How can I improve my work-life balance?

Are you tired of feeling that work is taking over your life – leaving you little time and energy to focus on anything else?


Maintaining a good work-life balance, particularly in the era of flexible working that has now become the norm for many traditionally office-based roles, can be challenging. For many, the boundaries between life and work have become increasingly blurred – both from a physical and a time perspective.

In this article, I’ve pulled together key areas to focus on if you’re struggling to achieve a good work-life balance.

The importance of boundaries

If you frequently find yourself checking and responding to emails, taking calls, and generally engaging in work-related activities outside of your working hours, then it’s time to set some clear boundaries around when you’re working, and when you’re not. If colleagues/clients think you’re always available, then they’ll continue to expect a response from you irrespective of the time of day/day of the week.

If an organisation employs you, then it’s worth having a conversation with your manager to establish what the expectation is around working hours, and when you will/will not be expected to respond to emails or take work-related calls. If you’re self-employed, then it’s down to you to decide when you will/won’t be working. Once you have this clarity, then make sure you communicate your working hours to colleagues/clients/customers - for example by including them in your email footer and in your calendar.

Having made your working hours explicit, it’s down to you to ensure you stick to them! If you don’t respect your working hours (or, more importantly, your time away from work), then others are unlikely to either. So, turn off your laptop (or close down any work-related applications and email) and switch off your work phone (or turn off any work-related notifications) when you’re not working – and don’t turn them back on again until you are due to start work again. If you need to put some ‘out of hours’ contact arrangements in place, then do so on the understanding that these will only be used on an exceptional basis for things which can’t wait until you’re due to be back at work.

If there’s a need to go ‘over and above’ your agreed hours on occasion to meet a deadline, then it’s worth exploring whether you can take time in lieu to compensate for this. However, if, as an employee, you find yourself regularly working more than your agreed hours just to stay on top of your workload, then I would encourage you to have a conversation with your manager, to make them aware of this, and see what can be done to reallocate or deprioritise tasks to make your workload more manageable.

Think about where and when you work best

When setting your working hours, it’s also worth considering where and when (what times of day) you work best.

Whilst many employers now offer some degree of flexibility in terms of on-site versus home / remote working for office-based roles, the amount of locational flexibility will vary by organisation and possibly by role. That said, it’s worth taking time to think about whether there are any changes you could look at making to the structure of your week to ensure that you’re getting the optimum mix of ‘focus time’ (to complete tasks you are primarily or solely responsible for) and ‘social time’ (for engagement and collaboration with colleagues) for you to both stay engaged with your work and to optimise your productivity.

Think about whether you’d benefit from changing your working hours, to make them fit more easily around other non-work commitments, such as childcare or looking after dependent relatives. If you regularly deal with colleagues/clients/customers in other time zones, then there may also be a case for changing your working hours to better align with their availability.

Likewise, if you dislike finishing work in the dark during the winter months, then maybe there’s a case for starting/finishing your working day earlier – or taking a longer break in the middle of the day, to give you more access to daylight hours, to accommodate a lunchtime walk or run for example.

If you’re an employee, then you’ll need to make the business case for your proposal to your employer – remember that the way you’re working (when and where you’re delivering your agreed working hours) has to work both for you as the employee and the organisation you work for. The degree of flexibility that’s permitted will vary from one organisation to the next.

Making the most of your time away from work

Juggling work alongside kids, pets or domestic and family commitments, can leave you feeling like there’s no time to do anything you want to do. Alongside setting boundaries around when you’re working (and when you’re not) as well as thinking about whether there are any changes you can make to where and when you work, it’s also worth looking at how you’re spending the remaining hours of your day, and how well this is serving you.

Start by making a list of all the things you really enjoy doing outside of work – whether it’s reading a book, watching a film or a favourite TV programme, going to the gym, cooking, socialising - anything that’s restorative, boosts your mood, leaves you feeling relaxed, re-energised and helps to make your life feel more meaningful. These are the things you need to be making time for!

Then think about doing a ‘time audit’ to understand how you’re spending your time currently, by keeping a log of how you actually spend each 15 (or 30/60) minutes of your time over the course of a typical week.

Colour-code different types of activity so you can get a sense of where your time is going, for example using one colour for work, another for sleep, another for looking after children/dependents etc, another for household chores, another for self-care and other things you really enjoy doing (anything on the list you created previously), and another for ‘dead time’ – time spent doing things that don’t add much to your day, but rather serve as a way of passively passing time (social media scrolling, channel surfing on TV…).

What do you notice?

Identify opportunities for change

Armed with the insight into how you are spending your time currently, think about where there may be opportunities for change:

  • Are you spending more time than you should be working?
  • Are there any functional activities that you could look to streamline to free up time? For example, shopping online rather than in-store, delegating tasks to other family members, and making more use of lift shares with other parents/carers
  • Are you (or your children) ‘overscheduled’? Are there activities that you could stop doing?
  • How much ‘dead time’ is there in your schedule?
  • Are you spending as much time as you would like exercising?
  • Are you getting as much sleep as you need?
  • Are you investing enough time in maintaining your social connections – particularly in-person connections?
  • How could you re-organise your schedule to free up more time for the things you enjoy?

Exercise, sufficient sleep, and strong social connections (along with a healthy diet) are vital to our overall well-being so it’s important that we make time for them, in a way that works for us, alongside engaging in other activities we enjoy.  

Once you’ve identified any changes you’d like to make to try and improve your work-life balance, rather than trying to attempt them all at once, instead focus on making one change at a time – only adding in the next once the first has become embedded as part of your routine.

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, it typically takes at least 2 months for a new behaviour to become automatic. And if you suffer a setback, don’t give up altogether – just pick up where you left off. At the end of the day, it’s unlikely to make a difference to your ability to turn your new behaviour into part of your regular routine.

As a first step, I would invite you to simply commit to spending some time every day – even if it’s only 15 minutes - doing something you really enjoy – something that truly nurtures you and makes you feel connected.

It’s worth remembering that we all have the same 24 hours deposited into our time bank at the start of each day – we can’t carry these hours forward, so it’s up to each of us to make sure we’re spending them wisely!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Melksham, Wiltshire, SN12
Written by Anne Melbourne, Work-focused change coach
Melksham, Wiltshire, SN12

Anne Melbourne is a transformational coach specialising in work-focused change, who's on a mission to help mid-lifers thrive at work! Her coaching uses a holistic approach to support mid-lifers in re-imagining the work they're doing, or the way they're working, to make it more meaningful, sustainable, and supportive of their long-term wellbeing.

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