Work-life balance tips for professionals: Reclaim your time today

Work-Life Balance Tips That Actually Work: Expert Advice for Success

Look up “work-life balance” on, and you’ll get this definition: a situation where one divides or balances one’s time between work and activities outside of work. Sounds relatively straightforward and feasible, right?

Anyone who has tried to create harmony between professional and personal obligations knows it is more complex. While the term first gained popularity in the United States in the 1980s, how to obtain work-life balance is an ongoing discussion that experts and real-life workers continue to contemplate.

Creating a healthy work-life balance, though, is well worth the effort. Improved overall well-being not only makes you happier but benefits others, too. You do neither employers nor loved ones any favors when you suffer from burnout or other stress-related physical health and mental health issues.

Unfortunately, no magic formula exists to blend the two realms perfectly. What does help is a variety of potential strategies for making better use of time. Let’s look at some practical tips:

Time management

If you want your personal life and your job to work together, make a central calendar your new best friend. Put in all obligations, from dentist appointments and parent-teacher conferences to project due dates and staff meetings. This method keeps events in either sphere from getting overlooked. It also enables identifying hectic times.

For instance, you might want to scale back on work-related activities during the week of your son’s baseball tournament. Or, you might enlist extra babysitting help from your mother-in-law when you see a crunch time approaching at the office.

Use an app, software program, or pen events to create a good old-fashioned bound planner. Watch for recurring pockets of time as you look at daily and upcoming entries. That 10 minutes in the car waiting for your daughter to change clothes after gymnastics practice could be the perfect time to brainstorm solutions to a client’s dilemma.

Also, evaluate your calendar for feasibility. Are you allowing enough time for travel? Are things scheduled so closely that any delay will throw life into chaos? Have you blocked out time to catch up or to deal with the unexpected? Did you allow some free time alone? Think of your calendar as a means of organizing the activities important to you, including self-care.

Workload management

A finite number of hours exist in a day. Jam-packed to-do lists run the risk of never getting accomplished – usually accompanied by feelings of inadequacy or guilt. Develop something more manageable by:

  • Prioritizing

Figure out which items are most important to accomplish. Hold conversations with relevant people to get their input. For instance, your boss may say customer-related matters always take precedence over other work tasks. Or, your son may not particularly care if you volunteer to chaperone a class field trip but would feel sad if you could not make his band recital. Put your time and attention where most needed.

  • Learning to set boundaries

People who establish clear boundaries sometimes worry that they come off as mean. However, what these parameters actually do is provide a framework for success. Driving yourself crazy or failing to live up to promises because of biting off more than you can chew benefits no one.

Accept that sometimes you must say “no” or “I can’t.” Colleagues will internalize that your workday promptly ends at 4:30 to make daycare pick-up on time. Your daughter will get the message that she is responsible for her items when you make it a policy not to run forgotten homework over to the school.

  • Delegating

Better work-life balance often starts by asking others to take tasks off your plate. Distributing chores among household members is fair and frees some time for your personal activities. Yes, the kids (or your spouse!) may balk at first. They will adjust, develop new skill sets, and take pride in their accomplishments.

At work, some people are in a position to delegate tasks to others. If this is different from your case, talk with leadership. Present the challenges of your current workload and ideas for responsibilities that could be reassigned. Smart bosses help because they realize manageable workloads are vital to employee retention.

  • Reigning in expectations

Are you the first one to raise a hand to volunteer at work or in the community? Learn to think twice. You may be getting in your way of establishing a good work-life balance. Taking on opportunities of genuine interest is one thing. Feeling like you should have your hand in everything is another.

Likewise, watch that perfectionism does not contribute to long hours. Yes, individuals should want to be proud of what they do in their professional lives and home life. Obsessing over everything, however, is a sure-fire route to unpleasant stress levels and zero free time. Determine what things are worth the extra effort and when “good enough” is sufficient. Kids buying from a bake sale rarely spot differences between brownies from a box vs. those from scratch.

Also, ditch the notion that you must do everything yourself. Accepting a colleague’s offer to help during a crunch does not make you a lesser employee. Take up your significant other’s willingness to do more chores. So what if he doesn’t load the dishwasher the exact way you would if it means gaining more personal time?

Smart use of technology

Few things have affected work-life balance as much as advances in technology. The ability to work from anywhere at any time is a game-changer, as witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast and easy communication methods allow continuous contact with team members, clients, and family – for better or worse.

Remote work saves time and reduces stress by eliminating a commute. Whether you need to be home to let in a repair person or want an adult present when your 6th grader arrives home from school, it can be a godsend. Telecommuters with flexible work hours can alter their work schedule for maximum productivity. Early birds can use their morning energy well, while night owls burn the midnight oil. Personal activities, such as taking an exercise class, become easier to schedule into the day.

Even employees who do not telecommute daily benefit from the ability to bring work home rather than physically put longer hours in at the office. They can sit down to a family dinner or help kids with homework before returning to a work-related task.

Blurring the lines between home and work environments, though, contains potential pitfalls. People run the risk of constantly feeling “on” and never genuinely relaxing or recharging during non-work time. Likewise, attention to work duties can suffer if distracted by personal or familial matters.

Ways to keep technology from negatively impacting work-life balance include:

  • Unplugging

Put the mobile phone away during dinner or when engaging in hobbies. Refuse to look at notifications after a particular hour. (You’ll sleep better.) Turn off the computer at the end of your remote workday to avoid the temptation to return later to complete “just one more thing.” When on vacation, let others know you will not check work email or take calls. Set up a message stating when you will return and who to contact.

Regularly unplugging – and sticking to it – benefits the entire workplace culture. As colleagues witness others protecting their private time, they feel more confident doing so themselves. Availability around the clock no longer gets accepted as the norm.

  • Defining acceptable contact

You might not want to “unplug” per se with your spouse or kids, but family members must respect communication limits during work time. Talk about what constitutes an emergency (the kitchen sink is leaking all over) or important notification (soccer practice got moved to a different park). A conversation about the funny thing the dog did or pictures of the neighbor’s tacky new lawn decoration can wait.

  • Avoiding temptation

Shopping opportunities, social media, breaking news . . . the Internet is loaded with interesting things to lure you away from focusing on work. Close all tabs besides the ones you need open to do your job.

(On non-work time, though, take full advantage of ways the Internet promotes work-life balance. For instance, ordering supplies for your daughter’s school project through Amazon saves you from an after-work trip to the store.)


At first glance, multitasking appears helpful to the notion of getting more done in less time. Indeed, putting your sister’s call on speaker phone and folding laundry while she recounts her disastrous blind date does save time. The activities are such that you likely can adequately follow the conversation and match socks simultaneously.

Realize that performance and enjoyment often suffer when trying to do multiple things at once. If you are physically at your son’s basketball game but spend most of it texting a client and miss seeing the kid shoot the winning basket, what’s the point? Likewise, if you are conversing with your daughter about her upcoming birthday party while trying to respond to a work email, no wonder the message contains typos.

For most people, a successful work-life balance means more than simply completing what needs to be done. It involves giving each sphere its due. It’s about feeling engaged and satisfied on both fronts rather than depleted or skewed too heavily in one direction.

What actions can help someone feel more in the moment? Try the following:

  • Take breaks during the workday. Use this dedicated time for non-work activities or something you enjoy, from getting an update from the mechanic on the status of your car to completing a crossword puzzle.
  • Don’t work through lunch. Enjoy your food. Your brain will appreciate the rest, and your digestive system will thank you.
  • Utilize PTO! American workers are notorious for leaving their hard-earned days on the table. Going somewhere on vacation is nice, but don’t neglect the power of taking days here and there. Catch up on household projects. Spend extra time with loved ones. Bake that delicious cake you saw in a magazine.
  • Stay present. At work, put your all into writing a report or winning over a new client. At home, read to your toddler using the silly voices he loves or actively listen to your spouse’s account of her day. Focus on what you are doing rather than what you are not. Ignore distractions from the other sphere. You cannot give 100% to both work and private life at every moment, but you can make the time you give count.