In grade school, I wanted to be a gymnast, and thus spent afternoons at the gym doing cartwheels and handstands and wondering if I’d ever be skilled enough to do those things on the balance beam. Well, by the time I quit gymnastics, I hadn’t done a cartwheel on the balance beam. But keeping my balance is a skill that I still pursue, especially when it comes to maintaining work life balance as a young professional.
In this post, I’ll answer the basic “what is work life balance” question and also cover the benefits of maintaining work life balance and general advice for achieving work life balance.
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Understanding Work Life Balance
Lately, I feel like the topic of work life balance is on everyone’s mind. Particularly because working from home during COVID-19 has blurred the lines between work-life and life-life more than ever before.
Well, the good news is that you and I can still cling to work life balance. We can remind ourselves that maintaining the balancing act is about making sure that work doesn’t overcome life or vise versa.
Work life balance may be brand new to us or something we’ve been talking about for ages…either way, it’s something we can always improve and adjust as life takes its course.
What is work life balance and why is it important?
For me, maintaining work life balance means pursuing well-roundedness in all areas of your life. It means not sacrificing one area for the gain of another area, and the best illustration I’ve found for that is college applications.
Do you remember applying to college? You may have taken the SAT or the ACT multiple times to get your score as high as possible before sending in your application.
But oftentimes on the admissions websites, the university would say something like, “we are looking for well-rounded candidates,” or “test scores and GPA, while important, are not the only aspects the admissions team considers.”
That means the person who scores a perfect score on the SAT also needs to be involved in extracurricular activities. In the same way, you don’t want a life that is too heavily focusing on one thing and causing other areas of life to suffer, which leads me to…
The importance of maintaining work life balance
But wait. As young professionals, we aren’t packaging our lives into an application for college admission. (Unless of course, you are considering going to graduate school, in which case, definitely an angle you want to consider.)
So, what’s the importance of maintaining work life balance anyway?
Scarcity! We live in a world with scarce or limited resources. We have limited resources, time, and energy.
Time spent on one thing leaves less time for the next thing. Likewise, energy used to complete one activity leaves less energy for the next.
In order to have enough time, energy, and resources to fulfill our responsibilities at work and be able to do the things we want to do outside of work, we need work life balance. Otherwise, one of the areas will be negatively impacted because we’ll run out of resources to devote to it.
The best way to avoid those negative impacts is work life balance, and just the fact that you’re thinking about it is a step in the right direction.
The Proper Mindset for Achieving Work Life Balance
Sadly, achieving work life balance is not something that happens overnight. And once you achieve it, you don’t receive a gold medal or a trophy. Why? Because you may have great work life balance one day and find yourself struggling the next.
That’s definitely okay and normal! Circumstances change. Jobs change. Days change. Seasons of life change.
These are all things that we need to acknowledge when thinking about achieving work life balance. Giving ourselves the grace to fail, adapt, and “roll with the punches” is so important. We need to let go of the ideal vision of work life balance we picture in our heads, and instead ask God what work life balance may look like in the current season of life where He has us.
Here is an example from my story of achieving work life balance.
Defining Your Own Work Life Balance
When I got close to entering the workforce, I had some ideas in my head of what it would look like to be working full time. Some of those ideas, I formed during my time as an intern at 3 very different companies. At all of those companies, I was at the mercy of a clock-in/clock-out system or was expected to leave my laptop at the office when I left for the day.
But full time, I knew that there wouldn’t be any built-in boundaries since I would be an employee and not an intern. So, when I started to imagine my young professional lifestyle working full-time, I thought about the adults in my life that I’d observed working.
As I thought about each person, their job, and their unique situation, I started to see a trend that frightened me. Long hours, late nights, pulling out the laptop after leaving the office, or checking emails while on vacation.
Like the city that never sleeps, full-time jobs must be the work that never stops!
So in a sense, my thoughts about work life balance were formed by watching the generation before me.
Work Life Balance in other countries
But wait! Then I went overseas and experienced a totally different “work life balance” culture. During my time as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Andorra, I learned that Andorrans had a completely different definition of work life balance from the one I was accustomed to.
- Here are just some of the things that shocked me:
- At about 10am, everyone left the office for a coffee break.
- Everyone had at least 1.5 hours for lunch. Most people went home, cooked lunch, and ate with their families.
- Teachers only worked 20 hours a week(!).
- Everyone had, at least, 5 weeks of paid vacation, if not more.
- Everyone complained that they didn’t have enough vacation compared to their neighboring countries (ie. France where most people had 7-8 weeks of vacation).
The most interesting aspect of work life balance while I was in France, Spain, and Andorra, was that everyone had the mentality that if work didn’t get done–that was okay.
The work would still be there the next day, and having meals and spending time with family was more important. While that was frustrating since there was very little sense of urgency, I did admire how time for family was naturally worked into work schedules in those countries. It was almost as if the work life balance boundaries had already been set for employees.
Being Proactive about Work Life Balance
While I was abroad, I noticed that other countries looked down on Americans when it came to our work culture. People would often say to me that they didn’t like how Americans never took vacation, were always working late at the office, or were overly stressed about work.
I kept that in mind as when I started researching companies that I wanted to work for. I knew work life balance was going to be something that was challenging to manage and maintain. I’d seen so many people not succeed at leaving work at work and letting it flood into the other areas of their lives.
So I went into my job interviews with the mentality that I wanted to be on the offensive when it comes to work life balance not the defense. I wanted to be ahead of the game, establishing good work habits, and working at a company that respected the work life boundaries I wanted.
After interviews, I reached out to people in my network to ask them what their work life balance was really like at that company so I knew what I was going into. I wanted to have the freedom to define my own work life balance.
What is a good work life balance?
So I did a lot of thinking, a lot of observing, and a lot of researching. I’m sure you’re interested to know the final verdict.
- So what is a good work life balance?
- Getting your work done in a timely, reasonable manner
- Realistic work expectations and deadlines agreed upon by you and your boss
- Taking breaks throughout the work day
- Using ALL of your vacation days
- Spending time with family and friends–with your work laptop closed and your work phone put away
- Not placing an overemphasis on work
- Not getting stressed and losing sleep over work
- Having time to care for yourself and do the things that you enjoy
- Flexibility to work during the best hours for you and your family when you can be focused
- Always changing–depending on the job, the time of year, the industry, etc.
The last point I will touch on again later because understanding that work life balance changes is key. But remember that even when it does change, you have the power to reshape it to be what it needs to be for you.
Now that we’ve done the soul-searching, here are 9 benefits of maintaining a good work life balance.
Benefits of Maintaining a Good Work Life Balance
There are two sides to every coin, and likewise there are two sides to the benefits of maintaining a healthy work life balance. I’ve broken down my benefits into two lists. One shows how maintaining a good-work life balance can benefit your work while the other demonstrates how it can benefit your non-work life.
What are the work benefits of work life balance?
- Increase Productivity
- By having set boundaries around when you will work and will not work, you will have extra motivation to get your tasks done in a timely manner. The feeling of knowing that you’ll be able to step away from your desk at the end of the day (and not return) will motivate you to work more effectively and efficiently, increasing your overall productivity.
- Better Work
- I’ve found that having a healthy work life balance leads to much better work products. When you step away from work and focus on something else for a while, you can clear your head. So, when you come back to whatever you were working on, you have fresh perspectives, hopefully some new ideas, and new found energy to work with.
- Avoid Burnout
- Unlike college where we had winter breaks and summer vacation, there are no long breaks in the corporate world, unless you’re taking time unpaid. For that reason, we as young professionals, have to make sure we’re carving out time to rest and rejuvenate. Otherwise, we’ll end up getting burned out and all areas of life will suffer, work included. Yep, working too much can actually hurt your ability to work and give you negative feelings about work. This leads me to my next point.
- Better Attitude
- No one wants to resent their work. Getting up on Monday morning is hard enough without the added frustration of going to a job that takes up all of your time and drains your spirit. But by having a healthy work life balance, we can stop resenting work for taking up all of our time and energy and instead enjoy it fully, since we know it won’t suck up all of our time and energy reserves.
- More Focus and Less Distractions
- Work Life Balance helps us combat busyness and distractions. Oftentimes, we try to multitask by doing “work” things and “life” things at the same time. But the result is that we give half of our effort to each one and make minimal progress. Your “work” task distracts you from your “life” task which distracts you from your “work” task…the cycle is endless. With a healthy work life balance, we don’t have to feel pressured to do things simultaneously because we know that we’ll have sufficient time and energy or both things. This helps us stay more focused, make more progress, and cuts down on the number of distracts interrupting work-life and life-life.
What are the benefits of work life balance for your personal life?
- More Time with Family and Friends:
- This benefit doesn’t need much explanation, but I will add one thing. Better work life balance allows us to have more undistracted, meaningful time with family and friends. I’ll be the first to admit that I catch myself looking at my phone or laptop while one of my friends is talking to me or I’m having coffee with a family member. I have to remind myself that I’m missing out on meaningful interactions with people I care about because I’ve let work seep into other areas of my life.
- Time to do Things that You Enjoy
- Whether you really enjoy your profession or not, chances are you also want to have time and energy to do the things that you enjoy (even though they don’t make you any money). Having the energy to do the things you love means not exhausting yourself at work. With good work life balance, you can set aside time to do those things.
- Better, Relaxing Vacations
- It’s hard to enjoy a vacation and relax when you have your laptop in your suitcase or your work phone is ringing in your pocket. However, you can set up clear channels for people to handle any problems while you’re out of the office so you can enjoy your vacation, relax, and unwind. With a healthy work life balance, you can take advantage of the time away without worrying about what’s going on in your absence.
- Dedicated Time with God:
- If I’m being honest, time with God is usually the first thing that gets cut when life gets busy, and I know it shouldn’t be. I’ve noticed that my entire attitude and demeanor at work changes when I haven’t had my Jesus in the morning. But by maintaining a good work life balance, I have dedicated time to spend with God, in my Bible, and in prayer. It encourages me daily and keeps me refreshed in my work and personal life. (So I guess this one is technically a benefit of both!)
Now that you understand the benefits of maintaining work life balance and have the right mindset, here is some advice on how to achieve work life balance.
General Advice for Achieving and Maintaining Work Life Balance
When most people talk about balancing work and life responsibilities, it’s usually from the point of view of spending less time on work. While it’s easier to put an over-emphasis on work, the opposite is also true.
Maintaining work life balance means having a scale that is stable and won’t tip towards either side. It truly is a balancing act.
Just as you can work too much, you can “life” too much, too. At the end of the day, remember that you were hired into a certain role with specific responsibilities. Your job is to meet those responsibilities, get your work done, and do it in a timely manner.
Trust me, you don’t want a life-life balance where your work becomes unsatisfactory. Work is important, too.
How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
So my best advice for maintaining work life balance is to remember that your security and identity is in Jesus Christ and no one else and nothing else.
If work becomes everything for me, then what happens if I lose my job? If my relationships are everything, then what happens if one of them ends? If my church community is everything, what happens when I move cities?
My hope needs to be in Jesus Christ, and my security needs to be in Him, too. Because where my hope is matters, and the only thing that will never disappoint is Christ.
Don’t put an overemphasis on work, achievement, money, or materials. All of those things will pass away. Money, you can always earn more of. But time with your family, friends, and doing the things that you love, that can never be earned back once it’s lost.
Related: The Best Career Advice I Ever Got – Enjoy the Journey
How do you create work life balance?
Like most things, there is not a special formula for how to achieve work life balance. But boy, wouldn’t it be neat if there were?
Much like the handling adulting, maintaining work life balance is something that you learn and work at overtime.
It looks different in different industries, during different times of the year, at different companies, and for different positions. Over the course of our lives, it will probably look different as well.
I know it’s tempting, but we have to stop thinking of everything as a destination and stop overlooking the journey. Otherwise, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we don’t measure up.
That being said, being intentional is vital to creating a healthy work life balance. Deciding to prioritize work life balance means being purposeful in how you spend your time and energy.
To create work life balance, you have to make a conscious decision that your time is valuable, and it is the one thing you can never get back.
So keep working at it. Take baby steps. Lean on God our Father for support and allow him to lead you through this season. He’ll help you achieve the work life balance that’s right for you.
So, how do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
Leave me a comment below!
Don’t miss this! More posts about Working and the Young Professional Lifestyle:
- 8 Tips for Staying Productive at Work (When You’re Not Feeling it)
- Importance of Challenging Yourself and Being Challenged at Work
- Best Career Advice I Ever Got — Perfect for Young Adults
- Valuable Career Advice for Young Professionals — Peer Approved
Featured Images: Matthew Turner via Pexel, created with Canva (1); From Pixabay, created with Canva (2).
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