Juggling is for circus clowns but unfortunately, it has become an activity that far too many professional women have had to master. Maybe we aren’t juggling bowling balls or chainsaws (yikes!) but we are spending our days in a non-stop cycle of trying to juggle work responsibilities, family obligations and community involvement; not to mention leisure activities and fun (if we have any energy left that is).
The fact of the matter is that, as women, not only are we still paid less than our male counterparts, we also rate lower in satisfaction when it comes to things like career fulfillment and a happy home life. In fact, a recent study found that men are consistently found to be 25% happier on the job than women and 8% happier at home.
What gives ladies?? Why the discrepancy between our job satisfaction and happiness at home and men’s?
As a strong willed, self-empowered and success focused female, it is difficult for me to admit when I find something that men seem to do better than women; however, as I did my research for this post, it became clear to me that there is something that the fellas really do seem to be better at…juggling.
Study after study shows that women on average spend more time engaged in non-paid, domestic work than men–even when both parties hold down full time jobs. Research shows that in the “average” american home (with a husband and wife who both work full time), women do 62% of the laundry, 56% of the cooking, 53% of the household cleaning and 61% of the grocery shopping. The data also shows that men are 35% more likely than women to take a break and relax and 25% more likely to engage in leisure activities that they enjoy (golf, TV viewing, video games etc.) In short–men appear to be better at finding a balance between their professional and personal lives.
This “juggle struggle” that women seem to be losing is one that should not be ignored. The World Health Organization estimates that 35% of work related stress cases result in prolonged mental health issues. Additionally, 87% of women (and men) surveyed say that an imbalance between work and leisure affects their physical health in a negative way. EIGHTY-SEVEN PERCENT! These physical ailments include (but are not limited to) headaches, weight gain and depression, and end up costing employers nearly three billion (yes that’s billion–with a B) dollars a year in lost productivity due to absences.
So…what can be done about this? Is it possible to truly find a work-life balance? I think that the answer to this question is yes, but that we first need to redefine the word “balance” so that it fits into our personal experience; and then, we need to become very mindful of what things we allow to take up space in our life and and how we manage our energy levels.
First, let’s look at our definition of the word balance. I bring this up because to many people, my life looks as though it is completely out of balance. In fact, I’ve even been called a workaholic and “Type A” personality (though I definitely am not). This is because I hold down a full time job but then often spend my nights and weekends with my fingers furiously typing on my laptop (my super adorable new Chromebook) as I work on content for FabYOUlous Life while also racking up miles on my running shoes as I am in training for a half-marathon. To people who don’t know me well, they think that I am burning the candle at both ends and am destined to find myself exhausted and overwhelmed. What they don’t understand is that this combination of working, running and hustling feels completely comfortable and in balance to me. Yes–work is work and it must be done, but I am fortunate to work for an organization that values their employees enough to encourage vacation time and self-care. As for the nights and weekends on my computer–that, to me, is fun. I enjoy working on FabYOUlous Life and would rather spend my free time doing that than most other leisure activities. So–what others might perceive to be work, is actually pleasurable for me. Additionally, running (though certainly work) is a great way for me to get centered and focus on my own needs. Plus–I use my running time to indulge in another favorite activity of mine, listening to audio books (I am able to do this thanks to my handy FlipBelt that holds my iPhone as I run and my Yurbuds wireless earbuds). So, though my life doesn’t appear to have a lot of “down time” it does include a fair amount of “me time” and to me that feels balanced. I am also incredibly blessed because I have a husband who is my true partner in life and who does more than his “fair share” of cooking, cleaning and shopping. So–what appears to be completely out of balance to some is, in fact, very comfortably balanced to me.
Don’t let others decide what is or isn’t balanced in your life. You’ll know balance when you find it because you’ll feel energized, enthused and optimistic. If you’re not feeling this way, then yes, something needs to give. When this happens to me it is usually because I’ve allowed too many things to drain me of my time, energy and sanity. In order to combat this, I’ve learned the value of creating space in my life. This process that allows me to step off of the hamster wheel of busyness is outlined here.
Once you’ve come up with your own definition of what balance looks like (and more importantly, feels like) in your life and have created a plan to allow more space where it is needed, here are a few other additional suggestions for creating a better work-life balance…
Six Strategies for Striking a Balance Between Work and Life
1.) Take your vacation time. It is ridiculous the number of vacation hours that go unused every year. Use your vacation time! Even if you don’t necessarily go anywhere, still make it a point to take time off to focus on hobbies, family, Pokemon Go…or whatever your “thing” is. Workers who take their vacation time feel more refreshed and end up working an average of 21% harder than employees who are burned out and frustrated.
2.) Make your mornings count. Don’t check your work emails as soon as you roll out of bed (it takes some practice but I promise that it is possible!) Instead, take a few minutes to stretch, meditate and eat a good breakfast. Setting the tone for your day in this manner will allow you to ease into your work day and feel less chaotic.
3.) Establish your evenings as a work-free zone. Yes–I spend a great deal of time during the evenings on my laptop, but as I explained earlier in the post, this is because I am working on content for FabYOUlous Life and that is something that I truly love doing so it doesn’t feel like work. What I’ve gotten better about not doing is constantly checking my emails from my 9 to 5 job. If something truly important is going on (I work for the Red Cross so that is a very real possibility), my team knows how to get a hold of me. If however, my phone isn’t ringing with reports of floods or fires, I tend to leave my “work” for work hours and keep my evenings free for fun.
4.) Get some zzzzz’s. Nothing in your life will feel balanced if you are exhausted and barely able to keep your eyes open. In order for you to excel in any area of your life, you must get adequate sleep. This one is a challenge for me because I tend to be a night-owl by nature, however; I’m learning that turning off my electronics at a decent hour and hitting the sack at a time that will allow me a full seven to eight hours of sleep makes a huge–HUGE– difference in my mood, outlook and productivity levels the next day. Sleep is not optional–it is essential.
5.) Set boundaries. Don’t be afraid to speak up in order to protect your physical an emotional energy. You don’t have to accept every party invitation if you’re tired and looking forward to a restful weekend. You can also be honest with your boss and advocate for yourself when she asks you to tag one more assignment onto your already crazed schedule. Setting boundaries isn’t always easy but as you start to value yourself more, you’ll find it easier and easier to speak up and protect your time and energy.
6.) Give yourself a break. Don’t just gobble down your lunch while sitting at your desk. Take an actual lunch break. Enjoy your meal while chatting with a friend or slip on your sneakers and go for a stroll outside. Take a mid-afternoon coffee break to help recharge your batteries. Give yourself a weekend off if you’ve been working hard all week. Our bodies (and our psyches) need time for rest and refreshment.
Though a solid work-life balance looks different for every single person, it is something that each one of us should strive to achieve if we truly want to live our most FabYOUlous life. Make the effort today to put an end to your “juggle struggle” and thank yourself tomorrow.