You’ve worked so hard to get to that point in your career where you can finally have a life outside the office again. But despite reaching the upper ranks of your company, work doesn’t seem to be letting off the gas pedal. You’re working harder than ever, and the time for things like family, friends, and hobbies seems to be dwindling even further.
Instead of running yourself into the ground, it’s time to give up on the myth of work-life balance. It’s not real, and no one can really “have it all.” However, that doesn’t mean you have to choose between meaningful relationships and a rewarding career. It just means that you need to determine what your priorities really are and carve out time for each of those things. Use the following tips to put the impossibility of a perfect work-life balance behind you and find a more realistic way to integrate these two parts of your identity.
Don’t Let Work Hours Get Out of Control
It’s easy to let extra time at work creep into your schedule little by little. A position may be listed as a typical nine to five job, but before you know it, you’re staying late, coming in early, and checking emails on weekends.
A strict 40-hour-a-week job is rare for high-level professionals, but when you add up the time you actually spend at work, the number can be daunting. According to Leslie Perlow’s 2012 book Sleeping With Your Smartphone, 92 percent of managers and professionals put in 50+ hours of work each week; of those, about one-third of those work more than 65 hours per week. That number doesn’t even include about 20 to 25 hours per week most of them spend monitoring their work when they’re supposed to be off the clock.
Of course, cutting back on work hours is easier said than done. What can you do to alleviate the schedule of your demanding job? Here are a few suggestions that can actually make a significant difference over time:
- Place restrictions on when you’re available on nights and weekends. Maybe you’ll check your work email on Saturdays, but not Sundays. Tell coworkers that you’ll take business calls on weeknights when necessary, but not weekends. Set up boundaries, then stick to them.
- Work with your colleagues to take turns having full availability. For example, each executive could have one day a week where they’re the person who’s “on-call” for any business needs, no matter what time of day they occur. This ensures there is always someone available to deal with concerns without forcing everyone to feel like they need to be tapped into work 24/7.
- Figure out what tasks are eating up your time at work. Streamline your day by outsourcing some tasks to other employees or hiring a part-time assistant. Find your most productive time of the day and knock out as much as possible during that period.
Make Time for Relationships
Spending a reasonable amount of time on your work is only one part of the equation. The next step is to figure out how you can make the most out of the time you have off of work. That starts with prioritizing your relationships with family and friends.
There are some things you might miss out on when you have a demanding job. You may have to miss a child’s soccer game while traveling for business. A friend’s birthday might fall on the same night as an important client dinner. Your spouse might have to deal with a home repair crisis on their own while you’re stuck at the office.
This is why work-life balance is a lie—there’s no way you can be present for all the demands of your career and your professional life. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be there for the important things. Take stock of what really matters and figure out how you can manage your work schedule to allow you to be there for the things you care about.
Not sure what this looks like in practice? Here are a few examples of how it could work:
- Create a list of must-haves for your life outside of work, then prioritize those things in your schedule. Examples might include getting home in time for dinner with your family at least three times a week or spending Saturday mornings getting coffee with a friend.
- Have mini “out of office” sessions where you’re not reachable, even if it’s just for a few hours. Enjoy set periods of time where you block any work-related notifications on your phone so you can be fully present for something important, whether it’s an anniversary dinner with your spouse, a child’s recital, or even just spending a few hours reading to decompress. You can add these items to your work schedule or even set up a temporary Out of Office (OOO) message in your email to alleviate nagging concerns that keep you from disconnecting from work.
- Look at the big picture rather than the day-to-day to find a healthy mix of time for both work and relationships. For example, you may have a week or two of long nights at the office while you wrap up a major project. But for a week or two after that, you can insist on a lighter work schedule that gives you more time with family and friends.
Know When to Ask for Help
Many high-achieving professionals pride themselves on what they’ve been able to accomplish on their own. But the reality is that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness—it’s a sign of strength. It means you’re resourceful enough to come up with solutions for any challenges you face.
At home, you might find that shopping for groceries is taking up precious time you could be spending with loved ones, so you start using a grocery shopping service that delivers everything to your door. The same idea can be applied to a cleaning service, laundry service, or handyman. At work, you could meet with other managers or executives to brainstorm ways to reduce the workload, especially when it bleeds into nights and weekends too often.
If you’re struggling on a personal level, it’s important to reach out to get the help you need. Take time off from work when you’re overwhelmed. Alleviate anxiety by talking to a therapist. Try ketamine infusion therapy to treat depression. While work and family are both important, you won’t be able to enjoy either one if you ignore your mental health.
Say goodbye to work-life balance for good and embrace the idea of fulfillment instead. There’s a mantra that says, “You can have it all, just not all at once.” By making the most of your time at work and at home, it’s possible to experience the best of what both have to offer.