Careers advice

Achieving a healthy work life balance in 10 simple steps

It's all about finding that happy middle ground.

In New Zealand, work-life balance has always been important. In fact, we’re known around the world for making sure there's a good mix of work and play.

However, that doesn’t mean that Kiwis never get carried away with their jobs at the expense of important relaxation time.

If you’re spending longer in the office, checking work emails at home or unable to get tomorrow’s tasks off your mind, you may well need to address your work-life balance.

Let’s look at what this means, how it impacts you, and what you can do to get back on track.

Too many late nights in the office? It's time assess your work-life balance.

What is work life-balance?

Having a good work-life balance means that you’re able to satisfactorily split your time between work and other things that are important to you.

In practice, this means different things to different people. A recent uni grad is likely to have very different life pressures than a parent of young children.

However, a healthy-work life balance is important to everyone – without it, you risk burnout, stress and other mental and physical problems.

Signs of poor work-life balance

  • Feeling stressed or overwhelmed – because you’re struggling to keep up.
  • Constant tiredness – resulting from lack of sleep.
  • Personality changes – e.g. irritability or reduced patience.
  • Consistent pain – commonly tension headaches, or neck and shoulder pain as a result of stress.
  • Difficulty maintaining personal relationships – because work gets in the way.
  • Being glued to your work phone or laptop – is it really just ‘for emergencies’?
  • Creating mess – likely both at home or at work.
  • Aimlessness – being overwhelmed means you struggle to prioritise. Getting behind causes a vicious circle.
  • Lack of hobbies – you stop exercising, or doing things you used to enjoy, all in the name of work.

Stress and tiredness are symptoms of a poor work life balance.

Achieving work life balance: the steps

It’s important to realise there’s no such thing as a perfect work-life balance. Getting yours right doesn’t mean that everyday you’ll be able to do everything you want.

Instead, this is something you measure and improve over time. Unfortunately, some days you’ll have to work more than others. However, overall, things should equal themselves out and you should feel like you have control.

If you’re looking for a better work-life balance, try:

1. Setting your work hours… and sticking to them

If you’re regularly the last person in the office, ask yourself why. Does the thing you’re doing have to be finished tonight? If the answer is always “yes”, you should talk to your manager about your workload.

Get tough with yourself about leaving the office on time, or perhaps consider changing jobs.

Occasionally, this new regime might mean saying ‘no’ when a colleague asks for a last minute favour that will keep you in the office. This can be awkward, but all you need to do is politely explain that it’s not possible at the moment, and suggest an alternative.

2. Prioritising your time

To help achieve the above, ensure you’re managing your time well at work. This could mean:

  • Drawing up weekly or daily to-do lists, and ticking off tasks as you complete them.
  • Categorising projects by their urgency.
  • Using spreadsheets or dedicated software tools to help you plan your workflow.

3. Organising your workstation

As well as removing clutter, ensure your workstation is set up to be comfortable. In practice, this will depend on the industry you work in, but looking into different tools, keyboards or chairs can reduce work-induced aches and pains.

4. Talking to your manager

This might not be one to try straight away, but if you’re really struggling to manage your tasks, have a word with your manager. Ultimately, it’s in their interests that you’re content in your job, and they can help you draw up a plan to get where you want.

Be strict with yourself about leaving the office in good time.

5. Getting enough exercise

Heaps of studies show the benefits of exercise in relieving stress and other symptoms of poor work-life balance.

This doesn’t mean you suddenly have to get into running, swimming or biking if these kinds of activities aren’t your bag. You’ll likely find that simply walking to a park or open space on your lunch break will help you unwind from intense workplace vibes.

6. Unplugging

Free time should be exactly that – free. Make a point of turning off your work phone in the evenings and on weekends. This will let you properly unwind, and gives you time to maintain relationships and do things you enjoy.

7. Having sufficient sleep

Hopefully shutting down your work brain at home will mean your mind isn’t still whirring when it’s time to get some Z’s. Sleep is hugely important to your overall well-being, and you’ll find work far more manageable if you’re rested and fresh in the morning.

8. Getting back into your hobbies

Whether it’s music or martial arts, paddle boarding or painting, work shouldn’t mean you have to give up activities you love.

Setting aside some personal time in your schedule for these hobbies will break up your week, and improve your overall satisfaction.

Make time for the things that matter to you, whatever they are.

9. Spending time with the right people

A great way to escape the pressures of the workday is to spend time with people who make you happy – friends and family, and we’ll count your dog in here too.

Not only can these folk take your mind off the 9-5, this will help you rebuild relationships that might have suffered because of your poor work-life balance.

10. Taking a vacation

If you’re really burnt out, the best way to hit reset could be to take some time off. This could be a couple of days just to gather your thoughts, or a more extended break.

As well as chilling out, you can use this time to plan your new approach for when you get back to work.

Remember, with work-life balance, what works for your colleagues might not be the answer for you. It’s important you take the time to draw up a schedule with your specific needs at its heart. Finding a work-life balance you’re happy with won’t happen overnight, but once you start taking the first steps, you’ll soon notice the benefits.