There’s one important life skill they don’t teach you at uni. When I was a student, fitting sleep, social life, and working out into my five-classes-a-week schedule was a breeze. Fast-forward a couple of years and here I am working full-time and barely squeezing a shower into my work week routine. University prepared me for a work environment where I have total freedom to plan my day as I please. Nine-to-five office life, on the other hand? Not so much.
Feeling overwhelmed, I decided to turn to TQ community for help and ask some of the entrepreneurs who work from our tech hub how they manage their work-life balance. The answers were disheartening. Let’s just say I heard the joke “What even is work-life balance?” way too many times. Things weren’t looking good for my article or for my sanity.
But with enough persistence and a great Slack network, I finally found a few lucky people who either had their work-life balance figured out or were at least heading in the right direction. Here are the tips they gave me on working full-time and staying sane:
1. Reclaim your mental space
When it comes to productivity, working more doesn’t always mean getting more stuff done. In fact, a Stanford University study revealed that people who work 50 hours a week and more are dramatically less productive than those working 40 hours. It might sound counterintuitive, but working less sometimes means getting more done — strategies like the Pomodoro technique promote the idea that taking regular breaks boosts overall productivity.
Speaking to people with a healthy work-life balance, I discovered two things about taking breaks they all had in common. Firstly, they block a time slot for a midday break in their daily schedules and they stick to it religiously. Secondly, it’s not just any type of break that will do: you need to step away from your screen and give yourself time to fully disconnect.
Mia Bijman, Customer Success Manager at Honeypot, takes a 30-minute walk around central Amsterdam every day. “I leave my phone in the office and I allow myself to completely disconnect from the world and focus on me for those 30 minutes,” she explained. “Afterwards, I feel re-energized and more productive for the second part of the day.”
Daniel Reisman, our very own Commercial Project Manager at TQ, combines a 15-minute walk with a 15-minute meditation session. Meditation, he said, helps him to see his thoughts for what they are – just thoughts. “This allows me to be more relaxed in stressful situations. When I have a negative thought, I observe it and let it go just like you do when you meditate.”
One thing became clear from these conversations: Mia and Daniel use breaks to reclaim their own mental space. In a stressful and fast-paced environment, taking a moment to reconnect with your own thoughts helps to regain a sense of autonomy and control.
2. Fully disconnect during your holiday
40 percent of Americans leave unused vacation days and many of us here in Europe are guilty of refusing ourselves well-deserved rest too. And even when we do go on holiday, we often continue to check emails and Slack — mentally still consumed by work obligations.
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Leonardo Piumi, Head of Social Content at Tripaneer, noticed that being disconnected has become the new luxury for office-workers. Tripaneer is a marketplace for travel experiences connecting travelers with trip organizers and a growing part of their offerings are now yoga and meditation retreats. Evidence suggests that yoga might have therapeutic effects, such as stress reduction or improved sleep — just what the perpetually strained modern workforce needs.
“We’re tired of being constantly connected. This is why these retreats are so successful: you can leave everything behind and fully immerse yourself in the experience,” Piumi explained. “On our platform, we even have silent meditation retreats where participants are not allowed to talk. People want to completely separate themselves from the overstimulating reality of modern work-life.”
But that doesn’t mean the only way to relax is by going on a yoga retreat. Any extended time off will benefit your mental and physical health and make you more productive in the long run. As long as you allow yourself to enjoy your holiday guilt-free (and email-free), it doesn’t matter if it’s hiking, sightseeing, or taking a language course.
3. Customize your work routine
The nine-to-five workday is still a blueprint for how most companies operate but many professionals find it doesn’t benefit them. When Best Buy rolled out its Results-Only Work Environment scheme (workers could work whenever and wherever they wanted), the voluntary turnover went down by 90 percent and productivity increased by 41 percent. The optimal work routine looks different for everyone and if yours doesn’t happen to fall between the usual business hours, it’s time to customize.
“The most important thing to maintain my work-life balance is working in a way that suits my own biological rhythm,” emphasized Rita Wittek, People Operations Manager at Homerun. “I’m a morning person so I like to start working early. But since it’s not healthy to sit behind a desk all day I often leave the office mid-day to catch a class at the gym before lunch. My company supports working remotely so I make use of that too.”
For Nicole Friesen, Scribbr’s Community Manager, mixing things up once in a while is very helpful. “Getting away from my routine and familiar environment means a lot to me,” she explained. “I highly recommend talking to your manager and taking advantage of any flexible-work opportunities there might be: working remotely, leaving the office early to pursue a hobby that makes you feel good, or taking extra holidays if you need a break.”
When it comes to work, breaking the mould can be scary. Friesen admitted to feeling nervous before she took the big step and asked her employer to work remotely for six weeks. “No one in our company had ever done this before,” she recalled. “But my manager actually loved the idea and was excited for me.”
Which brings me to my next point…
4. Choose an employer who puts you first
The ability to adjust your work schedule to your needs is a privilege — not all managers embrace the idea of remote and flexible work, especially in more conservative companies. If a healthy work routine really matters to you, you shouldn’t leave it to chance. Talk about your needs during the job application process and factor work culture into decision-making when considering your next career move.
Jules van Bruggen, CEO of Sitly, is convinced that freedom to determine when and where you work is essential to every company’s success. “I truly believe this is a win-win for both employees and employers. The happier everyone in the company is, the more effective they are at their work. This is why promoting good work-life balance is incorporated into our company culture at Sitly.”
As Sitly discovered, work pressure takes the heaviest toll on working parents. The results of research they carried out are shocking — 62 percent of Dutch mothers are so busy with work and family obligations they don’t have any time for themselves. Van Bruggen stressed that finding an employer who sympathizes with the challenges of combining parenthood and career is crucial to a happier personal life.
5. Draw boundaries
Boundaries are key in any relationship and your relationship with work is no different. But with our constant connectedness, it becomes more and more difficult to separate personal and professional lives. Receiving work emails and Slack messages makes you feel accountable, even if it’s long past your work hours or on the weekend.
Rita Wittek gives a radical piece of advice: simply delete work email and the Slack app from your phone. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Our excessive use of phones wired us to get a dopamine rush whenever a new notification pops up on the screen making it almost impossible to ignore them. You can test your willpower every time you get an email from a client… or you can get rid of any temptations in the first place. I know what I’m choosing.
Getting a good work-life balance is so challenging because there isn’t a straightforward way of getting there. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. And the truth is, work-life balance is really a moving target. As the different aspects of your life change, a fulfilling routine will come to take different shapes. So my best advice to all of us is really just: Good luck!
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