Career Advice

5 Tips for Engineering a Better Work-Life Balance
Meghan Brown posted on December 18, 2015 |
(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

With the holidays around the corner, most workers turn their thoughts to family, friends and vacation days as a break from their work life.  

However, it is important to remember that achieving a good work-life balance requires more than just a few days away from the workplace at year’s end.

If it feels like a struggle to juggle work and personal responsibilities, you’re not alone. But these five tips can help you find a better work-life balance.

1. Unplug Yourself from Work

(Image courtesy of Holohololand/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

(Image courtesy of Holohololand/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Technological advances such as smartphones, computers, the internet of things (IoT) and email have revolutionized the workplace.  

These devices improve efficiency and communication in many ways, while helping to remove much of the past tedium from many jobs.

But the connectivity that these technologies bring with them has also created expectations around employee availability. 

Oftentimes there are expectation that employees will be available to respond to email, answer phone calls or go online long after the office has closed.

This is a habit that many people fall into, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. Employees run the risk of burnout and exhaustion if they feel like they are always working and never getting a break.

The solution is to unplug yourself from work when you are not on “work time.” Admittedly, this is easier said than done.

It could mean simply silencing notifications from work on your smartphone, or turning your device off altogether. The key is to resist the urge to reply to emails, check up on project documents or do specific work tasks at home.

This can be hard at first; it becomes a habit for a reason, after all. But the rewards in the end are worth the effort. By taking a true break from work, most people will feel much more focused when they are actually on the job.

To get this break, spend your time doing things that have nothing to do with work. That is, unless your happy place involves building CAD models, playing with 3D printers and CNC machines, reading technical specification documents or sizing equipment—in which case, have at it.

2. Limit Time Spent on Activities and People Who Waste It

Obligations, politeness and routine often mean we lose significant amounts of time with activities and people that offer no significant return.

It can be hard to get away from these time-wasters, especially when they have become part of your daily routine.

The first step is to identify what activities and people are truly important to you, like family, hobbies and pets. Next, identify the things and people that are your biggest time-wasters and determine which can be limited or cut from your schedule altogether. 

Do you spend hours aimlessly surfing the internet, scrolling through social media or checking email?  Are you constantly dealing with people who only bring conflict, gossip or otherwise take up your time with activities you’re not truly interested in?

Limiting your time spent on social media or the internet to an hour a night, for example, will quickly help you determine which online activities matter most to you.

A bit more diplomacy is required when dealing with people, but the principle is the same. Limit the amount of time spent with those who waste it so you can spend more time with the people who really make you happy.

Don’t feel you have to attend every social event you’re invited to either. If you don’t see a clear benefit to either your personal or professional relationships, find a way to politely decline.

And remember: do not feel bad for cutting these things out of your life. Other people should be able to understand the need for personal and family time – everyone needs that at least once in awhile. And as for the internet, it has no feelings to get hurt.

3. Restructure Your Schedule

(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Habits and routines are just that – things we get so used to that we sometimes forget they can be changed. 

In reality, many aspects of daily or weekly routines are flexible, and can be changed to make our lives better.

Evaluate what in your routine causes you to feel stressed or strapped for time. Do you have no time to pursue your hobbies? Too rushed trying to shuffle family, shopping and work hours?

Ask yourself if you can outsource any of these tasks. Can you hire a service for dog walking, dry cleaning or grocery shopping? Can you delegate errands or tasks to family members who have more time in their schedule? Or can you trade services with friends?

Even getting one task off your plate can free up time and lighten your load enough that you can focus your time on activities you enjoy, relaxing, and sleeping well.

4. Remember to Exercise and Relax

This is possibly the first and most common thing to fall by the wayside when life and work get busy, but self-care is essential to mental and physical well-being.

Exercise reduces stress and improves mood, energy level and concentration. Even just one or two hours over the course of a week can yield benefits.

Also remember to take some time to yourself to simply relax. Go for a walk, read a book, sit on the porch or balcony with coffee. Even a little time spent “not doing” can go a long way toward feeling calmer and more focused.

5. Don’t Try to Do It All at Once

Instead of declaring sweeping lifestyle changes, start small.

Decide that one night a week you will leave work on time, have a family dinner or go to the gym. As you get used to the changes in your schedule, you can continue to work upwards from there until you attain the lifestyle you want.

You also don’t have to quit all your time-wasting online activities cold turkey. Start by cutting back the time you spend on the particularly time-consuming games or websites you habitually visit. You will quickly recognize what aspects of these activities truly matter to you and which parts you can do without.

Working to Live

(Image courtesy of  Graur Razvan Ionut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

(Image courtesy of Graur Razvan Ionut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Your work is important to you, and engineers do some interesting things, but your work life shouldn’t take over your personal life. Don’t be afraid to discuss your schedule and needs with your employers.  

They want their employees to be healthy, happy and productive, too! And your managers also need a good work-life balance, so discussion can lead to sharing strategies you or others may not have considered.

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