The first step in achieving a work-life balance is to actually schedule downtime, which means putting it on your already chaotic to-do list. We know it sounds crazy, but if you're one of those people who can't seem to stop despite feeling run-down or overworked, the first step toward reclaiming your time and sanity is to force yourself to relax by making it part of your to-do list.
Instead of eating at your desk (while checking email), go for a walk on your lunch hour. Even 15 minutes will help you feel more alert and less like you're chained to your cubicle.
Before you start dinner, allow yourself at least 15 to 20 minutes to just sit. No cleaning, no yelling at the kids for tracking mud into the house, no putting a pot on the stove. Just you, a chair and your feet up.
Pick one weekend day to do something you've been meaning to do. It can be reading, watching a movie, calling a friend or going for a hike – the point is to schedule it and make sure it gets just as much weight as laundry, grocery shopping or cleaning.
We know you want to do it all, and you've managed to stay (relatively) sane so far with the enormous pile of work you've taken on, but it's time for a reality check. Take a look at your to-do list (if you don't have a physical list you can refer to, write down everything you think you need to get done this week), sharpen your pencil and start crossing things off your list. Once you start losing a grip on your downtime, the amount of tasks you expect yourself to handle can grow exponentially, so to give yourself a break you need to start trimming your task list.
Here's how: Separate your weekly tasks into must-dos and want-to-dos. Must-dos are things you absolutely have to get done, like that client presentation or typing up the meeting notes for your boss. Want-to-dos are things like helping someone down the hall with a proposal (while it's very nice of you, you also need to sleep – and eat), organizing the company picnic or baking cookies for your assistant's birthday (just buy her flowers). Shave off the extras you don't really need to be doing it to give yourself some breathing room.
Working out – whether it's hitting the gym, going for a walk or spending some quality time with your yoga mat – is a very important factor in both your physical and mental health. Even if you only have time for a 20-minute walk after dinner or, as mentioned above, during your lunch break, make moving a priority. It will help minimize stress, boost your energy and allow you time to recharge while not staring at a computer screen, dealing with clients or organizing a meeting.
Finding a work-life balance doesn't have to mean taking extended breaks or having endless hours of alone time. You can also recharge and de-stress with shorter breaks. Get up from your desk and spend five minutes stretching, walk to a co-worker's desk instead of emailing her or treat yourself to a midday coffee (from the place outside of the office) – anything to carve a little bit of time and space that's just for you.
It can be so tempting to continue working once you're at home – we all do it, but that doesn't mean its right. If the scales are tilted heavily towards work, leaving you no time for that all-important "life" part, taking work home with you will only cause more anxiety. If you absolutely have to check email at home, put a time limit on post-work tech time. Give yourself 30 minutes before or after dinner (never right before bed) to check and respond to any important messages and then call it quits – get your husband to hide your BlackBerry if that's what it takes. You deserve your downtime, but you're the only one who can make sure you get it.
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