Between email, social media, and mobile devices, we are living in an age where we are always accessible. As a result, for many it has become increasingly difficult to draw the line between work and free time. With increased accessibility comes increased expectations, and it can be nearly impossible to keep up with demands at work in addition to responsibilities in our private lives. However, many studies have shown that working too hard is not only exhausting - it is damaging to our physical and mental well-being. Regularly working long hours can leave you tired and unproductive, alienate you from your friends and family, and lead to even higher expectations. In response, this week we are sharing some advice on how to strike a healthy work-life balance.
1. Build downtime into your schedule.
Taking a break to do something you enjoy is important to avoid burnout. Take at least a 30 minute break each day to do something you enjoy, especially when you are stressed. Go for a walk, get out of the office for a quick lunch, or indulge in a hobby you enjoy. A little relaxation goes a long way.
Taking a regular break from looking at screens is essential. Pushing your chair away from the desk and moving around every hour is essential. Tired people are rarely innovative. The crowded commutes in Japan leave everyone feeling like an exhausted sardine by the time they get to work. Battling for space in a train, wears you out both directions in your daily commute. Try getting up a little earlier and taking a less crowded train. You will arrive at work when it is quiet, feel less crushed and more freed up for better quality work.
2. Ask for cooperation from colleagues.
It's ok to ask for help now and then. If you are feeling overwhelmed, tell your colleagues or manager so. Trying to keep up with an unrealistic workload will eventually lead to mistakes or burnout. Trade services with friends or colleagues at work or in your personal life if possible. If there's something you enjoy doing that a friend or colleague hates and vice versa, a mutually beneficial arrangement can most likely be arranged. Develop patience with and tolerance for others even if you are stressed. Do other people favors when you can, you never know when you will need one in return.
3. Increase your efficiency.
Get rid of activities that waste time or drain energy. Track your time for a week to see how much time you are devoting to each activity you perform. Find out which activities are wasting time and drop or delegate them if possible.
This "record what you do" idea is seriously scary because of what it throws up. We are all inveterate time wasters in some area. Be it re-work because of careless mistakes or poor coordination of our schedules, we can put ourselves under immense pressure to get tasks done.
A small amount of time invested in planning and prioritizing each day, can work wonders on getting us in control of our lives. We either plan our days or we wind up working according to someone else’s plan for the day. There is no shortage of information on the subject of getting better at time management.
It is like the boat analogy – we are so busy paddling the oars to get the boat moving, we forget to walk over and switch on the engine. The planning piece is the engine, if we allow ourselves the opportunity to use it. Busy work is pointless, we need effective work. You can’t do everything – OK! But, we can probably do the most effective thing, the most high value thing in our day. If we only get that one thing done every day, we will be 98% ahead of the rest of the population!
Remember, if you don't have time to take on new responsibilities in your personal life, it's ok to respectfully say no. Deciding what not to do, is one of the most effective time tools we have – use it!
4. Leave work on time.
This one goes without saying, but it's one of the hardest rules to adhere to. By regularly working overtime or taking work home with you, it becomes expected and can create a vicious cycle where responsibilities continue to pile up. If you must work late, make sure you schedule nights that you leave on time and don't take work home with you. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time. That means we keep working way past the efficiency boundaries. We are better to set a limit, work like blazes and then go home. We often find ourselves working late but not working very well. Our brain is tired and we are taking much longer than normal to complete tasks. We would be much better advised to go home, come back refreshed the next day and knock that task on the head.
Exercise and eat healthily to help you reduce stress and gather your thoughts. Take time to get outside and gain perspective. Japan stays up way too late and gets insufficient sleep. Going to bed late, catching crowded rush hour trains, working until late, staying up late and repeating the cycle is a killer of business. We are not sharp at work when we are tired and if we compound this daily feeling over decades, we will have a pretty sorry excuse for a work force. It is also a killer of our health, because we are not allowing ourselves the time to exercise. Japan hasn’t quite caught the American disease of eating junk foods and drinking sodas, but it is doing its best to catch up. We know what we need to consume for our health, we know what we need to do around exercise. We are not ignorant of good information but we are ignoramuses for not doing what we know we should be doing.