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5 Tips for a Healthy Work/Family Balance

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woman working on laptop

Whether you’re staying late for deadlines or catching up on emails after your kids go to bed, it’s easy for work to bleed into your personal life. And that can have detrimental effects not only on yourself (hi, stress!) but on your family, too, which is why it’s especially important to draw clear boundaries as much as you can.

Being a working parent is obviously a constant balancing act, but the good news is there are ways to make sure the scale doesn't tip all the way toward your career all the time. The following tactics involve being intentional and grabbing the wheel, so to speak, rather than letting your job steer you. Why not give them a try? We believe in you.

1. Restrict your phone usage. Part of the reason that boundaries are blurring is that lots of workers are responding to emails, texts, and calls outside normal business hours. If you're one of them, ask yourself whether that's necessary. If you're a doctor who is on call or an accountant during tax season, you may need to stay connected, but many people don't. When it's time to play with your child or talk with your spouse, create a charging station that's away from the main living area of your home and plug your phone in there so you won't be tempted to check it every five minutes. Another way to digitally detox is to use an app like Stay Focused - App Block, which can restrict the usage of certain apps, as well as the overall usage of your phone, based on criteria that you set.

2. Use productivity strategies to be as efficient as possible during work hours. If co-workers are slowing you down with bothersome water-cooler chitchat, don't be afraid to politely excuse yourself. Use headphones to drown out distractions and deter people from disrupting your flow (in the case of the latter, you don’t even need to have music playing!). Try turning off email notifications and checking your email just three times a day—first thing in the morning, midday, and an hour before you leave the office—to give yourself large blocks of uninterrupted time to get stuff done. And take advantage of apps like Toggl to time work tasks and figure out which ones are taking longer than they should. If you get a lunch break, multitask and use the time to take a brisk walk or practice some other healthy habits, so you can get right into family time once you’re done with work.

family eating breakfast

3. Schedule regular family time. This will mean something different for each family, depending on everyone's schedules, and it's something that you may have to tweak over time as schedules change. But try to make one particular thing non-negotiable with your family at least once a week and actually schedule it on your family calendar. It could mean having family dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. every weeknight, a weekend morning waffle breakfast, or a standing date night with your partner. It can even be a group walk around the neighborhood for some fresh air and exercise; any event that promotes togetherness and forces you to prioritize it is a positive thing.

4. Talk to your boss. These days, managers are more open to discussing workplace flexibility, and it’s worth discussing options whether you’re in negotiations for a new job or if you’re an established employee with some leverage. Maybe it means creating hours that work better for you, like 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. instead of 9 to 5 so you can be with your kids after school lets out, or perhaps it means working from home one day a week. Some employees are even negotiating a 20/20 deal: taking off one full day per week in exchange for a 20 percent pay cut. If none of this is possible, ask whether you can at least have more leeway in saying no to unimportant meetings or projects that aren't the best use of your time so you can tackle what matters and not get stuck staying late.

5. Be kind to yourself. Remember that it's impossible to achieve the perfect balance 24/7. It may be harder certain days, weeks, months, or years to get it right. For example, if you've just started a new job or received a promotion, you may need to log extra hours to prove yourself and figure out what you're doing. If you're a tax professional, the first quarter is going to demand more of your time than the rest of the year. Or if you work at a tech company, the week leading up to a new feature release will usually be more chaotic than other weeks. The bottom line: Do your best, don't beat yourself up, and celebrate the times when you nail it.

Get more great health and wellness stories at Parents.com/Strive.