How to Find Work-Life Balance at Every Stage of Your Career
We all have different schedules, commitments and professional goals, but there’s one thing we all have in common: the constant struggle of finding work-life balance. Figuring out the right ratio of work to play takes time and experimentation, but it’s the most important thing we can do to lead happy lives. In the legal field especially, the right work-life balance is necessary to avoid burnout.
This was one of the topics of conversation at the 2019 Public Relations Society of America International Conference. Jamie Meredith, Jennie Whitaker and Jennifer Heinly—three PR professionals in different phases of their careers—presented “Finding a Work-Life Balance Spanning Generations and Workplaces,” where they offered their own tips for finding balance through professional changes. Here are some of their insights that resonated with us.
Your Needs Depend on Your Generation and Career Stage
There is no one pathway to an ideal work-life balance—it depends on your career goals, priorities and values, which change over time. A managing partner with kids will have a vastly different lifestyle than when they were a recent graduate building their book of business, and that lifestyle will change again when they head towards retirement.
Aside from the changing demands of life, culture and age also have a significant impact on your desired work-life balance. For example, Baby Boomers are more likely to not make work-life balance a priority (or at least not at the beginning of their careers). Born in the wake of World War II, this generation was taught the importance of hard work, without much thought for needing balance. However, this lifestyle is often unsustainable, especially as you enter what’s likely the highest level of your career. If you haven’t given much thought to work-life balance, it’s not too late to readjust and enjoy your last years of work before retirement.
Gen Xers, on the other hand, swung the other direction after seeing their Baby Boomer parents work long hours. Members of this generation (born between 1961 and 1980) tend to prioritize work-life balance and flexibility in their careers. Fortunately, Gen Xers have the opportunity to take advantage of telecommuting and family leave policies, and for those who have yet to do so, try boosting your professional happiness by finding more autonomy at work.
Finally, despite Millennials being stereotyped as having a low work ethic, studies show that’s not the case. Millennials actually work more hours per day than generations before them, primarily because they’re driven to pay off student loans. However, this generation’s vocal desire for work-life balance has led to exponential changes to the workplace as we know it, from flexible hours and telecommuting opportunities, to co-working spaces, progressive family leave policies and pets being allowed in offices. If you’re a young professional, it’s important to find a work environment that allows you to excel professionally while maintaining your hobbies and relationships outside of the office. Settling for any other job will only set you up for unhappiness.
Strategies for Finding Work-Life Balance
Reflecting on your ideal work-life balance is only step one. Step two is determining the changes that need to be implemented to achieve that balance.
There are endless combinations of how you can divide up your time and create healthy habits that work for your desired balance, but the panelists shared what worked for them. If you’re struggling to find a work-life balance that makes sense for you, try some of these strategies as a starting point.
- Get up earlier: If you’re used to staying up late, setting your alarm for an hour or two earlier can seem impossible. But if you stick it out, getting up earlier can transform your life. It gives you space in the morning to reflect and prepare for your day, plus it creates more time to work out, read or eat a healthy breakfast. Try getting up five minutes earlier each day and eventually, you will have built up to an extra hour in the morning.
- Meditate: Meditation has incredible benefits, ranging from better sleep to decreased pain, stress and anxiety. Creating a regular meditation practice can help keep you grounded and reduce the stresses of work, especially for those in fast-paced or high-stress professions. Try starting with just two minutes of meditation using an app such as Headspace or Calm.
- Outsource: A key component of balance includes accepting that you can’t do everything, and determining what can be outsourced or delegated to others. Decide which tasks are the most important to you and which tasks you’re okay with letting go. From delegating to others on your team, to using a grocery shopping or meal prep service, learning when to say “no” frees up your time to focus on what’s really important to you.
- Give up the non-essentials: We’re all stretched for time and it’s often because we aren’t managing our time properly or because we’re trying to cram too many activities into one day. Simplify your life by cutting out the things that don’t fulfill you to make room for those that do. That might mean cutting back on TV, being selective about the events you go to or the amount of time you spend on social media. This goes for stuff, too. The less you have, the less energy you need to put into taking care of it.
- Fill your “time buckets”: While there may be endless combinations of how you can divide your time, we only have a set number of hours each day/week, and dividing your time into “buckets” helps prioritize the things that really matter to you. As an exercise, try dividing your time into: work, family/friends, professional development, self-care, etc. Then, estimate how much time you’d like to devote to each bucket every week and try to fill each one. If something isn’t important to you, it doesn’t get a bucket.