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Mental wellness

September 25, 2017

5 expert tips to improve your work-life balance

For many of us, work has become a 24/7 affair. Here are 5 smart ways to improve career performance without sacrificing time with family and friends.

Feeling frazzled at work?

You’re not alone. According to a recent study by Monster Canada, 58% of Canadians say they’re overworked. One in 4 has left a job due to stress.

While our careers aren’t likely to become less demanding anytime soon, there are a few steps you can take right now to help you get the most out of your workday, spend fewer late nights at the office and log more precious time with family and friends.

If that sort of professional decompression sounds appealing, check out these 5 simple-yet-effective strategies to put your work-life balance back in actual balance, courtesy of 2 Toronto-based time-management pros.

1. Put it in writing

It’s no secret that writing down your priorities before the day begins is key to staying on track professionally. And your schedule isn’t the only area of your life that will benefit from this easy-to-adopt habit.

In fact, according to Eileen Chadnick, principal of Big Cheese Coaching and author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of “Crazy Busy,” list-makers also get additional payoffs: A happier mood and better decision-making abilities.

“When you’re too loose with your day, your brain quickly becomes overwhelmed and switches to a fight-or-flight mode,” says Chadnick. “That shuts down the part of your brain that lets you make better decisions.”

By taking just a few minutes to jot down the handful of things you must get done that day, however, you can fend off that impulse — and put yourself in high gear. “From a neuroscience perspective, your brain loves a plan,” Chadnick says. “[By making a list] you’ll get an immediate feeling of relief because your brain senses there’s order.”

An additional tip: Chadnick suggests making your list in the evening. It could help you get a better night’s sleep knowing you have a plan of attack for the next day.

2. Hold the phone

A great way to boost your productivity in the office is to take stock of the interruptions that crop up daily, such as the concentration-shattering chime of a just-arrived text message.

“Turn down the volume on your smartphone so you’re picking it up when you want to as opposed to being notified when a new text, email or phone call comes in,” says life, career and executive coach Catherine Thorburn

The time savings achieved by cutting down on such disruptions can be huge: According to research by scientists at  the University of California, Irvine and Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, the average worker takes more than 23 minutes to get back on track after an interruption.

3. Master your inbox

The average worker receives 122 emails a day, according to the Radicati Group, a technology market research company. So your inbox is another obvious stumbling block to achieving balance.

Instead of instinctively reacting to each email as it pops in, Thorburn suggests a structured approach — and for reasons that go beyond simply being able to focus on the task at hand.

“If you only check your email periodically throughout the day, there’s a good chance some of those ‘urgent’ things will disappear,” she says. “People will decide it isn’t so urgent, or they’ll go to someone else.”

The frequency with which you ultimately choose to dive into your bustling inbox will, of course, depend on the specific responsibilities and realities of your job. Thorburn aims to check her email first thing in the morning, just before lunch and closer to the end of the day. “That way, not too many hours have gone by before I’ve responded,” she says.

4. Exercise your brain

There’s no doubt we’re more productive when we’re in the moment, not ruminating on what’s going to happen or what we wish we’d done or said differently in the past.

If you struggle with mindfulness, meditation is one solution worth looking into.

Thorburn also suggests another simple trick:

“When you are heading into work, make it part of your routine to try to spot something new every single day,” she says. “Our brains instinctively look for patterns and familiarity, so if we purposely try to find something new in our commute or office — even small details — it forces our brains to work slightly harder, and that causes you to be mindful and in the moment. Over time, this exercise will help us become more focused and productive.”

5. Celebrate your wins

Though it may sound counterintuitive, ending the day without everything crossed off your list can actually boost your sense of accomplishment — with a slight tweak to your thinking.

“What I encourage people to do is focus on what is getting done,” says Chadnick. “That will give you a sense of energy and accomplishment going into the next day. I call it the ta-dah list.”

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