Alibaba’s founder, Jack Ma, recently stirred controversy when he wrote a blog post promoting something called the 996 system: working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week. It drew backlash from across the internet, understandably, as critics called it inhumane. But, it shed light on the fact that we live in a culture that often prioritizes work above all else, a fact which can be detrimental for your health, family, and overall quality of life. According to the Bureau of labor statistics, over 9 million Americans work 60 hours a week. One survey found that only 1 in 5 Americans eats lunch away from their desk.
Balancing work and life is not something that comes easy to many of us, but we’re here to help. Read on for our best tips on finding that all too elusive balance.
Set Hours and Stick to Them
The first step to maintaining a work-life balance is setting clear boundaries and expectations for when you will work. It can be helpful to set parameters within which you’ll get your work done. Decide that you’ll leave the office at 6, instead of whenever the client stops emailing you. Not only will this force you to live your life outside of the office, it can motivate you to be extra productive during the day, knowing there’s a set end time.
Communicate When You Plan to Sign Off
One of the best ways to hold yourself accountable for any goal in life is to share it with others. You’re more likely to actually leave at 6or not check emails on the weekend if you’ve already told everyone that’s your plan. Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing!
Additionally, something as simple as communicating when you’re available can help avoid miscommunication and ensure that others aren’t emailing you during your time off. Sometimes it’s not so much that clients or bosses want you to work on weekends, they may just not know the right hours to contact you. This is particularly important for remote workers or those working with people in different time zones. If they know you get to the office at 8 a.m. to leave by 5, they can adjust their expectations.
Find a Reason to Leave On Time
You can be as gung-ho as you want about leaving the office, but when it comes down to it, if there’s no reason for you to leave, it can be easy to talk yourself into just a little more work, and then a little more, and so on. Try making plans with a coworker to grab a drink or schedule a workout class. This will also give you something to look forward to.
Keep a Schedule
Having a visual of what your day, week or month looks like can be super helpful in identifying free time and working around non-negotiables. Google Calendar is a great tool for doing this. You can enter and color code different events, activities and to-dos, and it will even remind you 30 minutes (or whatever time you set) prior! Start with what you absolutely have to do, (ie. go to work, take the kids to the doctor,) and then carve out time for what you want to do. You may find that there are hours unaccounted for that you waste away that could be better served. You’ll never know until you look.
We’ll say it again. Delegate, delegate, delegate. In work and life, you can’t be in all places at once. Ask for help on projects at work, communicate when you’re overwhelmed and identify tasks that take up valuable time that would be better spent elsewhere.
In life too, delegating chores can free up time for what matters. Research shows that of all the things to spend money on, dishing it out on things that save time can seriously make a difference in your happiness. If you hate grocery shopping, set up recurring deliveries on Amazon for items like toilet paper or dog food. Hiring a maid service to deep clean your home once a month may be worth giving up a few nights of takeout. Or maybe the cost of hiring someone to do your taxes trumps the frustration it would have cost you. Whatever it is you assign to others, remember you can do anything, but not everything.
Make Free Time Free
Just because you’re not working, doesn’t mean you have to automatically give up your time to others. It can be helpful to designate one time period a week strictly for yourself where you don’t make commitments to others. If you already know Sunday is your one day to sleep in, it’s okay to turn down plans for an early morning run. Learning to say no can be hard, but oh is it worth it.
Schedule Personal Hours
It’s easy to put off tasks that seem less urgent than work and convince yourself you’ll do them later. Newsflash: you won’t. Schedule in time for yourself, even if you end up going back to work later, to ensure you get taken care of too. This can mean getting in a workout mid-afternoon or going home at 6 to cook dinner and catching up on emails after. No matter what you do, it’s important to prioritize your life too.
Plan A Social Activity Ahead of Time
Don’t just tell your friend you should meet up, put it in your calendars before the work week heats up. This gives you something to look forward to and ensures you’ll get out of the office on time at least once per week.
Use Vacation Time
That’s right. If you’re given it, take it. Even if it means taking a few days to catch up on sleep and visit your parents. Vacation time is there to be used, and in the US it’s skimpier than in most other developed countries, so its important you take full advantage of what you’ve got.
If you’re wondering how to maintain work-life balance, this is probably the most important lesson you can learn. Just because someone asks something of you, doesn’t mean you have any obligation to do it.