Rather than trying to find balance (which looks different for everyone), science and career pros say it's better to give yourself a break and focus on what makes you happy right now
With more careers and fun hobbies to try than ever before, many people spend a lot of time thinking about how to balance work life with life-life. But if you find yourself constantly anxious over how to manage it all, repeat these three words: Let. It. Go. Not only does it suck to scroll through pictures of your friends' vacations when you're slaving away at your desk, but it's also hurting your health.
According to a new study in the journal Stress and Health, in which researchers studied 203 people, those who worried repetitively about conflicts between work and home were more likely to experience negative health conditions—not to mention feel more depressed, less optimistic about the future, and more tired. These same people experienced less satisfaction with their lives overall compared to people who were in the same work-life-struggle situation but who worried about it less. It didn't matter which choices the people were making about their careers, but rather how they felt about their choices. Essentially: You'll be happier if you accept that you can not be all things to all people and that there is no such thing as the "perfect balance."
The message? Constantly second-guessing yourself, worrying about disappointing others, and feeling guilty about missing out on things is harming the very life you're trying so hard to make great. (On the flip side, here's why taking extended time off is great for your health.)
The solution to this guilt spiral is simple: Make the best decisions you can, move forward, and then don't worry about it. But we know that's easier said than done. That's why Michael "Dr. Woody" Woodward, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist and author of The YOU Plan, says to start by creating a realistic idea of what "work-life balance" actually means for you. (P.S. This is how to stop yourself from working on vacation.)
"The fact is we no longer live in a nine-to-five world where you can easily draw a line between work and life," he says. "Work-life balance used to be about dealing with staying at the office too late or bringing work home. Nowadays it's much more complex."
You can blame the Internet for that. The same technology that makes it possible to order pizza, find a date, and watch the latest movie without ever leaving your couch also makes it impossible to leave work at work, he says. Thanks to mobile devices and social media, we're now tethered to both our jobs and our friends in ways we never were before. Basically, we're always available and everyone knows it—and no one likes to be left out, so our tech ensures that we can be in on every conversation whether we need to be or not.
That said, you don't have to be on call for everyone 24/7—nor should you be. Here's how to set some boundaries:
Make your own rules. Focus on setting rules that "blend" your life instead of "balance" it, says Woodward. For instance, it's okay if you spend a good portion of your time with your phone in hand, monitoring texts, e-mails, and social media. But when it's time to hang with a loved one, block out that time (even do it in your calendar if you need to), put the phone down, and walk away.
Talk it out. Once you've established which rules work best for your life, you need to tell your boss and loved ones what your boundaries are so they know when to expect you to be available, he says. Make sure you stick to it, too—once they know you're peeking at emails at 10 p.m., they'll assume it's cool to keep sending you messages.
Quality over quantity. We live in a world where more is always better, but that can backfire big time. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, focus on just being the best you can be for that person in that moment. You'll get more done and others will be happier with you. "Nobody likes getting only half your attention, and multitasking is rarely as efficient as we believe it to be," says Woodward.