“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life,” so said Dolly Parton.
Waking up feeling like you haven’t slept, constantly juggling home and work, and never feeling like you’re quite doing either properly – no wonder that a recent survey by the Health and Safety Executive in the UK found that in 2015/16, stress accounted for 37 per cent of all work related ill health cases and 45 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health.
If you’re resonating with that a little more than necessary, it may be time to make a change.
Manage the morning – don’t let it manage you
It’s difficult when your email account is already overflowing before you get to work, but one of the biggest things successful people have been proven to do is to decide their priorities before they even begin. Put your phone and other devices on aeroplane mode overnight, and only switch them (or your computer) back on once you know your plans and top priorities for the day. This will mean you’re acting, not reacting, and will be in control once the inevitable onslaught does arrive.
Look after your health
If you want to get through the day with added efficiency, your first priority should be you. Start the day with a cup of hot water with grated ginger, to get your digestion going, before grabbing a balanced breakfast.
That’s your body, but don’t forget your mind. The saying “meditate for 10 minutes, and if you don’t have time, do it for 20” is unarguably smug, but it’s rooted in sense, as meditation has been proven to rewire your brain so you keep perspective even in the most trying of circumstances. Why not download one of the many brilliant free smartphone apps, and grab 10 when you can? Think of it as a balancing act for your mind.
Love your to-do list
Rather than jotting everything down on a single, never-ending, oh-my-god-I-can’t-even list, try separating your list into clear sections, and limiting your ‘must-dos’ to just three things per section, maximum, a day. Productivity specialists reckon this is the most effective way to consider your time, and stops you feeling totally overwhelmed. Choose three things for work, three things for home, that are your absolute priority, and focus on those first. This keeps your work and life separate, and manageable, at a glance. Anything else goes on to the list for tomorrow, and everything else is a bonus.
Establish clear boundaries
It can feel impossible, especially if you’re not the big boss, but ultimately, setting boundaries is one of the most important actions you can take to establish work-life balance. It takes guts, but make sure you know the hours in your contract, and stick to them. Yes, be a team player on those odd occasions when a project needs finishing into the night, but if it’s having a real impact on your life, it’s time to get tough. Make sure people know you’re leaving the office on time, and won’t answer the phone or emails outside of work hours. It’s tough to beat presenteeism, but imposing deadlines on to yourself will mean you likely work more efficiently, meaning you’ll be less likely to burn out, and stick to what’s actually necessary.
Try tomato time
This weird phrase comes from the ‘pomodoro technique’, a method coined by the Italian Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, which advocates using a kitchen timer to track your day, after Cirillo first started using a tomato-shaped one when studying at university. He found that setting it for 25 minutes, and focusing on only one task for that short period, kept him more focused and less overwhelmed than if he didn’t set the intervals at all. Use your phone to make it easy, and perhaps consider using an internet blocker, which can block specific websites when you choose (Facebook, we’re looking at you). Take a five-minute break whenever the timer goes off, before beginning again, and a 15-30 minute every four cycles, and watch your productivity soar.
Ditch the guilt
If you’re going to set boundaries, you’ve got to stick to them. This means stopping the endless worry cycle; if we’re at work, we’re worrying about home, and if we’re at home, we’re worried we’re not pulling our weight at work. But you can’t be in two places at once, and no-one should expect you to be. Visualise work and life in separate boxes, and imagine closing one and opening another when you need to, keeping a mental barrier between the two. Focusing on the present moment and making a note of everything you’re noticing or enjoying at that exact second will help you stay in the room, so you can be at your best.