Earlier this year I continued the annual tradition of writing my new year’s resolutions on a note pad. This year, my note said in big bold letters: Less time on work, less time on being distracted, and more time with family and friends.
Reluctantly, I admit I’ve been struggling to find the balance between work and life obligations. After reading a bit more about this topic I realized my struggle to balance is pervasive among US workers. For example, a 2014 study by the University of Wisconsin found 7 out of 10 US workers struggle with finding balance.
Given how important work-life balance seems to be to our health and productivity, why is it so hard to actually achieve? It’s hard for me because I can’t just flip a switch and change learned behavior, but you can find two research-based tips that could improve your work-life balance below.
The first small change to make is shifting your focus. This means shifting your focus from the things you won’t do to things you will do. For example, my aforementioned resolution, which was to not work as much, was negative and focused on what I wouldn’t do.
Organizational scholar, Art Markham, explains that negative goals like this tend to fail for two reasons. First, your habit system only learns a new habit when you perform an action, not when you don’t. So, you cannot create a habit to avoid an action. Second, when you set negative goals, you have to constantly be vigilant about your behavior. Otherwise, you will end up doing the thing you are trying to avoid. Instead, you need to focus on what you are going to do instead of working.
The second habit related to improving work-life balance is learning how to say no. This may be one of the hardest things to do, but if you keep adding to your plate at work, will you still have time for you, your family, or hobbies? For many of us, saying no is difficult because saying yes comes from our desire to help people or innate fear of conflict and disappointment.
Use NO as a successful life and workload management tool. Some of the best statements I have seen, or used myself, to say no are, ‘I would really like to help you, but I am focused on another high priority project right now” or the more assertive, “I’m sorry I can’t right now but will let you know when and if I can”.
I hope these two tips will help you start finding the work-life balance you deserve!