How Life Stressors Affect Work Productivity (and How to Achieve Work-Life Balance)
In a survey conducted by Harvard Business School, 94% of respondents reported working more than 50 hours per week — and with so many professionals putting in overtime at the office (and at home), it can be hard to achieve work-life balance.
If stress from work is left to build, it can eventually creep into home life and quickly snowball out of control. Productivity suffers as stress peaks. When not carefully managed, everything from work performance to personal relationships and overall health can suffer. Chronic stress weakens the immune system, leading to more sick days and an ongoing game of catch-up, and studies suggest it can even double the risk of a heart attack.
But what can you do to strike a healthy, sustainable work-life balance and escape this vicious cycle? It is possible with a bit of foresight and some ongoing deliberate effort. Here’s where to start.
Set manageable goals and tackle them in order of importance. Use a daily to-do list as a reference point, highlighting the urgent tasks and leaving room for flexibility on longer-term projects. Lay out your projected agenda at the onset of each week so you’re aware of and can anticipate standing meetings, deadlines, and other odds and ends. Be realistic and don’t neglect time for personal breaks throughout the day! Try not to feel guilty about getting out of the office for a 30-minute lunch break or going for a walk between meetings; these can actually serve to boost your productivity by alleviating stress and reenergizing your body and mind.
Divide and Conquer
Break large projects into small tasks you can complete in portions. This can apply to both your work and home life. For example, if you have a big presentation scheduled for the end of the quarter, you wouldn’t jump right into creating and delivering a detailed slideshow. You’d start slowly gathering data a few months or weeks in advance, make time to conduct preliminary research, and gradually add slides and talking points before practicing your delivery and refining from there. At home, if you know you’ll be hosting a large dinner party next month, you wouldn’t wait until the day before to plan the courses you’ll serve, shop for ingredients, and deep clean the house. Instead of facing complex undertakings head-on, plan ahead, divide, and conquer! Decide on appetizers and entrees first, then gradually gather table settings, get a head start on finally organizing the living room… take baby steps and you’ll be less stressed when it’s time to execute.
Take Advantage of Benefits
Does your company have a flexible work from home policy? Talk to your supervisor about working remotely once or twice a week. Are you able to work custom hours? Perhaps your management team would be open to you coming into work mid-morning and working until evening, leaving you with more time before heading to the office (for example, to eat a proper family breakfast and drop the kids off at school or daycare, or to work in a run and a shower).
Unplug After Hours
If possible, avoid taking work home with you. Designate off-the-grid hours after work and on weekends or personal holidays. Just make sure to communicate your availability with supervisors, coworkers, or clients. Turn off notifications for work messaging apps outside of business hours. Log out of work email or leave your work laptop at the office. Take this time to catch up on personal texts, phone calls, and other communication. Or, simply relax with a book or your favorite activity and unglue from screens.
Know When to Say No
As long as you stay on top of your responsibilities at work and at home, consider politely declining extra commitments. You can respectfully skip out on that optional work committee, RSVP “next time” to this month’s extracurricular book club meeting and send your well wishes, and stay home guilt-free on a Saturday night for some much-needed R&R. Taking a break and sitting one out can actually make the difference between a sharp mind and subpar work.
Make the Most of Your Personal Time
Self-care is the name of the work-life balance game. Use your free time for personal enrichment — whatever that may mean for you. Regular exercise is an effective outlet to blow off some steam and keep stress in check. Meditation or yoga can bring peace after a busy workday. You may even use your commute time to enjoy an episode of your favorite podcast, listen to your favorite music, or read a boo.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your support networks for a helping hand. Outsource your responsibilities when possible. A personal assistant can help pick up the slack at home, so you’re free to honor each point on this list. Come home to a fridge full of prepped meals. Use the time you’d spend folding laundry to take a bath. Or leave for a much-needed vacation knowing your household is in good hands.
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