Work to live or live to work- it’s a phrase we often hear when it comes to work-life balance. It’s interesting that when asked to speak about themselves, most people first describe themselves by what they do for a living. We have come to the point that we now identify who we are by what we do – “I am a Nurse,” “I am a Recruiter,” “I work in Accounting.” When looking at this further, it becomes apparent how much our work and careers affect who we believe we are and where we find our value. This isn’t always a bad thing. It’s fantastic when you are doing what you love… and you get paid to do it! The problem comes when you don’t make time for yourself outside of work. We are all still people with human needs outside of our jobs. When we neglect caring for ourselves and having a work-life balance, we will never truly be our best selves. This is when people get to the point of burn out, exhaustion, and extreme stress – sometimes this leads to serious health issues as your body starts to shut down. “But I don’t have time” is most often what we tell ourselves when the topic of work-life balance comes up – this is a huge misperception. Time is a resource we only have a limited amount of and we can’t ever buy more. By making time for self-care, family and friends, and your priorities outside of work, you will be the best you while you are at work. Don’t know where to start? Think about areas in your day where you can be more efficient. That’s right, I said more efficient. You may wonder what this has to do with work-life balance. If you can be more efficient in one area of your day, it leaves more time for you in other areas of the day. For example, if I schedule my day and ensure I stay focused on a project (even ignoring my emails), then I can get my project done faster and better giving me the opportunity to leave work on time at the end of the day, thus giving me more “Me Time.” There are three keys ways you can start:
Prioritize and Set Boundaries
Let’s face it, there will always be some projects that may wait on you and it’s ok to follow up with some things tomorrow. Ask yourself: is it urgent, is it important, is it both, or is it neither. Give yourself small goals to give you a better balance: leave work on time, set a time where you “turn off” and don’t review emails anymore, and know when to take a break and walk away from your desk.
Take your PTO
PTO is a benefit most companies offer in one capacity or another. It comes in a variety of formats: PTO, Personal Days, Vacation Days, Sick Days, etc. While the US is arguably one of the more developed countries, it is one of the only developed countries in the world without legally required paid time off days. That being said, Americans are horrible at taking the PTO allocated to them. Did you know 52 percent of Americans forfeited PTO in 2017? Feelings of guilt are often the culprit. Employees often think of their work – they don’t want to put it off on their coworkers and/or they don’t want to return from vacation with a stack of work waiting for them. Employees are also worried about appearing uncommitted to their jobs, which often leads to burn out and resentment. However, on the contrary, according to a study by the U.S. Travel Association, employees who don’t use their PTO and end up forfeiting it tends to be lower performers and earn lower raises than their coworkers who take their PTO.
Make YOU a Priority
Start thinking about things you enjoy doing outside of work and make a list. Maybe it’s going to the gym or going for a walk, reading a book, playing with your kids, watching TV, or simply doing nothing. Once you make a list, make the time. The activity doesn’t have to last for hours; it could be squeezing in 15 minutes just to unwind. Don’t be afraid to schedule “Me Time.” If you know your day will get away from you, schedule time to take care of yourself to ensure it gets done – you should be a priority. Companies need to value their employee for who they are, not just what they get done in a work day. Managers, think about how you are contributing to the health of your employees. Encourage them to use their PTO. Invest in knowing who they are and be able to identify when they are getting overwhelmed and need to step away. Most importantly, practice what you preach. We don’t want to create a culture where working harder and longer hours is the only way to get ahead. Working smarter and being a healthy person holistically should be recognized and appreciated. So the next time someone says “describe yourself,” know that it’s ok to still identify yourself by your career and what you do for a living, but ensure you are making time for the rest of you too.