When was the last time you had a serious barrier between work and home? Even before the pandemic, did you truly separate your work life and home life completely? Can you honestly say that you don’t take your work home or on vacation?
Especially as we become more dependent on digital communication, more reachable 24/7, spending more of our time online, the improbability of the old “work-life balance” ideal becomes more and more obvious. Nowadays, you may find yourself always feeling like you’re stealing time from one or the other – like having a “life” is a tradeoff to performing your best at work.
As Jason Resnick, Founder of Rezzz and NurtureKit, recently put it an article for Krit, “We can’t put a wall up in our brain and say, ‘hey, what you think about from 9:00 to 5:00 is not going to spill over between 5:00 and 9:00.’”
Indeed, the very phrase “work-life balance” implies something impossible: that you could have two totally separate halves of your life that exist independently of each other. We were headed for this realization anyway, but 2020 really brought home the idea that a new paradigm is called for, as so many of us have found ourselves permanently shifted into work-from-home mode.
That’s why I’ve been advising my wellness coaching clients to instead aim for work-life harmony. Today we need to make peace with the reality that one shouldn’t need to give up life for work or vice versa.
Instead, focus on meshing both together in a sustainable, realistic way – even as that very boundary blurs.
You may have bad work-life hygiene
Here’s the thing about living in unprecedented chaos. It’s harder than ever before to focus on the little things, like your coffee in the mornings, or the simple pleasures of completing work tasks that you actually enjoy doing.
You take shortcuts. You’ll skip working out once; you’ll stay up late watching TV just one evening. You’re in crisis mode, which means your brain is working overtime just to stay afloat and much less able to adhere to healthy habits that will sustain you long-term. Especially if you were abruptly shifted to work-from-home without much prep time, it’s possible you created temporary shortcuts that slowly melted into long-term habits as our makeshift situations became our “new normal.”
I’ve seen this in myself and my clients – it’s tough to set up healthy habits that will help you maintain work-life harmony. But at the same time, there’s never been a more urgent moment to do so.
Without the commute that many of us once used as decompression time to carefully delineate between our work and home lives, it’s absolutely paramount to find other ways that will still let you achieve happiness at both work and home, without feeling like you’re cheating work or home life. Accept that you’re probably going to be at home for a while, and focus on setting up habits now that will let you find a harmony within and between the two parts of your life.
Where you should focus your priorities
It’s easy to repeat the common generic advice – get plenty of sleep, take breaks, reconnect with your family.
That’s all well and good. But if you truly want to find work-life harmony, here are four specific habits you can build to specifically promote it.
1. Take your mental health seriously
As sad as it is, people today find it all too easy to neglect their own mental health. You can justify your feelings by thinking that everyone is coping with trouble, that everyone’s experiencing hardship. It’s true, but it doesn’t make your feelings any less valid. You don’t need to be diagnosed as clinically depressed to start taking your emotional health seriously.
If you want to actually enjoy your home life and feel productive and fulfilled at work, don’t try to compartmentalize your feelings. If you’re having a rough day at work, you should feel the freedom to take that time off, or at the very least step away from your computer to get some space. If you’re having difficult conversations with your friends or family, understand that it will impact your work, and be gentle with yourself and your own expectations.
“A healthy business begins with a healthy business owner,” says Itzik Levy, the CEO of vcita, whose software is designed to make business management less overwhelming. “It’s just as important to care for your mental and emotional health as for your physical health. Find someone to talk to about your anxiety regarding Coronavirus and your business – we’re all in this together and we can only make this together.”
Talking through feelings is really vital here. If you aren’t working with a wellness coach or a therapist, find a friend or family member who you can share your true emotions with.
2. Make your physical health a priority
Research shows being active helps you think. Consider taking meetings on a treadmill; break up your day with a HIIT workout halfway through your day. Luxuriate in a special full healthy lunch that you wouldn’t normally have time to make for yourself.
It’s important to take time to check in with yourself and find out what works best for you. Lots of people swear by morning workouts, but one of my clients loves her 7:00 a.m. starts at work, because then she can take off at 3:00 p.m. to go for hikes.
The benefit of working from home now means you have the flexibility and space to find the best path for your healthy habits.
3. Monitor your energy levels
This one might be the most important of all. Above, I wrote about the dangers of spending more time on our screens. Working from home is littered with distractions, temptations – and potential burnout.
“There’s research showing that working from home is more productive but causes us to be at work more,” notes Tomer Cohen, LinkedIn’s global head of product. “That is, if it used to be called ‘working from home,’ today there’s a sense that you are living at work. People feel it.”
All the traditional strategies people typically recommend for maintaining work-life balance while working from home simultaneously fail to maximize on the flexibility working from home actually offers you, while doing nothing to make sure you stay fully charged up and actually enjoying both life and work.
It’s not enough to just turn your computer off at 5:00 p.m., because maybe you work best at night, and the fact is, now you finally have the flexibility to do that. It’s not enough to separate your bed and your home office, because maybe that’s where you get the best wifi for your client calls. It’s not enough to set up a morning routine that emulates your commute, because maybe that’s the only time you have to spend with your kids.
It’s hard to identify any one tip that will work for everyone, so instead try the red-yellow-green energy monitoring method that Jason Resnick recommends. I’ve been recommending that my clients follow a similar journaling system to track their own energies, and I’ve received great feedback so far, but Resnick’s method is particularly elegant. Twice every day, simply pop a green, yellow, or red dot to reflect how you felt at that moment. You can add a single comment next to each day to describe the highs and lows.
By having a structure for making yourself aware of the various factors that will bleed in from work to home and vice versa, you can more easily keep a handle on how you’re feeling for the long term. If you spot long-term trends of good or bad, reflect on the week and stop burnout before it happens.
Start making your own harmony
There’s no perfect way to have it all, no matter what all the bloggers and thought leaders out there tell you. Humans just aren’t built to have a perfect 50/50 split between what we do at work and what we do at home, especially since we have so much overlap today. You shouldn’t feel guilty for not achieving “balance,” because it’s unachievable.
Now that many of us have been unceremoniously put in work-from-home mode for the foreseeable future, it’s time to take work-life harmony seriously, before our stress and anxiety has a chance to eat us alive.
It’s easy to take shortcuts when we’re constantly under pressure, but instead, why not try to look at this shift as an opportunity? You can finally work the way you want, cultivating the habits you choose. To ensure you’re getting close to true work-life harmony, focus on your physical and mental health, and monitor your energy levels on a daily and weekly basis. This will let you build a life where work and life aren’t competing, but rather coexisting in harmony.