If you’re like most employed Americans, the majority of your day — close to 9 hours — is spent working. If you’re like most entrepreneurs (including myself), add three to four hours to that number.
That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for socializing, being with your family or progressing on a hobby or passion project, kicking back and relaxing, or working at your hobby. Even worse? Americans are putting off retirement by continuing to work into their seventies and eighties.
Is this because we’re workaholics? Not exactly.
Unlike most countries around the world, we don’t put an emphasis on having or making a life outside of our jobs. While factors like minimum wage and having too little set aside for retirement play a part, we don’t have laws guaranteeing vacation time or paternity/maternity leave. Employers discourage longer lunch breaks and really don’t want employees to unplug.
That’s a major problem. Overworked employees are less productive, more prone to burn out and less likely to be loyal to the organization. Additionally, research has found that the most satisfied employees are those who have a life outside of the office.
Why you need to get a life (outside of work).
Let’s get real here. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer or 9-to-5er, jobs will come and go due to business failure, losing clients or because you’ve outgrown your current position. If your identity and happiness depends on your job, what’s going to happen if that’s abruptly gone? What happens if you end up with a toxic new boss?
“When your job defines you, your world becomes very narrow. Thoughts about your job and the challenges you face are always on your mind no matter what you’re doing or whom you’re with,” writes Ray Williams, author of Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Transform Chaotic Workplaces, The Leadership Edge, Breaking Bad Habits.
“You subtly begin to value people, activities and relationships based solely on how they can help your career. And you consistently withdraw your time, talent and energy from other areas of your life so that you can give more of yourself to your work, leaving you emotionally empty outside the office. When your job defines you, everything that happens at work seems personal,” adds Williams.
Working long hours can hurt your relationships. One study in the U.K. found that poor work-life balance is the third biggest strain on relationships. That’s understandable. If you’re working all the time, that leaves your spouse responsible for things like household chores and taking care of your children. There isn’t enough quality time for the two of you.
This might surprise the workaholics but a life outside of work helps you become more successful and productive in your professional life. Taking a breather from work reduces stress, clears your head and re-energizes you. Spending time with people, traveling and learning something new can help you bring new perspectives to your work, boosts your creativity, and develop new skills.
Maybe you’re thinking; “I get it. It’s important to have a life outside of work, but that’s just not possible for me.” It is possible if you follow these tips:
Set boundaries based on your priorities.
Some days you have to work long hours but you need to set clear boundaries so that this doesn’t become every day. Don’t make new committments when you already have a full plate. Don’t schedule a meeting the afternoon you know you have to be out the door to attend personal obligation. Don’t volunteer to take on a new assignment if you have the kids’ ballgame to attend.
Tell everyone when you’re not available.
You can’t establish your boundaries if no one knows about them. If you’re going on vacation, let your clients know now. If you have to leave by 5:30, inform your colleagues and manager in the morning so that they won’t throw any last minute assignments your way.
Stop trying to be perfect.
Nothing is ever perfect. Do your best and move on. This is easier said than done but you have to do it. Instead of perfection, I do it as best as I can and then I reevaluate a few weeks later when I have data to tell me if it’s perfect!
Turn off your phone when having dinner, out with friends and when you go to bed. If you don’t, work will keep distracting you from enjoying the moment. I like to have 6 pm – 8 pm every night as a distraction-free time so that I can spend time with my family. Learn to unplug.
Exercise and meditate.
Both of these keep us mentally and physically healthy, reduces stress and helps us sleep. You’re busy but you can find five or ten minutes to meditate or exercise daily. I go on daily walks to clear my mind and come up with new ideas.
Reduce the number of distractions you have during working hours. Turn off email and social media notifications. Reply to phone calls and emails in batches. Don’t chitchat with colleagues. The sooner you get done work, then sooner you’re done for the day.
Automate and delegate.
Automate recurring processes like social media updates and recurring invoices. If you have a business, consider outsourcing to freelancers tasks like accounting or writing blog posts to reduce your daily workload.
A life outside of work is imperative to becoming a a happier, more productive and successful individual. Start small and begin to ascend upwards on a slow, steady course, instead of going all-in at once.
Here’s to having an amazing life outside of work!