There’s a persistent myth that working long hours will make you more productive. Instead, it’s more likely to lead to burn-out – a little-understood condition that manifests as tiredness, lethargy, stale ideas and a loss of motivation.
Being constantly connected via our phones means that we are effectively on-call all of the time. The same technology that allows us to work from home, is now trapping us in an endless spiral of emails, alerts and video calls.
This can affect your mental and physical health, and have a negative impact on your relationships. There’s an old truism that work expands to fill the time available; now, however, it seems to be expanding to take time from every other part of our lives.
How can you tell if you’re approaching burn-out?
If you’re experiencing any of the following issues, it could be time to not just take a break, but to reassess your relationship with your work.
- Fatigue. Tired brains underperform. Fact. Ideas become stale and even routine tasks take longer. This can lead to frustration and costly mistakes.
- Reduced health. If you’re overworking, you may not be exercising sufficiently. Stress can lead to less healthy food choices, and long hours behind a screen can result in postural problems. It’s a vicious circle.
- Not being present. Your relationships could suffer if you don’t invest in them, and this can even lead to break-ups and divorce if not addressed.
Trying to be a good employee, partner, friend and parent can feel like spinning plates. An important strategy for reclaiming control over your life is to set limits, and pay more attention to looking after yourself.
Without setting limits, your working hours will only increase.
Ask yourself, is it really worth sacrificing your health, relationships and the non-work activities you enjoy?
Top tips for achieving work-life balance:
- Get better at managing your time. Schedule sufficient time for each task, and build breaks into each day. In particular, diarise short gaps between video calls.
- Learn to say “no.” This is one of the hardest things to do and requires a degree of ruthlessness. Establish priorities, and focus only on those. Deflect, delegate or decline anything else. Establish what tasks can be outsourced, and if you are still feeling overwhelmed, raise the issue with your peers or line manager. It’s important to be able to say no without feeling guilty.
- Disconnect. This is all about setting boundaries. Be clear and set the intent – if necessary, put yourself on a ‘digital fast’ and avoid looking at your phone outside of certain hours. Just be certain that your colleagues and managers are aware of your schedule, and get their buy-in. Physical boundaries are also important, especially when working from home. Don’t work in places that you associate with relaxation, such as your bed or couch. If possible, choose a quiet corner of your home where you’re less likely to be disturbed. On the same logic, get dressed for work. Once you’re done for the day, step away from your professional space, get changed and spend time doing something that doesn’t involve a screen, like cooking dinner or playing with your kids.
- Make better choices. Investigate options like flexi-working, job-sharing and schedules that fit around your other commitments. By regaining control over your time, you’ll feel less stressed.
Stress is easier to manage if you have a healthier lifestyle. That includes eating well, being physically active and making sure you get enough sleep.
- Relax. Carve out time for whatever you’re into, whether it’s jogging or yoga. Hobbies can help you to relax and stop your your mind from spinning. Sharing activities with friends or family makes them even more valuable. Learning a new skill that’s not related to your work can get you out of a mental rut.
- Give back. Helping others expands your network, improves your life satisfaction and reduces your stress levels.
- Improve your support. Bond with co-workers so someone has your back and offer them the same support. Be there for others, and learn who you can trust to be there for you..
Asking for help is a sign of strength
If you follow these tips but still feel as though you’re drowning and you never have time for anything, a conversation with your GP or another health professional may be a good idea.
Whether you need counselling or physiotherapy, the help you need is available. Creating work-life balance is an ongoing challenge.
Circumstances change, and you’ll need to adapt with them. Take time to take stock and make adjustments if necessary.