I'm a firm believer that a work-life balance doesn't exist organically. It’s something that needs to be carved out, created, and built. About 40 percent of adults in the U.S. work over 50 hours a week. What is disguised as “getting to work early” and “I just need to finish this” quickly adds up and turns into an extra 10+ hours each week. That’s a whole extra workday. AN EXTRA DAY. It's no surprise that the British Medical Journal published a study last week connecting heavy and dangerous drinking habits with a work week longer than 48 hours.
In the new year, as you begin to get tired of your resolutions, ruining diets with drunken pizza runs and realizing that its harder than you thought to both save money and travel more, I suggest a more manageable and worthwhile goal: strive to create work-life balance this year. You’ll feel better, your friends will like you more because they'll see you more, and you’ll notice that, though you never stop looking forward to the weekend, you'll slowly start to dread Mondays less.
Here are some smalls steps you can take to make this year one you can look back on and say that you worked hard, but played harder.
1. Establish Your Work-Life Line
The first step to creating a work-life balance is to draw a thick, permanent line separating the two. Sometimes, this means staying at the office an hour later because you have a rule that you don't bring work home with you. Other times, it means limiting how many times you allow yourself to check your email on the weekends, or even taking your work email off your phone completely.
You need to know the difference between work and life, and then clearly separate them before you are able to truly find a balance. Find the balance that's right for you, stick to your rules, and set the expectations at your job early, if you can.
2. See The Sun Every Day (Through A Window Doesn't Count)
It's one thing to suffer from Seasonal Depression naturally, but it's another thing to give yourself Seasonal Depression by getting to work in the dark and leaving in the dark. Make it a priority to take a mid-day break at least once a day. Take a lunch break, walk around the block, sit outside, get coffee, look at something that is not made of pixels. Trust me, it will make you more productive, and no one in the office cares nearly as much as you think they do about how long you're gone.
3. Find Your Stress Reliever
A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that Millennials have the highest stress levels of all the age groups tested, mostly likely attributed to job insecurity and capability doubts. If you let yourself get stressed out over work, it will slowly take over your life. You have to find a way to let out all the pent-up stress before it does.
Start running, listen to calming music during your commute, knit a scarf for Grandma, pick up meditation. Don't let job stress ruin your off time. Find what relaxes you, and do it regularly.
4. Do One Important Thing A Day
If I've learned one thing since starting my pseudo-adult life as a working woman, it's that most people don't love their jobs and are not lucky enough to spend 8 (or 10 or 15) hours a day working with their passions. Unfortunately, this means you have to make an extra effort to pursue what truly matters to you.
Make sure that at the end of every day, you can look back and think of one important thing you did — whether that's volunteering for an hour, seeing your family, or getting one step closer to your life goals. If you can, figure out how you can use your time at work to achieve one thing that's genuinely important to you each day. And if that feels impossible? It might be time to consider finding a new job.
5. Frame The Big Picture — And Put It On Your Desk
Always remind yourself of the things you want to do, see, and experience outside of work. They will fuel your boring meetings and those days you feel like you are wasting. You need to have something that your life is working towards — small goals or big goals that you want to accomplish during the other 14 hours of your day.
Maybe it's a map of the world to remind you of all the places you want to travel, a picture of your family to remind you who you're working for, or a quote by a favorite author. It sounds cheesy, but it will help you keep things in perspective.
6. Consider Bros Before Joes
And by "joes," I mean your job. Your job won’t get drunk and eat ice cream with you after you get dumped, and your job won’t Facebook stalk said “dumper” to investigate why. Your job won’t go to happy hour with you after a long day, and it won’t be there for a night of Netflix and popcorn. It won’t hug you when you’re sad, listen when you’re angry, smile when you’re happy or love you when you’re lonely.
You get the point. Your job does nothing your friends can do — so try to choose friends over work, whenever you can. It sounds obvious, but sometimes, it's anything but easy.
7. Take As Many Vacations As You Can
Compared to much of the Western world, Americans are afraid to take vacation days — and it is insane. If you are given ten days vacation, TAKE ten days vacation. Plan a week-long trip abroad or a long weekend road drip; take a Friday off to run errands, or a Monday off to lounge at home. Vacation days are essential to your sanity and in most cases if you don't use 'em, you lose 'em. And don't get me started on sick days — working from home when you're sick does not count! Take them too, even if you're not sick. Again, you'll be better at your job in the long run for it.
8. Remember: You Don't Live to Work
The most important thing to remember when establishing a work-life balance is that you don't live to work — you work to live. You work so you can afford life; so you can afford those drinks with friends, and travel on those vacation days. Your job lets you live in the big city, join the gym, buy groceries, and own things. Your job is not the only reason for your life, and you will lose yourself if you treat it like it is.
Here's to a better work-life balance in 2015.