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Ask yourself tough questions when it comes to work-life balance

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Take a step to figure out when to separate work and life.
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There’s nothing quite like the start of a new year -- a clean slate, if you will -- to get you thinking about the quality of your life and the things you want to achieve.  

It’s a great time to take stock and reflect on what is right about your life, those things you are happy with, and what aspects you’d like to change.

For example, getting too wrapped up in a job can drain you of time and energy, and leave you with too little time for self care and for being available for loved ones.

“It may be that the job fulfills you in some way, such as pride of accomplishment, and that’s a need you have,” said Brooke Werneburg, resiliency specialist and wellness coach at the Mayo Clinic Health Living Program. “Or you have enjoyable relationships at work.”

The job can be a source of stimulating challenges or self esteem.

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“You may think, ‘If I do more tasks, it will lead to a greater sense of accomplishment,’ ” Werneburg said. “But we need to disconnect, and refresh and take a break from that.”

Work may even be a welcome escape from the daily pressures of home life. If you are successful in your role, you might become addicted to work.

Electronic communication devices have blurred the boundary between work and personal lives, making employees accessible 24/7.              

The right balance between work (career and ambition) and lifestyle (health, family, pleasure, leisure, spiritual well-being) is different for each person, Werneburg said.

She asks several questions to help people identify whether or how much of problem exists:

Has your energy level shifted at work or at home? Have you experienced changes in the levels of physical or mental fatigue?

Are you routinely shorting sleep to try to get things done?

Has your patience level with people around you changed?     

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Are you missing out on doing things with family and friends?

Are you giving up healthy behaviors -- such as taking walks, eating a healthy diet, or doing yoga or meditation?

When was the last time you had fun or laughed?

“We all need to bond socially with others -- to feel engaged, happy and that we are leading a meaningful life,” Werneburg said.  

Once you’ve determined that you want to work on achieving better work-life balance, there are a few next steps you can take.  

“It’s important for each person to decide how they define ‘balance.’ What do they want to work toward?” Werneburg said. “What do I want to change? What do I want to have an impact on?”

“Patients may say, ‘I need calm and relaxation in my life -- we’re struggling at home because we’re so busy. For them, it may be about bringing people together or having deeper conversations.”      

Those seeking more balance need to give themselves permission to take steps, she said. “That helps to establish balance as a priority.”

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Then, “set goals by picking a strategy that helps me reach what I identified in my balance definition,” she said. “If spending more time with family is important, you may want to have a game night with family at home each week, or pick a night to go out to dinner as a family.”    

Above all, “be patient, “ Werneburg advised. “These strategies take practice; you need to replicate the strategy more times.”  

“There are so many strategies to explore,” she said. “Do something for self care each day to keep your energy level up -- whether it’s a 30-minute walk or reading five pages every night from a book I want to read.”  

Werneburg said she is reminded daily of “a good reflection point” on a poster in the workplace hallway that reinforces the philosophy of self care.   

“It says, ‘Do something today that your future self will thank you for.’ “   

Back to balance Here are few signs which indicate that your life is out of balance:

  • Fatigue. When you’re tired, your ability to work productively and think clearly might suffer -- which could take a toll on your professional reputation or lead to dangerous or costly mistakes.    

  • Poor health. Stress is associated with adverse effects on the immune system and can worsen the symptoms you experience from any medical condition. Stress also puts you at risk of substance abuse.  

  • Lost time with friends and loved ones. If you’re working too much, you might miss important family events or milestones. This can leave you feeling left out and might harm relationships with your loved ones. It’s also difficult to nurture friendships if you’re always working.  

  • Increased expectations. If you regularly work extra hours, you might be given more responsibility -- which could lead to additional concerns and challenges.  

As long as you’re employed, you’re probably going to be faced with juggling the demands of your career and your personal life. But if you can learn to set limits and take care of yourself, you can achieve the work-life balance that’s best for you.       

Managing it Time is a finite commodity; you can’t manufacture it. If you don’t set limits, then work or other obligations can leave you with no time for the activities and relationships you enjoy.

Consider these suggestions:

  • Track your time.  Pay attention to your daily tasks, including work-related and personal activities. Decide what’s necessary and what satisfies you most.  

  • Manage your time.  Cut or delegate activities you don’t enjoy or can’t handle -- or share your concerns and possible solutions with our employer or others. Organize household tasks efficiently, such as running errands in batches or doing a load of laundry every day; don’t save all the laundry for your day off. Do what needs to be done and let the rest go.  

  • Make a list. Put family events on a weekly calendar, and keep a daily to-do list at home and at work. Having a plan helps you maintain focus. When you don’t have a plan, it’s easy to be roped into the plans and priorities of others.    

  • Learn to say no. Whether you’re asked to take on an extra project at work or an event for your child’s elementary school class, remember that it’s OK to respectfully say no. When you quit accepting tasks out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you’ll have more time for activities that are meaningful to you.  

  • Leave work at work. With the technology to connect to anyone at any time from virtually anywhere, there might be no boundary between work and home -- unless you create it. Make a conscious decision to separate work time from personal time.  

  • Reduce email access. Check emails no more than three times a day -- late morning, early afternoon and late in the day. If you access email first thing in the morning, you tend to focus on and respond to other people’s issues rather than being proactive about your own needs.   

  • Take advantage of your options. Ask your employer about flex hours, a compressed workweek, job sharing, telecommuting or other scheduling flexibility. The more control you have over your hours, the less stressed you’re likely to be.

  • Try to shorten commitments and minimize interruptions. Most of us can sustain a maximum concentration for no more than 90 minutes. After that, the ability to retain information decreases dramatically. When you’re interrupted during a task, you need double or triple the time of the interruption to regain full concentration on your task.  

Make self-care a priority A healthy lifestyle is essential to coping with stress and to achieving work-life balance. Try to:

  • Eat a healthy diet. A diet that’s heavy on fresh fruits and vegetable and lean protein enhances the ability to retain knowledge as well as stamina and well-being.  

  • Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep increases stress. Avoid using personal electronic devices, such as tablets, before bedtime. The blue light these they emit decreases your level of melatonin, the hormone associated with sleep.    

  • Make time for fun and relaxation. Set aside time each day for an activity you enjoy. Better still, look for activities you can enjoy with your partner, family or friends.  

  • Volunteer. While it’s best to not overload your schedule, research has shown that volunteering can contribute to a greater sense of work-life balance. Choosing to volunteer for a cause or institution you believe in might lower your levels of burnout and stress, and boost your emotional and social well-being.    

  • Build your support system. Enlist co-workers who can cover for you -- and vice versa -- when family conflicts arise. At home, ask trusted friends and family members to pitch in with childcare or household responsibilities when you need to work overtime or travel.     

 

Related Topics: HEALTH
Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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