you choose for your passion project, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll be able to apply that creative energy into other parts of your life, and maybe even make a little side income.

In reality, work-life balance or integration or harmony or whatever you want to call it, is an ongoing process with constantly shifting dynamics, and the right balance is just whatever realistically works for your particular situation.

10. Organise your work hours to suit your schedule

This strategy might not be possible for everyone, but if it’s possible, try to experiment with different work hours to suit your lifestyle. This might mean working 7am to 3pm (if you’re an early bird) so you can pick your kids up from school, or maybe 10am to 6pm if you feel like your optimal hours are later in the day. It might even mean working 4-day work weeks.

You might not be able to do this right away, but it’s worth a conversation with your workplace to put it on the table. With the benefits of remote work on people’s work-life balance becoming more apparent for many companies, it’s definitely worth starting the dialogue.

11. Apply the reverse Parkinson’s law

This is a great tip I learnt from Dr Martin Timchur, the Co-Founder and CEO of Esencia Healthcare:

I am a strong advocate for abiding by the reverse Parkinson’s law. Parkinson’s law is the adage that “work expands as to fill the time available for its completion.” By this principle, the reverse is equally true. A task will only take as long as the time you have available to complete it.

12. Turn off instant messaging

When instant messaging apps first hit the workplace, it was all the rage. Why wouldn’t it be? You could start instant, informal conversations with people from across your company, all over the world. They were great to use for group discussions, social chats and instant feedback.

But over time, instant messaging apps have turned into one of the biggest distractions in the workplace. An employee can have any given number of work chats, individual and group, open, and with people’s fear of missing out on the latest talk, they’re trying to keep up with everything. Throw in meetings, calls and general workplace chit-chat, how many hours left in the day do you really have left to do deep, meaningful work?

13. Track your time

If you find that you keep running out of time to do what you need to do, it might be a good idea to start tracking everything you do for a week or so.

Review what you’re spending your time on and you might find out that the reason you haven’t been able to get that side project off the ground for the past few months is because you spend 2 hours every night binge-watching The Office. Maybe. Give it a go and see what you discover.

14. Avoid decision fatigue

Decision fatigue can be defined as the deterioration of your mental energy, especially after long sessions or days of decision-making.

John Tierney for the New York Times wrote:

The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing.

It doesn’t matter who you are, no matter how high level of an individual you are; making decision after decision takes its toll on your mental energy.

Jeff Bezos had this to say about making decisions: “If I make, like, three good decisions a day, that’s enough. And they should be as high quality as I can make them. Warren Buffett says he’s good if he makes three good decisions a year.”

Three decisions a day. Not 10 or 15 or 100, just three. And that’s the founder of CEO of Amazon, with an estimated net worth of $117.3 billion talking. You can imagine how many decisions he faces in a typical day.

A few ways to help avoid decision fatigue include: limiting your options (wearing the same thing to work everyday), removing unnecessary distractions (Facebook, instant chats, etc.) and writing down your top 3 – 5 priorities for the day.

15. Disconnect entirely

Emails, social media, Slack chats, WhatsApp, it can all be so overwhelming. Sometimes you just need to disconnect from it all. It might be for half an hour on a Sunday morning or it might be 3 months away in Kyoto. Whatever it is, disconnecting can do wonders for your sense of balance and help rejuvenate your mental health.

16. Take back control of your time at work

The standard work week is made up of roughly 40 hours. But ask yourself, how many of those hours do you really get to do proper, deep work? How many of those hours are spent answering unnecessary emails, sitting in meetings that you don’t need to be in, or trying to keep with the latest work group chat?

There is no greatest productivity hack out there than simply protecting your time to do work. You need to take control so that you can do your best, meaningful work and not stay back longer than necessary.

The folks at Basecamp are the best at creating a calm culture and health work-life balance for their employees. One of their best ways of doing this is focusing on asynchronous communication. Long-form, clearly laid out thoughts posted to the company’s website or internal Basecamp is the top way to communicate at Basecamp.

There’s very little meetings, video conferences or instant messaging, and very little disrupting people’s time so they can spend their 8 hours doing their job.

Eight hours a day is plenty of time to get great work done if you have 8 hours a day to do that work. The problem is when you have an 8-hour day but you only have 2 hours to yourself. And those 2 hours are made up of eight 15-minute chunks. It doesn’t work. There’s not enough time.”

Jason Fried // Hurry Slowly

17. Ask for help if you need it

Sometimes it can all get too much and you feel overwhelmed with nowhere to turn. Everybody goes through situations like this, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Talking to your manager at work, opening up to your partner, or seeking professional help; whatever you need to do to get yourself back on track.

18. Check in with yourself regularly

Work, family, friends, it’s easy to get caught up worrying about what’s going on with everything and everyone around you, but it’s important to have regular check-ins with yourself. Keeping a tab on your professional, emotional, mental and physical wellbeing is a crucial step in maintaining balance in your life.

Ask yourself these questions from time to time and be honest with your answer:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What’s been consistently making me happy?
  • What’s been consistently making me sad, frustrated, disappointed, etc.?
  • What do I keep putting off or delaying?
  • How have I been feeling every day at work?
  • If I could do anything in this world, regardless of time or money, what would it be?

19. Accept that work-life balance is an ongoing process

After interviewing 500+ people about work, life and balance, I’ve found that everybody, no matter who they are or how successful they’ve been in their life has the perfect work-life balance. It doesn’t matter if they’re the CEO of a large corporation, a startup founder trying to build a business or a freelancer working from their local cafe, everyone’s just trying to figure it out one day at a time.

In reality, work-life balance or integration or harmony or whatever you want to call it, is an ongoing process with constantly shifting dynamics, and the right balance is just whatever realistically works for your particular situation.

Working from home and need inspiration? Grab a copy of our Workflow book, featuring beautiful home office ideas and workspace inspiration from around the world.

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Working from home and need inspiration? Grab a copy of our Workflow book, featuring beautiful home office ideas and workspace inspiration from around the world.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.