Fulfilling our work responsibilities while maintaining our personal well-being can be a lifelong struggle. But focusing on work at the expense of our health and wellness can lead to burnout, self-destructive habits and mental and physical distress. Managing this balance in high-pressure environments can be challenging and exhausting, but it is crucial to equip ourselves with the right tools to deal with stress in a healthy way.
GovLoop’s recent online training, “Turning Dreams Into Projects and Projects Into Successes,” discussed the importance of achieving a positive work-life balance and holistic well-being. Seikou Mitchell, Federal Account Manager at Aetna, explained details about the federal open enrollment process and drew a powerful connection between our health and work productivity. Laurie Watkins, a professional speaker, life coach and author or Go From Stressed to Strong, shared some best practices on developing good habits to achieve wellness and live up to your body and mind’s full potential.
Speaking from her experience of working on high-stakes political campaigns, Watkins recalled, “I found myself in the same place that so many others do when their work and life are out of balance, when they’re not supporting themselves with positive tools and behaviors.” She noticed that she had fallen into a pattern of barely eating, sleeping or exercising because she was so consumed by the unrelenting demands of work. But by making a game plan with key lifestyle changes, Watkins was able to grow stronger and prioritize self-care to better achieve her goals.
Watkins outlined five areas of mastery to achieve work-life balance:
Time management—the “Power of Routine”
First, Watkins said “make your routine a priority, and stop making excuses.” Slowly introducing new habits can have a powerful ripple effect on our overall behavior, so “you don’t have to do it all at once,” she emphasized. “Even the smallest changes and seemingly minor commitments can have huge effects if you adhere to them. Just start somewhere — do more than you were doing yesterday and build from there.”
Another suggestion for better time management is instituting the “10-minute rule” — giving yourself just 10 minutes at the beginning of the day to address only the highest-priority emails in your inbox. This can break the cycle of constant urgency and gives you a chance to “prioritize your time and attention.” It’s important not to get caught up in “distracting or unimportant tasks that end up derailing your plans,” she said.
Additional tips for more effective time management include the following:
- Do the most important thing first every day
- Make an agenda or list and using it
- Build in flexibility
- Set a few key priorities and sticking to them
- Make a habit of reviewing your to-do list and calendar nightly
- Always look for improvement and more efficient ways to do things
- Learn to say no to tasks that are inconsistent with your priorities and goals
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It’s okay if it takes some time to find what routine works best for you and your schedule, Watkins said. “This won’t happen overnight, so be willing to experiment and fine-tune. Once you find what clicks, repeat.”
One of Watkins’s significant lifestyle changes was maintaining a healthy diet. She cautions against “diets” designed as short-term fixes and instead recommends establishing preferences and habits for the long term.
Apply the 80/20 rule, which can allow for some flexibility and make for a more realistic and sustainable eating plan. Stick to a healthy eating regimen 80 percent of the time, and allow yourself to consume things like dairy, alcohol, sugar and grains the other 20 percent of the time.
The widespread use of artificial light, personal computers, TVs in the bedroom and smartphones means that most adults today are getting less sleep and are fighting natural, environmental cues for our body to rest. But this can lead to a number of negative health consequences, such as tiredness during the day, or even severe sleep disorders like chronic insomnia.
Strategies to help improve sleep and make it a priority include sticking to a schedule (going to bed and waking up at the same time every day), avoiding food or drink at least a few hours prior to sleeping, avoiding caffeine and making sure to exercise, which can lead to a richer and more restful sleep.
“The mind and body are intertwined, and each strongly affects the other,” Watkins noted. “We can’t afford not to work out if we want to maintain a level of high performance. Taking care of yourself allows you to take better care of the other priorities in your life—friends, family, work and everything else. That’s why it’s crucial to build physical activity into your daily routine.”
It can be hard to stay motivated, so Watkins suggested finding an “accountability buddy” — someone to schedule workouts with, or someone you can send photos, milestones and updates on your progress. She also recommended working out efficiently, switching it up and adding variety, motivating yourself by signing up for competitions and choosing a form of exercise that “not only fits your schedule, but also your lifestyle and personality.” Measuring your progress — through before and after photos, a fitness journal, a mobile app or other activity tracker — is also important in helping you stick to your goals.
In the face of overwhelming stress, a huge component of maintaining wellness and our ability to thrive in the workplace involves prioritizing our mental health and emotional well-being. “Many of us feel like ‘doing nothing’ is selfish or wasteful, but there’s nothing wasteful about replenishing your energy and emotional reserves,” she said.
“Don’t view these things as mere luxuries,” Watkins said. “Find ways to treat yourself as a priority, as important, in a way that is healthy and sustainable for you.”
It’s important to take a moment to breathe, engage in small moments of self-care and practice mindfulness. This can be achieved through yoga, breathing exercises, concentration, meditation and other activities. Taking care of yourself doesn’t always have to be serious either — things as simple as laughter or embracing nature can also help us center ourselves and feel restored.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Watkins concluded. “Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and these changes take discipline, which is always the hardest thing we can ever ask of ourselves.” But if we persevere, build on our successes and take daily steps to get closer to our goals, a healthy and fulfilling work-life balance is more than possible.