Avoiding Burnout: The Importance of a Work-Life Balance - Laura McLoughlin

Finding a work-life balance might seem impossible when you’re in a stressful job with little time to unwind. It’s well-known that burnout and exhaustion are affecting more of us. Given we spend around 21% of our waking hours working, striking a balance between work and life is critical – but what if the typical workplace environment is causing the problem?

As revealed by a recent survey, modern office practices stifle us and leave little room for creativity. Out of 100 people surveyed by online retailer, My Own Stationery, 59% felt more creative while relaxing, and 54% worked best outside – a far cry away from open-plan offices and the culture of ‘presenteeism’. Since we all know creativity and innovation are key to business growth and development, how can we excel in the workplace while taking care of ourselves?

What if we perform best by thinking about work less?

Leave Work at Work

Out of those surveyed, only 41% worked best at work. This isn’t surprising given how many productive hours we have in a day. According to US researcher, Alex Pang, most of us are only productive at work for 4 hours a day. Slaving in the office for hours only to stumble into bed before doing it all again the next day doesn’t increase productivity.

Most of us are guilty of thinking about work when we get home – or, worse, checking emails and taking calls. But do we really achieve more by working out of hours? It seems unlikely. By leaving work at work, we keep our professional and personal lives separate – key to finding that balance vital to our wellbeing.

Once you accept that work is never done, no matter how many hours there are in the day, it’s easier to leave your job in the office where it belongs – and get that change of perspective you need to perform best. Marc Cohen, CEO of Wrinkl, keeps a notebook by his bed for those late-night ‘lightbulb’ moments. Taking time for you won’t make you underperform at work. Instead, it’ll give you the space for creativity and inspiration to breathe.

Fuel Your Body, Fuel Your Mind

When you’re snowed under with tasks and deadlines, it’s easy to grab a chocolate bar or energy drink to keep you going. Skipping lunch breaks quickly becomes a daily habit, and soon you forget they exist. But you can’t concentrate or innovate while your stomach rumbles. As your energy levels rise and fall over the day, so does your mood – and productivity. The best way to keep fatigue at bay, and your body healthy, is to get the proper fuel.

Foods such as bananas, salmon and walnuts keep cravings under control and give your mind the energy it needs to perform best. Get plenty of water, stock up on fruit and oats, and watch your focus improve. You can’t take care of work until you take care of you!

Leave the Office

Lunch breaks aren’t just for eating. Stiff muscles, tired eyes and weary minds need a break – or, even better, a change of environment. Out of those surveyed, 54% work better, and get their best ideas, when they’re outside away and away from their desk. Monotony stifles creativity and makes it harder to look at work with a positive mindset. A shift in focus improves your frame of mind, relaxes you, and sets you up for the rest of your day.

If you really must work during lunch hour, at least get a change in scenery. Give your brain the diversion it needs to stay stimulated and productive. Exchange your computer for a notebook, change your routine. Your work – and mood – will improve.

Find Time for a New Hobby

Why not use your lunch break and new, balanced work hours as an excuse for some ‘you’ time? Spend quality time with your family. Catch up with a friend or find a quiet spot to read a new book. Take that gym class you’ve been thinking about. Exercise helps control stress and keeps your body healthy – key to avoiding exhaustion and ill health.

It may still sadly be commonplace to struggle through work at all hours of the day and night at the expense of any work-life balance, but attitudes are shifting. Employees and employers alike are recognising 50, 60, 70+ hour weeks aren’t improving performance or driving business forward – in fact, with low employee morale and stagnation, it’s doing the complete opposite.

Work never ends. Something always needs done. But you can take control back. Challenge yourself to complete work in less time, or chart your own productivity for a week – how much do you accomplish in the average workday? You’ll likely find the answer’s the same whether you work 9-5 or 9-9.

Burnout is all-too-common, but it can be prevented once we shift away from stagnant work practices. Start making those change for yourself today. Your boss will thank you for your renewed enthusiasm and energy. That innovative idea will strike when you’re well-rested and ready to tackle the day – making you successful before you even set foot inside the office.

Still not convinced? Instead of checking emails on the commute to work, listen to your favourite music or walk instead. Get chatting to your colleagues. Even small changes improve your work-life balance and reduce the risk of burnout – what’s stopping you trying something new today?

My Own Stationery are an online retailer of personalised notebooks based in Carryduff, Northern Ireland.