This year has truly shone some light on workplace dynamics in the United States. Our culture has been so tied to this idea of working more instead of working smarter, that generations of humans are experiencing burnout at a far quicker rate than ever before.
With all of the other added stressors from the world around us, there is a greater need to find balance in every aspect of life, and it starts with the place you dedicate most of your time to during the week: your career.
So what is work/life balance?
For several coaching professionals, it’s both something they strive to attain in their own lives, as well as something they work to help their clients maintain. Clarity Coach Jennifer White approaches this idea of balance like greenery in her life.
“I see life as a garden where what we focus on grows and what we ignore withers. A good gardener knows how to spread the water and fertilizer around so that all the plants flourish.” Being able to identify your own unique needs helps you approach the world in a way that will encourage joy in all aspects of your life.
“Work/life balance used to be the thought that I could keep my career work in the window of 9-5, make sure I work out every day, prepare 3 well-balanced meals, and maintain a hobby or two, as well as volunteer work,” explains Visibility Coach Erin P.S. Zimmerman.
As someone who helps entrepreneurs and businesses strategize and execute their digital growth plan, circumstances over the past few months threw her original idea of this harmony out the window. “I realized that I need to set non-negotiables alongside my work.”
Setting up non-negotiables
Non-negotiables are things you’d like to prioritize time for in your life, and often do not involve a career focus. These are things that help to keep you healthy, happy, and engaged in other areas of life so that you can return fully fueled with inspiration and energy to your desk when it’s time.
Items on this list include things like family time, date nights, hikes, any exercise you enjoy, cultural and culinary experiences, among others.
A key to making sure you have time for the things that bring you joy outside of work? Know and respect your boundaries. “Many people give far too much of their focus and energy to their work. They believe if they can just make enough money or be successful in their careers all the other (difficult) parts of their lives will fall into place,” White explains, elaborating that this train of thought just isn’t true.
A simple boundary to start with, and one of the most difficult ones for career people to justify, is setting work hours. Zimmerman’s suggestion? “Let folks in the office know that you will be available from 9-5, and then don’t answer the phone outside of those hours. (Unless you need to save a person or the world…that’s important.)”
Whether you’re working a corporate job, with a smaller business, or for yourself, Zimmerman suggests setting boundaries by implementing or updating existing contracts. This way, all parties involved know what the expectations are and are able to meet them fairly.
“If something happens without a contract, that relationship is broken – contracts protect and respect both parties when set up well.”
Another integral step to achieving balance is to know where your passions lie, and delegate what doesn’t bring you joy where you can.
“I used to think I had to do it all alone. That just served to overwhelm me and create major anxiety,” admits Zimmerman, who left her corporate job in entertainment marketing to start her own business in 2015.
“People come to me because what they are doing isn’t working, they are overwhelmed with having to do ALLTHETHINGS when it comes to business/visibility, or they just don’t know where to start. All of them come to me with so many ideas in their heads about what they are SUPPOSED to do, and I just help them unlearn that.”
When all else fails? Breathe. “Breathe. It’s paradoxically that simple and that hard,” explains Therapeutic Coach Callie David, MA, MFTC. “Breath is the quickest way to move from the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze) to the parasympathetic nervous system (calm and relaxed), hence bringing more balance and harmony into one’s life.”
Her other suggestions follow in the same vein, encouraging everyone to take things a little slower. “Nature is the best companion for calling in more balance. See if you can spend 15 to 20 minutes outdoors per day, and try to be as present as possible to the sounds and sights before you.
“Scientific studies have shown that just 5 minutes of meditation a day lowers your blood pressure, lowers your heart rate, and lowers your cortisol (stress hormone) levels,” elaborates White.
“Most importantly, though, meditation increases your clarity and your ability to make good decisions and make them quickly.”
Find moments to slow down and allow yourself – and the world around you – some compassion. That deadline you are stressing over will be handled in a much more efficient and productive manner if you have experienced mental clarity and relaxation.
When all is said and done, not every day is going to bring rainbows and sunshine into your life. “There will be times where work needs to take your focus. And that is OK.” Zimmerman clarifies.
“But, I think an equal balance every day of your life just isn’t possible, and we need to accept that, simplify, and grow from there. I feel like connecting folks and simplifying processes and ideas really help show people that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, not all things have to be as hard as we make them/let them, and that they have someone in their corner supporting their work and boundaries so they CAN get to their non-negotiables.”
Work is a priority, but it doesn’t have to be your own priority. Engage in your passions, and find comfort in the quiet hours between jumping through career hoops.