Karolina Numminen
Karolina Numminen standing with her arms crossed in a sunny forest.

The Real Talk on Work-Life Balance

I’ll admit it: work-life balance has become a bit of a cliché. Just a decade ago, everyone talked about it. Job offers boasted it. "What matters most at work?" The response: work-life balance. 

But now, there’s backlash. "Work is part of life," they say. I never understood the debate about whether we should stop using the term. Because what we mean by work-life balance is pretty apparent: showing up at our best at work and having the time and mental capacity to enjoy other life aspects once work ends. 

By focusing on which term to use, we ignore the underlying issue that many of us are unhappy with how things are. So today, I'll give you tips on doing your best at work while maintaining a healthy portion of your personal life. 

The Urgency to Get It Right

You shouldn't skip figuring out your work-life balance for many reasons. Firstly, a lack of a healthy balance is a straight path to burnout. And if you manage to avoid the worst, you at least face constant dissatisfaction with the lack of time and energy you have outside of work, which will negatively impact your health and relationships as well. 

Want to be a leader someday? Reflect on this: Do you want a team culture where 9pm work is expected? Or a culture that values efficiency over endless hours? Entrepreneurs, this holds for you, too. It's easy to drown in infinite tasks. But sustainability needs balance. Your habits and your work environment should empower you, not drain you. 

So, let’s instead create a culture where you can be successful without overdoing it. Let's do our best at work and leave home guilt-free. But to achieve this, we cannot start by pointing fingers at hustle culture and organizations with unreasonable demands. We need to start with ourselves.

But Why It’s So Hard? 

The tricky thing is that leaving work behind is not easy. Nowadays, our jobs have a much better way of chasing us even after working hours. When my parents’ generation left work, they literally left work: no laptops, no phones, no work from home.

Unlike them, we get to enjoy much more flexibility. But our daily tools (email, Slack, or Teams) are designed using the same principles as any other social media, making us hooked, dopamine-addicted, and scrolling indefinitely.

On top of that, we tend to associate way more self-worth with our jobs than it was common in the past. You are not supposed to just work; you are supposed to feel passionate about what you do, and that’s hard to do on a strict schedule.

Navigating the Balance

So, let's talk about how to get it right: finding more time for the 'life' part of the equation and learning to leave work thoughts behind. Here are seven tips to help you understand and navigate your ideal work-life balance. 

1. Accept responsibility

Building a work-life balance often leads us to blame external pressures: demanding bosses, pervasive work culture, or the pace of modern technology. But much of the imbalance starts from within. We often stretch ourselves due to personal beliefs about success or self-worth, setting our own bar impossibly high.

Whether needing to be seen as the hardest worker, the fear of missing out on an opportunity, or a self-imposed notion of perfection, these self-inflicted standards can drive us to take things too far, even when the world isn't asking us to.

2. Zoom Out

Think about one day looking back at your life as you live it right now. What would 80-year-old you say if they saw how you approach work and life? Do you think the way you work now is something you will fondly remember or regret? 

How about if your friend or family member worked as much as you do? What would you tell them- praise them or urge them to rethink their approach? We are usually much harder on ourselves than others, so considering this perspective can help you see when you might be losing control.

3. Use That Flexibility

If your job offers flexibility, make sure to utilize it. Many people dream of waking up early to kick-start their productive day by 8 am. However, this "rise and grind" mentality isn't suitable for everyone. 

We all have individual preferences; for instance, I find the time post-lunch, especially from 1-3 pm, to be my least productive. So, instead of forcing work during these hours, I take walks, go to the gym, or read. I am 10 times more productive during the evenings, which is also a distraction-free work time. Similarly, I'd rather take an afternoon off on a sunny Friday and catch up on work on a rainy Saturday. 

Meetings and other things require you to be at a specific place at a particular time, but try to find what routine works best for you whenever possible. The traditional 9-to-5 doesn't always make sense for the work we do these days.

4. Set Your Rules and Follow Them 

As children, we had rules set by our parents, like no TV after 8 pm. This sucked but also ensured we got a proper night's sleep. As adults, we often overlook the benefits of such rules. Even when setting clear boundaries for oneself can be life-changing.

But be careful; vague plans like 'checking Slack less often' can be ambiguous and, therefore, useless. Instead, setting firm rules like not checking Slack, Teams, or emails after 7 pm and on weekends or deleting these apps from your phone is way more effective. 

If tempted to break these rules, question your intentions: Why now? Is it urgent? Some people even use reminders, like a post-it note on their phone asking "WHY?" to reinforce this discipline. Remember, apps are designed to be addictive, but with consistent effort, resisting them will become a habit.

5. Have a Reason to Stop

Okay, this is a common one, and it's a hard pill to swallow, but the truth is many of us waste a lot of our free time on mind-numbing activities. Evenings are lost to endless scrolling or binge-watching, which is not a tempting reason to close your laptop the second your work time ends. It also makes it easy to dive back into work for a quick dopamine hit. 

But having something you can’t wait to spend time on once work is over helps you be more strict and let the work thoughts go. It can be quality time with your partner, friends, or family or having a passion project or a hobby. 

So spend some time getting back to the hobbies you once loved or explore new ones. It helps to schedule activities such as exercise classes or time with friends, so you have a lower chance of skipping it. This way of spending your free time helps you genuinely disconnect and boosts your productivity when you're back on the clock.

6. Be Careful With 'It's Just For Now' 

Many people (especially young professionals) believe that constantly saying 'yes' and putting in endless hours will guarantee success. Unfortunately, that's not how it works anymore. Today's job market is unpredictable; the position you're grinding for might not even exist in a few years. Plus, the old notion of equating long hours with productivity? It's outdated. Most people have only a few genuinely productive hours each day, not a full 12-hour stretch.

If you always need to be the last one working, it's time to rethink your approach. Also, have you been telling yourself, "I'll slow down after this project" for years? That's a sign you're stuck in a cycle. How could you see this project through successfully without putting in unreasonable time and effort?

7. Know your Walkaway Condition

In sales, there's a concept called the "walkaway condition" – a point where you realize a deal isn't beneficial and step back. This idea isn't just for sales; it's vital for your career, too. Not every job or industry deserves your everything. Some places might demand too much, expecting late-night replies or endless after-hours events. 

So, if trying to change your habits isn't fixing a toxic work culture, it may be time to consider if it's worth staying. If a job starts affecting your health or relationships, be ready to leave. There are plenty of great workplaces that value balance. 

Of course, factors like the economy or job market can be daunting, but there needs to be a better answer than compromising your well-being for a job. When more people refuse to tolerate unreasonable expectations and seek better opportunities, companies will have to change.

Karolina Numminen

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In Conclusion

Let’s stop debating whether the "work-life balance" label makes sense and focus on what’s important. We want to live fully, both professionally and personally. And it’s possible. It takes some effort to get there, but you will make it work once you know what the balance means for you and find the environment that supports it.

Karolina Numminen
Author:
Karolina Numminen

Hi there!

Thank you for reading! I'm Karolina, a career coach with a passion for helping people have fulfilling and successful career journeys. I love writing about all things work and sharing the insights I’ve gained from years of coaching clients.

I would love to connect with you on LinkedIn and continue the conversation. I’m always curious about different professions and career paths!

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