Managing your work life balance

The increasing pressure of a demanding work culture in the UK is becoming a big challenge to our health these days. Increased work hours and worries around finances is having a significant impact on our wellbeing, so how can we improve our work/life balance to ensure that we make time to enjoy the things that matter most in our lives? Here we identify and suggest ways to balance the things we enjoy with the responsibilities of earning a living…

The current state of things

It's important to know that you are not alone. Work related stress costs Britain 10.4 million working days a year*; we are caught up in the pressure of working long hours and increased workplace competition that we are no longer making the time to switch off. With the increase in technology, communicating outside of work is becoming commonplace, so whilst we're at home we are still acting as though we are in the office.

Signs of an unhealthy work life balance

A survey held by The Mental Health Foundation found that:

  • One third of respondents feel unhappy about the time they devote to work
  • More than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, increasing their vulnerability to mental health problems
  • When working long hours 27% of employees feel depressed, 34% feel anxious, 58% feel irritable
  • The more hours you spend at work, the more hours outside of work you are likely to spend thinking or worrying about it
  • As a person's weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness
  • More women report unhappiness than men (42% of women compared to 29% of men)
  • Nearly two thirds of employees have experienced a negative effect on their personal life, including lack of personal development, physical and mental health problems, poor relationships and poor home life

Finding a work/life balance means dividing your time between the things that are important to you, which will go a long way to having a positive effect on your physical and mental health.

Try to reassess your work/life balance now; do you:

  • Feel exhausted on a daily basis?
  • Spend enough time with your family and friends?
  • Feel work has become your life?
  • Spend free time thinking about work?
  • Spend enough time enjoying hobbies or activities?
  • Dread getting up in the mornings?
  • Feel unable to cope with the pressures of your life?

These are all symptoms of stress, and without balance relationships may begin to suffer which leads to a larger impact on mental health.

Improving your work/life balance

For the majority of us, work is an inevitable part of our life. There are plenty of positives that can be associated with work, such as social, mental, physical and financial areas although these are generally found in a job we enjoy. However when we're in a job we don't enjoy then these things could be detrimental.

Because work is such a huge part of our lives, we need to try to enjoy it more and find that balance between our home life and work. Here are a few ideas to help you manage your time:

1. Time management

Time is becoming something we seem to have less of these days (read our time article here), but it is the most important asset when it comes to getting the work/life balance right.

We sometimes waste time doing things we don't want to do - if time were money would you think twice about doing these things? Time is the most valuable resource so think carefully about how you want to spend it, look at the week ahead and allocate blocks of time to certain tasks, this should help you to prioritise and manage your time effectively.

2. Identify priorities

After working out how much disposable time you have, think about what you want to do to fill that time. Do something for yourself, spend the time with family. When it comes to deciding, make a priority list, it may include watching a film but at least you will know that the time you have put aside is yours and yours alone to do with what you want.

3. Cut out the negatives things that don't add value

Distractions happen very easily, we can all get distracted by the internet, for example, when we could be using the time to spend with the family. Ask yourself "what adds value" – playing a computer game or using the time to take the dog for that much needed walk. You'll feel a whole lot better using the time well instead of not being able to account for it (the dog will be pleased too).

Avoid complaining, negative people; they're a huge drain on your energy and add no redeeming value to your life.

4. Delegation

Online shopping can be a huge help, no more having to fight our way round the supermarket on a busy weekend – instead we're shopping from the comfort of our home at our own pace to have it delivered to our door. We can now use the time spent avoiding the supermarket on things that we want to do for ourselves.

Don't do everything. Are there other people in the household that can be responsible for a few of the jobs around the house? Read Secrets to maximising family time.

5. Helping yourself at work

Try 'working smarter, not longer'. Allow a certain amount of time per task and avoid getting into less productive activities such as unstructured meetings, where you come out wondering what it is the meeting actually achieved!

Speak up if expectations and demands are too high, you probably have extra work because you haven't spoken up before. Make sure your boss knows of the pressures in order to address them.

6. Sleeping patterns

As a nation we are sleep deprived (read Sleep better, not more), a 20 minute power nap in the afternoon has a bigger impact than having an extra 20 minutes in the morning.

7. Leave work at the front door

The work day has been completed but it's now so much easier to quickly have a look at your work email just before dinner, but that one work situation can cause the balance to suffer. If you work from home, make the office less accessible, as this will prevent a "quick look" at what's going on outside of the household.

8. Take time for yourself

With all this time management and prioritisation you must remember that part of the balance is taking time for yourself. We can sometimes be so worried about what everyone else is doing we forget about ourselves. Now that organisation is in place, take a little time each day to do what you want to do.

Simple changes, that's all it takes. Make sure you focus on these balances, they aren't hard to implement – so make it happen, for yourself, family and everyone else that is important to you.

Managing time is the key to making time for the things you really love, appreciate and value.

*Source: Mental Health Foundation