Some people have used the proliferation of smartphones and wifi as an opportunity to liberate themselves from the constraints of the nine-to-five, spending less time in the office and more time at home with loved ones. But is it ever quality time if you’re still checking emails? In reality, the ability to work anytime, anywhere often results in doing just that—working at all times. You may feel that bringing work home helps you stay on top of things, but research from Stanford University found that working 50 hours or more each week can make you less productive. It can also leave you feeling stressed, anxious, and burnt out, all of which can impact your health. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and you’re struggling to find downtime, try implementing these 10 healthy habits to balance life and work.
1) Establish a Morning Ritual
When your schedule gets hectic, it’s easy to just roll out of bed, brush your teeth, and grab a coffee along the way. But your morning ritual could set the tone for your entire day. According to the American Psychological Association, willpower functions just like a muscle. And just like a muscle, it gets tired when overused. As the day progresses and you’re repeatedly faced with temptations, you’re slowly drained of your ability to exercise willpower. So don’t wait to practice wellness—make time in the morning for healthy habits like exercise, meditation, and proper nutrition.
2) Take Time to Practice Gratitude
When you’re caught up in your day-to-day grind, it’s easy to get stuck in survival mode as you try to cross items off your never-ending list of to-dos, leaving you feeling overwhelmed, anxious and even depressed. In these moments, practicing gratitude might sound like another chore. But research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that finding the time to write down what you're grateful for could make you more optimistic about your life, increasing your overall health and happiness. It will also help you better understand what's important to you—like spending time with family, learning something new, or being active—which will help you prioritize those things over catching up on email in the evenings.
3) Plan Ahead to Ensure Healthy Meals
Working an extra hour or two in the evening becomes an easy excuse to grab takeout for dinner. After all, once you factor in the commute, a quick stop at the grocery store, cooking, and clean-up, it's almost time for bed. But if eating poorly becomes a habit, it can affect more than just your physical health. What we eat can also impact brain function, making nutrition a key contributor of mental health. So embrace the trend of “meal-prep Sunday” to give yourself healthier meals, more time, and a clearer mind throughout the week.
4) Use Your Vacation Days
According to a recent report conducted by Expedia, nearly half of Canadians expressed having a hard time leaving work behind when they take a vacation. And although the average Canadian receives approximately 17 vacation days, only 15 of those days typically get used, which adds up to about 40 million unused vacation days each year. When you think about the number of requests that accumulate in your inbox each day, it’s easy to see why. But you can rest assured knowing that, according to the report, those who used their vacation time said they returned to work feeling more confident and capable of solving problems.
5) Learn to Recognize Burnout
The state of "burnout" was first recognized as a psychological diagnosis in 1974, characterized as "physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress" by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. Today, the Mayo Clinic describes job burnout as a state of physical and emotional stress that can leave you in a precarious emotional state, feeling unaccomplished, and unsure of who you are. And if you ignore these feelings, you could end up suffering from other health issues like fatigue, insomnia, high blood pressure, and type-2 diabetes. Ask yourself: Are you particularly cynical at work? Do you lack the energy or concentration to accomplish anything? Are you irritable or impatient with co-workers or clients? Does this bleed into your personal life? If so, burnout may be a factor in how you’re feeling.
6) Negotiate "Flex Time" With Your Employer
If you are experiencing signs of burnout, consider negotiating "flex time" with your employer. This may not be an option at every workplace, but convincing your boss you need to make room for other areas of your life might be easier than you think, thanks to a recent MIT experiment showing that when employees have more control over how, when, and where they work, it improves their level of engagement and ultimately leads to higher productivity.
7) Set Goals for Your Personal Time
You probably do this for your career all the time—set goals to learn new skills, be more productive, or develop efficiencies, so you can secure that promotion at your next performance review. Setting goals has been linked with a greater sense of confidence, motivation and autonomy. And those who actually write down their goals are 33 percent more successful in achieving them than those who simply think about them. So why not develop the same habits in your personal life? Whether it's turning your phone off after 8 p.m., spending more evenings cooking at home, or taking a class, write down a few actionable items that will ensure better work-life balance.
8) Establish Reasonable Boundaries
There's nothing easy about saying "no" especially when figures like Shonda Rhimes and Tina Fey have told us we should say "yes" to every opportunity that comes our way. But all those yeses could quickly lead to burnout, which means you need to get used to saying "no" sometimes too. It won't just keep your workload from encroaching on your downtime, but it will also ensure you have the time to do your best on projects you've already agreed to. If you're having trouble with the idea, opt for using phrases like "I don't" rather than "I can't" It suggests you've established certain rules around yourself, and it demonstrates a greater sense of stability and conviction, which research has shown is more effective in getting your point across.
9) End Every Day With a Digital Break
Responding to a few late-night emails may seem harmless, but everyone needs a break, and all of that extra stimulation--not to mention the light from your cell phone or computer screen--can really mess with your sleep. According to Harvard Medical School, blue light wavelengths produced by electronics can affect attention, reaction, and mood. So make sure you put away your laptop, phone, and iPad a few hours before bed, to not only manage your boss’s expectations but also to ensure you wake up feeling well-rested and refreshed.
10) Supplement to Boost Energy and Ease Stress
Sometimes, no matter how good you are at practicing work-life balance, when a week is full of milestones for loved ones and there’s a work deadline that can't be missed, you simply need to keep your stress levels in check and your energy levels high. Eating healthy helps, but if you need a little extra support, a to reduce levels of anxiety, depression, irritability and nervousness, while B12 will help break down the foods you eat and turn them into a natural source of energy.
Pencavel, J. (October 9, 2014). The Productivity of Working Hours. The Economic Journal, 125 (589): 2052-2076.
American Psychological Association. (2012). What You Need to Know About Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-Control.
Emmons, R. A., McCullough, M.E. (September 2002). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2): 377-389.
Gómez-Pinilla, F. (July 2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(7): 568-578.
Expedia. (October 2018). 2018 Expedia Vacation deprivation report.
Heinemann, L.V., Heinemann, T. (March 6, 2017). Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis. Sage Open.
Mayo Clinic. (November 21, 2018). Job burnout: How to spot it and take action.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (September 8, 2014). Employee Satisfaction Results Related to Work/Life Balance Drawn from Recent Quality of Life Surveys for Faculty and Staff: Report By The MIT Council on Family and Work.
Lock, E. A., Latham, G. P. (October 1, 2006). New Directions in Goal Setting Theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5): 265-268.
Traugott, J. Michigan State University Extension. (August 26, 2014). Achieving your goals: An evidence-based approach.
Patrick, V. M., Hagtvedt. (August 2012). “I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behaviour. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2): 371-381.
Harvard Health Publishing. (August 13, 2018). Blue light has a dark side.