Work-Life Balance: What It Is and 5 Ways to Improve Yours

What is work-life balance?

Work-life balance is typically defined as the amount of time you spend doing your job versus the amount of time you spend doing what’s important to you outside of work, whether that is with loved ones or pursuing personal interests and hobbies [1]. When work demands more of your time or attention, you’ll have less time to handle your other responsibilities or passions.

Many people want to achieve a greater balance between their work life and their personal life. But in practice, it can be difficult to achieve. Sometimes a demanding job means more money to support a family. Sometimes a job contributes to deteriorating your mental health, which then leaves you drained in personal relationships.

Work-life integration—or the synergistic blending of our personal and professional responsibilities—has become an increasingly popular concept [2]. Work is simply one aspect of our lives that needs to be considered alongside other our home and family lives, our community, and our personal well-being. Rather than resembling a scale with two competing sides, work-life integration more resembles a Venn diagram of overlapping interests.

Why is work-life balance important?

Improving your work-life balance can improve your overall well-being, including your physical, emotional, and mental health. Studies have found that working long hours can lead to such serious health issues as “impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease” [3]. Unfortunately, as these conditions arise they can also exacerbate our work-life issues, leading to burnout and other negative repercussions.

While employers and employees might associate long working hours with increased productivity, many researchers say otherwise. A 2014 study, for example, found that after workers hit a certain number of hours, their productivity began to decrease as the potential for mistakes and injuries increased [4]. Achieving a healthy work-life balance can reduce stress and increase overall productivity.

Read more: How to Recover from Burnout

What does work-life balance look like?

The unique nature of each of our lives and our fluctuating responsibilities means that work-life balance and work-life integration look different for everyone. It’s a constant negotiation about how—and where—you spend your time. In striving for greater work-life balance, you get to determine your priorities, whether they’re related to your work or personal life.

Some examples include:

  • A stay-at-home parent who tackles work assignments while their newborn is napping.
  • A student who prioritizes spending time with their friends rather than rushing to study for an upcoming midterm exam.
  • A lawyer who consciously unplugs when on vacation.
  • A new employee who dedicates extra time to tasks and responsibilities.
  • A manager who establishes communications boundaries and won’t respond to emails after 6 p.m.
  • An employee who crafts their schedule to work specific days so that they can take care of their elderly parents

Read more: How to Set Boundaries at Work


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5 ways to improve your work-life balance 

Below, we’ve compiled tips for improving your work-life balance [5]. You can begin trying out one at a time or implementing a few at once. Remember that finding an approach that works for you is a process and will take time.

1. Pause and evaluate.

Take the time to understand how the various parts of your life are impacting one another. Pause and consider your current work-life situation; ask yourself how you feel. Some questions you might reflect on include:

  • Am I spending enough quality time doing what I really want? 
  • Am I committing enough time and energy to people or things that are meaningful to me? 
  • Do I still feel aligned with my professional or personal goals? Why or why not?
  • Where do I feel the most stuck? What is it about this situation that makes me feel that way?

As you think through these complex personal questions, journaling your thoughts and feelings can be a good way to identify the areas you feel need the biggest adjustments. Ultimately, these questions should help you gain greater clarity on your current situation.

2. Assess your priorities.

Once you have a better sense of what you’d like to adjust, you’ll want to begin identifying what you want to prioritize. Some questions you might ask yourself include:

  • What really matters to me and am I doing enough of it? 
  • Where can I make compromises? Where have I been making too many compromises?
  • What can I do to ensure I am devoting enough time to my goals and relationships?
  • Where can I integrate my responsibilities so I honor more than one at the same time?

3. Manage your time.

Now that you know what your priorities are—whether that’s spending more time at work to aim for a promotion or cutting back on after-hours emails by establishing boundaries—it’s important to figure out how to better manage your time.

Review how you currently spend your time and look for ways to adjust your schedule where possible. You can «block» your time as a way to focus on one area at a time or use a matrix system to establish your priorities when new tasks pop up unexpectedly. Learn more about how to manage your time to boost your productivity and well-being.


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4. Establish boundaries.

Establishing boundaries is a crucial part of time management. And, communicating those boundaries will be equally important. If you can no longer respond to emails promptly after hours because you’re with your family, your team will need to know.

Work boundaries fall into one of three categories—physical, emotional, or time. Start by setting small boundaries and expand from there. Learn more about how to set better boundaries at work.

5. Reflect, refine, repeat.

Whatever actions you decide are needed to create a good work-life balance, though, you should be conscious of the fact that you will likely need to continue to refine it over time. Big life changes can take time, so reflecting on your approach and refining it periodically will likely be integral parts of the process.

Achieve work-life balance in your career

If you would like to learn more about what you can do to achieve a healthy work-life balance, you might consider taking a flexible online course to identify the best approach for you. In some cases, you might even decide that a career change is the best option and, consequently, prepare for your new job by achieving a Professional Certificate.


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