How to achieve a good work-life balance
UK employees work longer hours, take shorter lunches and enjoy fewer days off than our European counterparts, according to the TUC.
Which begs the question, how do we achieve a good work-life balance?
It may seem hard, but it is possible to switch off and zone out. If you need a little helping hand, here are a few tips on perfecting the balancing act.
1. Switch off
Replying to emails at 10pm is a slippery slope. And the majority of the time, we're responding to non-urgent messages out of habit, rather than necessity.
So, is our 24-hour work culture helping us to get more done? A report by UK thinktank the Smith Institute says not. Over two-thirds of workers surveyed said they worked longer hours than they did two years ago, yet only 10% felt more productive.
The chances are, by literally switching off we'll find renewed focus when the time comes to reboot. Plus, it enables us to fully focus on home and family life by living in the moment.
2. Find your motivation
Career goals are all well and good. Yet so many of us are driven by professional targets and expectactions. What's more, our jobs are obscuring the bigger picture.
Travel, physical and mental health, friends, adventures, children, exploring a new hobby, pursuing a personal goal... Whatever motivates you as a person should dictate your priorities in life. If work is your number one pleasure, great. But many people prioritise work over everything, to the detriment of personal relationships and dreams.
By identifying what's really important to you, it may become easier to leave work behind when the clock strikes 5pm.
3. Just (don't) do it
The art of saying no can be tricky to master. But it's incredibly simple, in reality.
Overstretching yourself will undoubtedly lower your efficiency, so it's in everyone's interests to learn to draw the line.
Too busy to take on more work? Panicking over double booked meetings? About to miss parents' evening for a deadline?
Take a step back and exercise your right to simply say no. Once you do, it will become easier and easier. Nobody's asking you to decline all requests - only to learn what's manageable, and let people know what isn't. Often, the pressure is self-imposed and your boss/colleagues/clients will understand.
4. Be assertive about what you need
Scheduling some "me time" into your weekly schedule is crucial for many reasons. Relaxation is vital for your body, mind and mental health. Indulging in non work-related hobbies is a fantastic way to use different parts of your brain and distract yourself completely from the day-to-day slog of working life.
Factoring in time to enjoy your preferred form of exercise improves your physical health, of course. And the benefits of working out go much further, as the endorphins released during your run, class, bike ride or weights session trigger feelings of positivity. This, in turn, can work towards reducing stress, keeping anxiety at bay and improving sleep. All of which will help you to perform to your fullest ability when you're back at your desk.
Equally, don't be afraid to speak up at work if you have an idea of how working life could better complement your personal situation. Ask to work from home certain days if it will help, making sure to sell it to your manager based on how more flexibility will translate to more efficiency and productivity for the company overall. In the same vein, suggest downgrading unnecessary meetings into quick Skype catch ups to maximise office time and output.
5. Don't be a perfectionist
More and more experts say while we should always try our best, often good enough is - well, good enough. Striving for perfection in every situation can lead to impossible expectations and unnecessary pressure on you.
A list of tips from Netmums cites the pressure women can feel to keep homes spick and span, while feeding the kids healthy home cooked food every day. They firmly recommend giving yourself a break. The odd unmade bed or freezer meal doesn't make you a bad parent, so why feel guilty?
Pay for a cleaner if you can afford one, relax and let things go if you can't. While at work, stop yourself rushing back in if you forgot to do something or realise you could've done a better job. The chances are, even if it's not perfect, it's perfectly fine as it is.
Of course, the perfect balance is a myth - ratios change as your personal and professional circumstances do. There's no formula to attaining the right combination of work and home, but implementing a few simple ideas could go a long way.