Creating and maintaining a work-life balance can seem impossible. There are lots of models and strategies to follow for achieving a harmonious existence between work, family, play, and personal time. The problem is that none of these strategies ask working professionals to delve deeper and identify WHY they work such long hours. Once you can identify the reason and the related triggers that keep you glued to email and your Google Docs, you can begin to pave a new road to your perfect work-life balance that will ultimately make you more efficient in the office, while allowing joy to fill your life away from the grindstone. Do you work for one of the best SEO companies, or an agency that promotes a work-life balance for employees at all levels? If not, can you change company culture by being the first to prove it works?
According to a Harvard Business School survey, a staggering 94% of professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and roughly half that figure admitted to working more than 65 hours a week. Various studies show that excessive work hours like this can harm relationships, have adverse consequences on your health, and the compounding stress can even lower your work performance.
Why Do You Work so Damn Much?
Before you can set a plan to obtain a flourishing work-life balance, you must first go deep within your authentic self and explore the real reasons for dedicating the majority of your life to work. According to various reports, popular reasons for workaholism include:
- The fear of being fired
- An excuse to avoid family
- A distraction from a life problem, such as an ended relationship
- A distraction from the death of a loved one
- Incentives for salary bonuses
- You simply love what you do (way too much?)
Being able to identify why you work such long hours takes courage because it often means you have to look at aspects of your psyche or emotional being that go neglected. Once you identify the core reason for your work addiction, you then have the opportunity to make any necessary changes to ameliorate the problem. Otherwise, you will be attempting to balance a toxic job or work situation with your life, and this will backfire.
A Personal Example
I once worked as an in-house senior SEO manager for a company that, at the time, I thought was amazing. The executives were friendly, colorful, and even a little crazy. The pay wasn’t great, but I did get a 20% pay raise with the promise to earn more (they kept their word), and financially things started looking very good. I was a workaholic. On a conscious level, I told myself that my reason for having midnight phone conversations with the CMO and jumping on tasks at 2AM was because I liked the owners of the company, and I wanted to ensure I would get a fatter salary. However, these were not the core reasons. In fact, all of the toxic things in that company didn’t even surface on the water of my consciousness until right at the time we parted ways. Then it hit me: I was dedicating 80% of my time to work because I was refusing to deal with a personal loss I experienced. My anger grew, as did my demands on the people I was managing. After leaving the company I realized that I was so focused on using work as a wall to put around my sense of loss that I was viewing my role with the company through rose-colored lenses. In actuality, the company was toxic. The CMO tolerated people who spread ugly gossip about other employees, and the company hired inexperienced people to save money (which resulted in my having to train people six months past their hire date who should have already been proficient in things as simple as writing copy). One employee in particular was caught sabotaging an audit because he felt the need to retaliate against strict guidelines, and was caught telling lies about it, and the company still kept him on. Also, they were not properly managing their own efforts, and empty promises towards making internal improvements were thrown around the entire time I was there. I thought I had my dream job, but it was really just a nightmare in disguise. Once I connected with myself and identified my true career goals, I faced my loss, landed in the best place of my career, and I created a fulfilling work-life balance that makes me stealthily good at what I do, and joyful at home.
What I Learned from My Experience
I learned that a healthy work-life balance can’t exist unless you are in a career / job role that is prosperous for both you and the employer. Also, no outside woes should trickle into work, and vice-versa. If you aren’t happy in your job, or if you sense your company is not headed in an advantageous direction, find a job with an employer you can work with happily the rest of your career. Your ultimate work satisfaction is the foundation to creating an ideal work-life balance. But what if the money is too good? Never make your job all about money, or you are setting yourself up to be miserable and work your ass off at the cost of disturbing your peace. In my more than 16 years of experience in the workplace, and more than 10 years working for in-house and digital marketing agencies as a CMO or in senior-level management roles, my biggest takeaway is this: find a company that shares YOUR vision, that shows a healthy growth history, and that pays a salary you can survive on with the outlook to make more down the road. Make sure they promote a work-life balance, by the way.
Creating a Work-Life Balance: All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
Who remembers work-obsessed Jack Torrance from ‘The Shining’? He went mad from constantly working and eventually chased his family through the Grand Overlook Hotel with an axe (though evil spirits may have been more responsible for his crazy rampage than a heavy-handed work life). Knowing how to master a healthy work-life balance will keep you happy, sane, more productive and it will enrich your home-life.
Abandon the Pursuit of Perfectionism
When you were in University you may have developed a taste for achieving perfectionism, which is typical for someone aged 20 with demands limited to school, hobbies, and possibly a part-time job in the evenings. Maintaining the habit to be perfect is easy when you are in college, including grad school. But before you know it you are 23 with a brand new shiny MBA working with guys almost twice your age, and the habit of being perfect or striving for flawless perfection is more urgent than ever. Now you are turning into an overachiever, and before you know it you meet your spouse / partner, have kids, climb the work ladder, and as your obligations in the office multiply to the same beat of your growing family, your responsibilities burgeon making perfectionism completely out of reach. This is a vital moment in the working professional’s life; if you can recognize the trap you are in, and make the necessary shifts, you can unlearn the habit. If, however, you continue, you will self-destruct.
The Internet and advancements in mobile communication has enriched our personal and work lives. However, the ability to connect with anyone in the world, review documents from any place there is an Internet signal, and send / receive e-mails from the beach or on a road trip with the family has caused severe distraction and disruption. If you are at your son’s soccer game while working on an account from the stands, you aren’t really in the moment; you are focused on work and your mind is elsewhere. You are losing the ability to collect precious memories, and the opportunity to just enjoy yourself and relax. If you are making time to spend with the family, or you are taking time for yourself to pursue hobbies, do the following:
- Take off your watch, who cares what time it is
- Temporarily disable the email feature on your smartphone
- Leave your tablet and/or laptop at home
- Set an auto message on email the night before letting clients and colleagues know you are away until “such and such a time”
- Ignore social media
By removing modes of working remotely, you are giving yourself the gift of focusing more on yourself, family, and friends. Do you make personal calls at work? Do you run home in between meetings to play catch with your son? Of course not, so why should you send work emails at your daughter’s violin recital, or work on that marketing report during a family picnic? Make family time and time for yourself quality time, and when you return to work you will feel more fulfilled, happier, and fresh.
Fill Your Personal Life with Self-Serving Activities
Dedicating time to yourself doesn’t mean you should set up camp on your sofa and have a Walking Dead marathon. Engage in activities that serve your greater good, and that bring you joy. Sure, some TV time is great, but treating yourself to higher quality activities will give you a greater feeling of personal fulfillment. When you present a PPC audit, do you strive for something passable, or do you really work diligently to deliver a polished presentation? So why not step it up in the quality department for YOUR personal time. Here is what my work-life balance looks like:
Choose a few of your hobbies that bring you joy, and pursue them without compromise, and without any work interference. A happier you will lead to a more productive you at work, and a better friend and family member to those who love you.
Break a Sweat
Working with a personal trainer and/or getting a gym membership is a great way to make sense of your priorities and create an ideal life-work balance. According to a stress management article by the Mayo Clinic, exercise puts you in a meditative state by releasing powerful endorphins that not only make you feel good, but that helps your mind stay clear. Daily exercise can keep your mind sharp thus helping you better understand what best serves you in your work-life balance. In an article by the American Psychological Association, doctor Mary de Groot discusses “the broad effects of exercise” stating it can help regulate sleep, boost one’s outlook, reduce stress and combats depression. If you agree that creating a healthy work-life balance begins with searching deep inside yourself to see if you are in the right company or career, followed by making any needed changes, and then creating that balance from a clean platform, then you will likely favor exercise as an ideal way to empower your mind to make those important decisions.
Meditate, Yoga, Say Namaste
Meditation and transcendence exercises help people wake up to their reality. Dr. Charles L. Raison from Emory University School of Medicine participated in a study on meditation benefits and concluded that it improves physical and emotional responses to stress. The study consisted of individuals who meditated as part of their regular routine against similar people who didn’t meditate. The people who meditated over the six-week test showed healthier immune systems and less emotional distress when put into stressful scenarios. The ability to have a healthy work-life balance requires a level head, the ability to approach stressful situations with ease and grace, and regular meditation helps busy professionals achieve these and more.
Yoga accomplishes the same thing; at least varieties of it do, and there are many types of yoga out there. For example, while Bikram yoga is popular, it requires you to be in a room heated above 104 degrees with 40% humidity with posture repetitions in a workout. Clearly, this is not an ideal type of yoga for meditating. Instead, find a class in Kundalini yoga which activates your energy through breathing techniques, meditation, chanting and gentle poses that clear the system so the energy may flow to the chakras in your body.
Live Your Life on Einstein’s Bicycle
Albert Einstein said that life is like riding a bicycle because to have balance you have to keep moving. That said, having a fulfilling career means you should strive to create a happy life outside of work, and if you ignore the pursuit of a work-life balance, you will surely grow stagnant and fall. Identify your true desires and intentions, make a plan to create a work-life balance that honors them, move ahead at full-speed, and watch both sectors of your being improve with ease and grace.