While work-life balance has always been important, it hasn’t always gotten much serious attention; but since the COVID-19 pandemic, the human need to step away and recharge has increasingly become a topic of discussion. Many professionals at all levels have reported working even longer hours since moving to remote work arrangements—when the office and home become a single location, stepping away can become even harder.
Whether you and your team are working exclusively from home or showing up to an office building one or more days a week, developing a healthy work-life balance is essential for everyone’s mental and physical health. To help all professionals add a bit more personal time back into their week, 15 members of Fast Company Executive Board have shared ways to structure and make the most of your “work” hours so you can have more time for your personal life.
1. SCHEDULE FUN TIME ON YOUR CALENDAR.
Activities like resting, happy hour, or going for a walk should be encouraged and praised out loud. People who rest regularly are better thinkers and more pleasant co-workers. At our office, we have a weekly social hour when we go online and chat about everything but work. We get to talk about travel, what we’re cooking for lunch, or various stories about cultural differences. – Phnam Bagley, Nonfiction Design
2. TRUST YOUR EMPLOYEES.
It’s essential to trust your employees to make their own decisions. Most of the time, they know what they’re doing better than a leader because they’re closer to the problem and have a better idea of what’s possible for a solution. Letting go of the reins and trusting your employees to make good decisions allows them to have the chance to grow and prove themselves. – Noah Mitsuhashi, Portfolio Insider
3. TAKE EXTENDED LUNCH BREAKS.
Emotion is created by motion. Block an extended lunch break. This daily time block should be meeting-free, and leaders should encourage employees to use this time to invest in themselves. Whether it’s getting up and moving, getting some nutrient-dense food, or finding ways to bring mental clarity, the goal here is to break up the day to recharge so that you can be more effective and efficient when finishing the day. – Kevin Rutherford, Nuun
4. USE YOUR PTO.
We encourage employees to take time off from day one. We’ve built a culture where employees don’t feel the need to check Slack or their emails outside of work hours. We have also instituted “Friends and Family” day, which is an optional but highly encouraged day off every month. We encourage team members to use this day to go do something fun, get some errands done, or engage in self-care. – Cody Barbo, Trust & Will
5. OUTLINE YOUR PRIORITIES.
While many have spent more time than ever working because their home is now their office, it is important to create time and space away from work. One way to do that is to clearly document and prioritize what needs to be done this week. Assess how much time is needed to accomplish these tasks. Clear your calendar of any items that do not help you achieve your goals for the week. – Melissa Bradley, Ureeka
6. DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO.
It comes down to saying no—even to yourself. It’s extremely hard to tune out from focusing on a job and tune into our personal lives, especially when the lines are blurred between work and home. It takes a conscious effort to avoid burnout, so imagine the inspiring message you will send to your team by setting healthy boundaries. – Liza Streiff, Knopman Marks Financial Training
7. SET SHORTER MEETINGS.
Challenge meetings. I once worked at a company where every meeting, no matter the topic, always seemed to get scheduled for an hour. I started to shorten meetings to 45 minutes and immediately got back 25 percent of my day. Another tactic: Meetings should be for discussion or decision making. Information sharing can be handled offline and should not take up time during your day. – Amy Radin, Pragmatic Innovation Partners LLC
8. NARROW YOUR FOCUS.
We just finished our H2 planning for the year, and we narrowed our priorities and focus down a lot. By simplifying the stack, we’re all working smarter and are less stressed out by the thousands of things we think we ought to be working on but don’t have time for. We’re all clear that if it’s not one of the top priorities that we defined together, it’s OK to put it in the backlog and revisit it in 2022. – Michael Margolis, Storied
9. USE YOUR CALENDAR.
I’ve found that putting both work and personal events on my calendar helps me to view the personal events as being just as important as the business items. This ensures I’m proactively managing my time and making time for activities outside of work. – Scott Burgess, Continu
10. FIND YOUR STATE OF FLOW.
Learn how to get in states of flow to fuel your peak performance and be able to do in one hour what could have taken hours to do. It starts with having clear goals, eliminating distractions, having curiosity about the task you are about to undertake, and ensuring that your challenges are in line with your skill level. This will boost your productivity and creativity while giving you more time to enjoy life. – Andreea Vanacker, SPARKX5
11. WHEN IT’S TIME TO TURN OFF, TURN OFF.
It’s very easy, especially in a remote environment, to keep working even if you aren’t getting much done. To make turning off easier, make a list of your key priorities for the next day before you end your workday so you can also rest easy mentally. By doing so, you’re likely to stay focused with fewer distractions and recognize tasks that can be delegated. – Fehzan Ali, Adscend Media LLC
12. PRIORITIZE BY OUTCOME.
Prioritizing by outcome instead of by time has been my most effective way to trim down the workweek. I check in with myself regularly on how the task that I am doing is helping my company reach its desired outcome for the week—if I am unclear on how it is or if the answer is that it isn’t, I don’t do it. It’s very simple to say but very difficult to put into practice! – Krishna Kutty, Kuroshio Consulting Inc.
13. STAY FLEXIBLE.
Being flexible is a great way to let your team figure out the most constructive way to manage their time. Everyone understands their expectations, and as long as our clients’ needs are being met and we continue to grow, we don’t limit employees’ time away from the office. Each person understands what works best for them when it comes to work-life balance, so why try to put a square peg into a round hole? – Brad Burns, Wayne Contracting
14. LIST OUT ALL YOUR TASKS.
For most people, the issue lies in managing their focus rather than their time or tasks. I suggest researching David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method for doing work. You start by listing out every single task you have, from grocery shopping to negotiating a million-dollar deal. Knock off all tasks that need two minutes or less, and suddenly, you have more time and energy on your hands. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner
15. STICK TO A SCHEDULE.
I start my workday earlier—ideally, two hours before the kids wake up—and stick to a schedule. I spend my mornings at home responding to emails. My response rate is faster as there are fewer interruptions. I will spend my time at the office in meetings. I also block off family time on my work calendar. – Kelley Higney, Bug Bite Thing