Work-life balance is a big topic in the news today. American workers are spending more time at the office and less time at home. This is causing stress, less time with kids, relationship, and health problems which may be avoided with a mindful approach to how you spend your time at work and away.
If you’re starting your own business, this problem is even larger. Most CEOs and founders know that even though you own the business, the business owns you (to some extent, at least), and work-life balance is a constant struggle. Some tasks can be delegated to employees, but many, like writing your business plan and managing your cash flow, need to be done by you and you alone. But there are only so many hours in the day. Think about this — just searching for financing takes business owners 26 hours on average. That’s a lot of time and effort for one person to take on while having a life outside the business.
We sifted through some of the tricks and tips to find eight ways to get the most enjoyment out of your free time and maximize your work-life balance.
1. Get your beauty rest.
No matter your job, odds are you feel busy every day and can hardly find enough time to get enough sleep. However, the CDC calls insufficient sleep in the U.S. a public health problem, and one that you can help solve in your own household. A recent study defined a “healthy” night sleep as at least seven hours, and 35% of Americans are not reaching that number.
Getting those hours in bed will ensure you are refreshed and able to reach peak productivity at work so you can actually enjoy every minute you get away. The average bedtime in the U.S. ranges from around 10:30 p.m. in Hawaii to as late as 12:07 a.m. in Brooklyn. Maybe those happy people in Hawaii have figured something out that the rest of us haven’t? Get to bed on time to make your awake time as enjoyable as possible.
2. Make time for health and exercise.
Many companies today have shifted to a combined paid time off, or PTO, system where sick time and vacation time are not broken out. I spent the majority of my career under this type of system, and I never wanted to use a day for anything other than vacation and travel. That meant avoiding sick days whenever possible.
One way to avoid getting sick is to exercise more frequently. Regular exercise is proven to boost your immune system and give you more energy for a better overall day. A European study found that people who engage in “strenuous physical activity” at least three times each week take less sick time, which opens up more days for vacation. An article in the Harvard Business Review discusses a recent survey of busy working adults regarding their work-life balance and exercise. The study found that “those respondents who reported regular exercise were less likely to experience conflict between their work and home roles.”
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3. Turn off your email at night.
Last year The Atlantic reported that 80% of people view the ability to work from home as a “somewhat positive” or “strongly positive” trend. Interestingly, The Atlantic took a look at its own staff email use and 100% checked email outside of regular working hours.
More and more employees feel pressure to be on call 24/7, but this is not a healthy way to work or live. It can lead to burnout and poor performance. While you may need to check email in the evening during busy seasons or when deadlines are approaching, do not make it a habit. Instead, keep work email separate from your personal email and personal life. Put down your work smartphone and laptop at the door and resist the temptation to check in until you return in the morning.
If you need help with this and suffer from smartphone addiction, you can take advantage of settings on your phone to disable email during specific hours or turn off the notifications from your emails outside of work hours. Check out these six apps to improve your work-life balance.
4. Make the most of your weekends.
The average American worker gets 10 paid days off per year, compared to Europe where most countries require employers offer at least 20 days by law. With only 10 days off, it might feel like work is eating up all of your time.
The work week doesn’t end on Friday at 5 p.m. for entrepreneurs, but you should try to take advantage of as many weekend hours as you can. That is 104 days per year to do (nearly) anything you’d like. Whether your mood calls for a weekend getaway at a resort destination near home, camping or hiking, or a day at a local amusement park with the kids, make sure to take advantage of those precious weekend days. And if you need to manage a storefront or be on-call for emergencies at your business, try to limit your hours of responsibility and delegate some of that time to an employee if possible.
5. Use your vacation days.
With only 10 vacation days per year, you would think everyone would be rushing to use every single day off they can get. But that’s not the case! A recent survey found that half of Americans leave at least some vacation days on the table every year. Workers are leaving a median seven days on the table each year, according to the study.
Your relationships, health and work-life balance suffer if you don’t use those days. 60% of workers from ages 18-25 are leaving vacation time unused, with 25% of that group using no vacation at all! Don’t try to be a superhero and work 365 days per year. Take those vacation days and put them to good use. You’ve earned them.
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6. Plan a ‘no working day’ at least once every month.
Last year my friend Jeff Rose, a CFP and online entrepreneur, posted on Facebook that he was implementing “zero work days” in his schedule and challenged his friends to join. I saw a group of excited friends join in the challenge, and all reported a wonderful experience.
Some of them left their phones at home while going for a day out with the family. Others just made a rule that work email and work in general are out for the entire 24 hours. Doing this once every month can lead to huge mental health benefits, and feelings of a better work-life balance.
7. Take up a hobby you enjoy.
When I still had a day job and was side hustling on evenings and weekends, it felt like I had zero free hours. It turns out, I had plenty of time that I was wasting every week and could make time for a hobby. After a one-hour flight lesson, I received as a gift, I was hooked and decided to earn my private pilot license.
Earning my pilot’s license required 40+ hours of flight time, many hours of ground instruction with an instructor, and countless hours of studying and preparation for flights and exams, plus the 40-minute drive each way to the airport. With a full-time job, a $40,000/year side hustle and a family, I still found time to get my license. Enjoying that time for an activity I loved was great for my stress level, work-life balance and created amazing memories and experiences along the way.
8. Never kill time and limit TV.
The expression “killing time” is a major pet peeve for me. Why? Everyone has limited time per day, but people often complain about being “too busy” to do everything. Maybe the issue isn’t having enough time, but how people are using it?
On average, we spend over 5 hours per day watching TV. That is 35 hours per week, almost an entire full-time job! If you spend as much time watching TV as you do working, it is time to make a change. Put those hours to better use!
At the same time, people often write on social media that they are “killing time” or “bored.” Stop being bored! You get 125,600 minutes every year. Assuming you spend 1/3 working and 1/3 sleeping, you get 1/3 of your life every year to do anything you want. Do not waste, squander or kill those hours. Use them with friends, family and for activities you love and enjoy. To maximize your work-life balance, you have to get out there and do some living!
How to start taking control of your work-life balance
It is easy to drift through the days spending time at work and zoning out in front of the boob tube, but that isn’t any way to live. For a healthy, productive and meaningful life, you have to take ownership of your schedule and your work-life balance. Stop blaming work — successful CEOs of multi-billion-dollar companies still manage to have fun, enjoy family and travel. Instead, take action and make sure your free hours count. If you do, you’re on track to a great work-life balance for good.