How to Achieve a Healthier Work-Life Balance

Skipping vacations and long hours at work can damage your health. Learn three ways to unplug.

child blowing bubbles

Medically reviewed in January 2019

Photo Credit: Ryan Hyde, via Flickr Creative Commons

Would adding a second of time to your day change the way you manage it? Would you finally be able to achieve the perfect work/life balance, start that novel, make it to the gym? Probably not. But as it turns out, we do periodically gain an extra second, thanks to the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, an agency that keeps tabs on the spinning of the planet. (Who knew?) A brief explanation: Our planet’s rate of rotation can speed up or slow down because of tides and changes within its core. To keep time uniform, an extra second is periodically added to Coordinated Universal Time, the world’s benchmark time standard.

Evidently adding that extra second doesn’t always go so well: The U.S. and several other countries claim it’s too disruptive to critically precise systems used for navigation, communication and many other services, and would like to eliminate them altogether.

Why give a second thought to an extra second? It simply points up the many issues that revolve around managing time, including our own. Particularly vexing is the question of whether we can afford to take time off from work.

Why vacations are critical
Since the year 2000 Expedia.com has conducted studies on vacation. In 2013 the company surveyed 8,535 people across 24 countries and five continents about their vacation practices. In the US, while 59 percent of Americans reported feeling vacation-deprived, their actions did not match their complaints. The survey revealed that Americans left an average of four vacation days unused—and that was twice as many as the previous year. The study further revealed that many people don’t disconnect during their time off: It found that 67 percent of adults in the U.S. check voicemails and emails—some more frequently than others—while away from the office.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy work-life balance is no simple task, but neglecting to do so can negatively impact our health. We become fatigued and less productive, which may compel us to put in even more hours on the job. More hours means we could be given even more responsibilities. Still, as we continue to sacrifice time with loved ones, we may begin to feel left out and distant in our significant relationships. Inevitably, healthy lifestyle habits are put on hold, replaced instead with grab-and-go food choices, lack of exercise and little to no time set aside to de-stress. But there are simple ways to turn things around:

1. Build in daily stress-free breaks
Reducing stress is not a luxury. For optimal health, it is a necessity. When we feel better, we do better in all aspects of our lives. Set limits on time spent on the Internet and social media sites, which can eat through any free time you do have. Instead try yoga, meditation and deep breathing to relax and rejuvenate your body and mind.  

2. Say yes to support
Often we feel overwhelmed with too many To Dos and too little time in which to accomplish them, let alone time to de-stress. Allow others to help you in order to get some down time – for example, when a trusted friend offers to pick up the kids from school or when a neighbor offers to drive your elderly mother to her next doctor visit. If you’re doing it all at home, enlist the family to help with housecleaning and other chores.

3. Schedule time with loved ones
Take out your planner and write in when you will spend dedicated time with family and friends each week. Laura Stark author of Super Competent: The Six Keys to Perform at Your Productive Best, says she plans a specific activity with her family every Sunday afternoon. She explains that when she isn’t specific, “time tends to get frittered away and the weekend may end without us spending quality time together.” Planning dinner out with friends or a weekly date night with a significant other renews both body and soul. In the process, our spirits are replenished as we are reminded of the importance of these cherished relationships that feed and nourish us and are so central to our well-being.

Brian Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, sums it up succinctly in his now famous and oft-quoted 30-second speech on how to successfully achieve a healthy work-life balance. He says: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air.  You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls that we had spent more ttime at the office. Looking back, true success will be measured by our balanced efforts to love and be loved, while  even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

May that extra second be put to good use as we learn daily how to fill both our hours and our hearts equally with an enriching life-work balance.

Learn more ways to live your healthiest life with tips from Dean Ornish.

This content was originally published on Ornish Living.

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