Work can be exhausting. Most people can’t wait to turn in for the day, to give their brain a nice long break until next time… but somehow they get roped back in. Within just hours, sometimes minutes, of getting home, they’re checking their email; they’re listening to voicemails; they’re doing more work. This is not a healthy work-life balance—it’s very much the opposite. A healthy work-life balance means something different to every individual, but it ultimately enables you to attend to and fulfill all major areas of life. So, what’s the key to doing so? Well, there are actually a few!
The three keys to juggling work and your personal life, according to Licensed Psychologist Dr. Jesse Matthews, is planning ahead, prioritizing, and setting boundaries. “To have a good work-life balance, you need to remember these things, or else you will be flying by the seat of your pants, feeling unproductive, feeling like you can’t keep up, and ultimately you will become unhappy,” he says. To prevent that from happening, Matthews broke these larger categories down into more specific to-dos, which will help you find that sweet spot. Now, all you have to do is put them to good use:
Matthews’ first tip is to disconnect from the virtual work world as soon as you get home. “Put your phone away when you get home from work and put it on do not disturb if possible,” he says. “Try to be present for your family and allow yourself to disengage from work or to enjoy your personal time.”
2) Go all in or all out.
And when you aren’t at work—say you’re sick, you’ve taken a mental health day, it’s the weekend, or you’re on vacation—avoid those temptations to check in. Checking in might sound or feel like the responsible thing to do, but as Matthew says, “if you take a day off, take the day off. Do not check work email or call in to work for any reason, if possible.”
And for those times when you absolutely have to check in with work outside of your normal work hours, do so at an appropriate time. “Wait until the kids are in bed, until your partner goes to bed, or even wake up early to do your work,” Matthews advises. “These days, spillover of work into home life may be inevitable, but try to minimize the disruption that work may cause.”
4) Be efficient.
Also, make your hours at work count. Be productive, and manage your time well. “Do your best to be efficient at work, minimizing how much work you might have to take home—because sometimes work being brought home is avoidable,” says Matthews.
5) Establish boundaries.
It also helps to openly communicate with your boss and your coworkers about necessary boundaries. This way, “they will be more likely to respect your personal time,” according to Matthews. Remember, they’re people too—they have a life outside of work just like you and more likely than not, they’ll welcome these boundaries.
6) Plan ahead.
If you have a particularly heavy workload and know it will require some extra hours in the coming days or weeks, then outline a plan. “Plan when you can do work at home and it will cause the least amount of disruption. Plan your work day so you can be more productive. Plan your week or month to whatever extent you can, which may allow you to work more efficiently and to get more done,” Matthews says.
7) Practice patience.
Matthews says that you should also practice patience—even if you do see a couple emails coming in or your work phone goes off. “Don’t answer your phone if it’s a work call during your personal time, if possible ( this is another way of setting a boundary). If you have a voicemail, listen to it to see if it’s anything critical. If not, let it wait until the next day,” he says.
8) Stay in control.
And if you do give in (answer a couple emails or listen to that voicemail) don’t get completely sucked in. “If you do happen to check work email when you’re not at work, don’t feel obligated to respond right then and there—unless, of course, it is something time-sensitive and important,” Matthews adds.
9) Prioritize personal time.
Remember that work is not the only important thing in your life, and it should not be your only priority. In fact, there are at least a few other things you should put first: your loved ones. “Schedule time for you, your children, your partner, or with friends or other family. If you do this, you’re making it a priority, and are less likely to let things like work interfere,” Matthews explains
And finally, make up for the extra hours you put in at work as well as the ones you spend at home: “If you worked late last night, try not to tonight,” Matthews says. “And vice versa, if you blew off work last night to binge watch a show with your wife, tell her you must get some work done tonight. We need to set boundaries with our loved ones too.”