When you work remotely—as so many people are doing in the age of COVID-19—there’s no natural boundary between your workday and the rest of your life. Jackie Gaines, an award-winning senior executive with more than 40 years of sustained leadership experience, shows you how to build and maintain greater work/life balance so work doesn’t take over everything else.
According to a recent report, the average “pandemic workday” is 48.5 minutes longer than before. It also shows we are attending about 13% more meetings and sending 1.4 more emails per day to our colleagues. But this uptick in productivity has a downside: It’s destroying many people’s work/life balance.
“Our work/life balance is already in jeopardy thanks to the impact of COVID-19,” says Gaines, author of Wearing the Yellow Suit: A Guide for Women in Leadership. “Extended workdays only intensify the situation. We are all working hard at our jobs while trying to homeschool our kids, keep the household in order, and still carve out time to connect with loved ones and enjoy our lives. It’s a challenge for everyone.”
When you work from home, the “workday” becomes a slippery slope—especially when you’re constantly interrupted by your kids to help them get their schoolwork done online. If you’re not careful, meeting your work demands in this chaotic environment can crowd out your other priorities. But Gaines says you can take back control by getting very intentional about protecting your work/life balance in these unusual times.
“We all need time to recharge from work,” says Gaines. “By setting some healthy habits for greater balance, you’ll be a much better employee or leader during work hours, and you’ll have more energy and focus for the other things you value.”
Here is your to-do list for living a balanced life:
Recognize the need for balance and commit to addressing it in your life. If you just devote all your time to work, then you’re going to be neglecting the social, spiritual, and a multitude of other important aspects of your life. Be a whole person; be fulfilled in all different aspects of your life.
Figure out what works for you. The “right balance” is a very personal thing and will change for each person at different times in their lives. There is no “one-size-fits-all.” What we need as a young adult is very different from what we need in our senior years … it also may be very different based on our culture, our gender, or any variety of factors. The point is … it is unique for each of us, but definitely something that we all require in our lives.
Beware of the technology chains that bind. Cell phones and PCs blur the distinction between work and personal time. Don’t fall victim to this temptation.
“In the age of nonstop virtual work meetings, you’re probably already sick of technology by the end of the workday,” says Gaines. “Spend time outside of work away from your devices. Have a conversation with someone in your household. Take a short walk for fresh air. Read a chapter in a book.”
Use your faith to help put life into perspective. “Faith makes all things possible,” says Gaines. “It offers me a healthy way to balance all personal, interpersonal, work-related, and community responsibilities. It is a rock to stand on in this crazy world … strength.”
Be organized. The most important issues related to having a good balance are organization, planning, and time management. This could mean planning meals a week in advance, laying out clothes the night before, and spending as much evening time with young children as possible.
Recognize that balance takes work. Balance is a necessary part of life—especially right now. It’s up to you to manage it. The choices made have costs and benefits associated with them. It is something that always has to be kept in mind to ensure that no component is neglected for too long. Here are some choices to think about:
- Consciously separate work and home.
- Consciously put family first.
- Work fewer hours. In work-from-home scenarios, set boundaries between work time and leisure time.
- Choose shift work so one partner is home to care for other family members.
- Learn to make do with less.
Have goals. Know your goal and plan accordingly. Know your priorities in life and what’s important.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. “I don’t stress out about daily life situations and I remember how fortunate I am to be healthy and safe,” says Gaines. “Most of all, you live only once and you need to strive for what you want and make the best of it. I don’t want to regret anything I didn’t do now when I am older.”
Enjoy life—focus on what is going well, not what is stressful. Take time to play, laugh, love, work, cry together, and respect each other. We all make mistakes at home and work. Take time for yourself and smile.
Remain fit and use exercise as a way to deal with stress. “I feel people who exercise regularly are better able to handle stress,” says Gaines. “Whether it’s 5:00 a.m. or 6:00 in the evening, exercising can improve the quality of your day. I also believe in recognizing the need for leisure activities that you enjoy, feeling connected to the community, and having goals for the future.”
Make a date with yourself. “You have probably heard about this trend for married couples to have a date night actually scheduled,” says Gaines. “I would like to push you into starting a new trend: date night, or morning … lunch … weekend … with yourself. If scheduling works best for you (it does for me), go for it! During your date time, do whatever it is that makes you happy—exercise, read, meditate, pray—whatever gives you just a small break for yourself. You will be surprised at the change you immediately start to feel in the quality of your life.”
Remember, there is no magic pill that helps you find balance. We have to spark that journey in ourselves or continue on the cycle of madness. Finding balance has to be a priority.
“A balanced life does not equate to 50/50 at all times either,” concludes Gaines. “However, if we are always running crazy, we will eventually implode. Strive to tilt the scales in the other direction periodically.”