“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” — Benjamin Franklin
Success is hard. Everyone wants it. Not everyone has it. Whatever success means to you today, you’re likely striving towards it, reaching for your goals in an effort to improve your life and take care of your family. Most people are. But as we reach for success, we tend to throw any semblance of normalcy out the window. As a result, our work-life balance doesn’t improve, it suffers. Because, let’s face it, who has time for everything?
I know just what it feels like to constantly strive for something. I know what it feels like to fall down and fail, shattering the world around me, resulting in an enormous loss of all hope. But I also know what it feels like to succeed, enjoy this journey we call life, while also ensuring a healthy work-life balance. It’s not easy. But it is possible.
The best way to improve work-life balance is to focus primarily on one area — your habits. Considering that 45% of all human behavior stems from our habits, the best way to improve the way that we govern our thoughts and actions, is to strike at the very heart of who we are. This, in my opinion, is the best way to improve your work-life balance.
The core of who we are and why we do the things that we do, begin with our habits. They’re the learned behaviors that we repeat over and over, interwoven into our daily routines. If you truly do want to improve your work-life balance, not only do you need to build up better habits by focusing on things like keystone habits, but you also have to work to quit your bad habits.
Habits for Work-Life Balance
Life is full of choices. We have the choice to what we want, when we want and with whom we want. We have the choice to travel from Point A to Point B. We have the choice to be angry, upset, regretful or happy. We have the choice to eat, go on a diet or go for a run. But with so many choices, why do we still feel like we’re stuck in choice-less life devoid of all hope?
The problem? Most of us look to what we don’t have rather than what we do have. How can we improve our work-life balance when we’re living in a state of lack rather than one of abundance? I’ll tell you right now that doing so can pretty much zap the happiness and mental clarity straight from our minds, bodies and spirits.
There was a time, not that long ago, where I felt helpless. When you’re working long hours to no avail, or you feel like you’re stuck in an insufferable situation with no way out, or you’ve managed to endure a string of endless failures, you tend to feel that way. I’ve failed repeatedly. I hate the feeling while going through it, but I also think it’s been some of the best things to have ever happened to me.
My point? I always looked at my work-life balance the wrong way. My entire efforts were skewed towards work rather than family or friends. I spent all of my time engrossed in constantly trying to achieve and succeed that I didn’t realize the importance of the simple art of living, overlooking the miracles of everyday life. If you’ve reached a similar epiphany, I applaud and congratulate you.
No doubt, you understand the importance of work, but you also understand the importance of life. So, how can we actually improve our work-life balance? What I’ve come to find is that there are 5 essential habits that are must-haves for improving the balance between your work and your life. I don’t know if you can ever achieve a perfect ratio, but you can get close enough if these 5 behaviors become habitual.
#1 — Be grateful, no matter what
I know that life can be hard and we can all suffer through some torturous times. Believe me, I’ve been there. Failure isn’t easy for anyone, especially after having to endure it repeatedly. But no matter what the situation is, we just have to be grateful for what we have. It’s easy to want things and live in a state of lack, but far harder to appreciate what we have right now.
If you take a quick look at the news, you’ll see some of the strife that people from around the world are suffering. Whether it’s people that are fleeing their home country in search of a better life, people suffering from famine or disease, and still others that are being oppressed or brutalized. You name it, it’s happening somewhere in the world.
Today, if we were to stop and throw all of our problems into a hat with everyone else across the earth, we would instantly take our problems back. I know that life can be hard and we can endure some trying times, but the pathway to an improved work-life balance, and simply a healthy state-of-mind, is gratitude. No matter what, we have to be grateful.
But the habit of gratitude doesn’t build up easily. Our minds are conditioned to live in states of fear, anxiety, worry and nervousness. That conditioning is a result of the lives we’ve led over the years. It’s also the result of genetic conditioning, and our internal mechanisms to avoid pain and gain pleasure. The fear we often feel, however, isn’t substantiated and is primarily the projection of negative internal wrangling.
Gratitude is the source of happiness. Thus, it’s the source of an improved work-life balance. When we’re grateful for what we have, it’s far easier to enjoy this journey that we call life. We live in a state of abundance rather than a state of lack. We look at things in a positive light rather than a negative light when we’re grateful for what we have, no matter how little it might be.
Numerous studies have linked gratitude to happiness. Gratitude is the pathway to an improved life. But building up the habit isn’t easy. Studies suggest that habits take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form, with an average formation of 66 days. The reasoning there is that neural pathways take time to etch in the mind. The longer you repeat a behavior, the deeper the pathway etches.
If you want to create the habit of gratitude to improve your work-life balance, you need to ensure you keep at it. Spend 15 minutes every single morning writing out all the things that you have to be grateful for. No matter how big or small it is, even if it’s a problem, be grateful for it. Problems and pain are the pathway to a greater understanding about life, love and the people around us.
#2 — Manage your time effectively
I’ve talked about time management before. I believe wholeheartedly in this. And while most people have an understanding of the importance of time management, not many people follow a structured regime. But if you want to improve your work-life balance, you absolutely must learn to become an effective time manager.
The biggest goal here, and the one most people fail at often (including myself in the past), is to avoid time-wasters. What you need to realize is that everyone in the world has the same amount of time. It doesn’t matter if they’re rich or poor, the color of their skin, what religion they believe in or where they live. We all have the same 24 hours in a day.
Since such a big part of the work-life balance comes from the availability of time, it’s how we use the time we already have that plays such a large role in our effectiveness in devoting the right amount of it to both our work lives and our personal lives. Other things play a big role here too such as tendencies towards procrastination and bad habits, but it’s the underlying usage of our time that matters the most.
So how does this work? Simply, find an effective time management system that you can utilize. One of the best ones you can leverage is the Quadrant System for managing your time. This system breaks up all your activities using two separate metrics: urgency and importance. The idea here is that everything you do in the day is some combination (or lack thereof) of these two elements.
For example, some things might be considered both urgent and important. These things are called emergencies or crises. If your child has an accident at school or a client calls you fuming mad because of a mistake you just made, these would fall under the urgent-and-important quadrant, also known as Quadrant 1.
When we engage in time-wasters, for example, which can completely throw off our work-life balance by the way, we’re immersed in the not-important-and-not-urgent quadrant, also known as Quadrant 4. By spending time in Quadrant 4, you’re sending a strong signal to your subconscious mind that your goals or your work-life balance isn’t actually that important to you.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t relax from time to time or take breaks. You can. It just means that you shouldn’t be wasting too much of your time here. Instead, if you really want to improve your work-life balance, spend as much time as you can in Quadrant 2, also known as the not-urgent-but-important quadrant, which is associated with your long-term goals.
By pushing towards your long-term goals, internally, you feel much better. While this won’t pay off in the near-term, it will pay off enormously down the road. Again, this all boils down to time management. For example, I spend almost almost 100% of my work time in Quadrant 2 and I’ve done so for years. It wasn’t easy to get to that point, but I managed my time effectively. And so can you.
Today, because I live in Quadrant 2, and my income is passive rather than active, my work-life balance has soared. I have time for my family (wife and two small babies), and the freedom to go where I please and not have to answer to anyone. While some people think that this is unattainable, I assure you that it is. It all just depends on your level of commitment to your goals.
#3 — Set meaningful goals
Speaking of goals, you need to set meaningful ones. When you set meaningful goals, it’s far easier to achieve them. But, when you do the opposite, and you set superficial goals, or goals that simply don’t mean that much to you, you’ll throw in the proverbial towel and give up. But if you’re serious about a goal and it means a lot to you, you’ll do what it takes to achieve it.
If you want to really improve your work-life balance, then absolutely set meaningful goals. These are SMARTER goals that will ultimately improve your life, career, relationships and everything else around you. When I talk about meaningful, they really do need to get to the core of who you are. An example of this would be security, freedom, wellness or family.
Instead of saying you want to make a million dollars so you can buy a fancy sports car and a beach house, say you want to do it for your security and the security of your family. Say you want to do it so that you children don’t have to struggle and suffer the way you did. Say you want to do it so that you have the freedom to travel or spend time with loved ones. Those are meaningful goals.
Any time that we set non-meaningful goals we’re throwing off our work-life balance. When we push towards non-meaningful goals and the going gets tough, we usually end up giving up, throwing in that proverbial towel and calling it quits. This gives us unneeded stress and anxiety, causing a loss of focus and enthusiasm, and a severe decline of hope for the future.
Decide right now on what you want in your life, specifically, but also why you want it. If you want to improve your work-life balance and just about every area of your life, you’ll commit to doing this now and you’ll commit to doing this on paper. If you don’t write it down, then it remains in the abstract. Meaningful goals that are written out are far more effective.
#4 — Wake up early
I’ve woken up early the majority of my life. It’s something I made habitual long ago. I did suffer through some lapses during momentary times of weakness, but always reverted back to the wake-up-early habit. Today, I wake up at 3am on most days and operate on roughly 5 hours of sleep. I don’t drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or have coffee too close to bedtime.
I’ve conditioned my mind and my body to wake up early because I knew that it was the pathway to achieving a large majority of my goals. I still have outlandish goals today that I’m pursuing, but wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of those things while having any semblance of normalcy. However, this one habit will greatly improve your work-life balance beyond your imagination.
If you claim that you’re not a morning person, and you put yourself in a box that says you can’t do something because of some personal limitation, you’re instantly labeling yourself as such and you’ll find it far more difficult to achieve. Create a routine that involves you waking up early every single day. If you’re not used to it, enlist the micro-habits approach.
The micro-habits approach? Here’s a quick tutorial on how to develop any habit by using the micro-habits approach. Since habits develop slowly over time, you need to gently pull back the elastic so it doesn’t snap. It’s hard to go from zero to hero overnight and stick it out. Cold turkey doesn’t actually work for most folks. For that reason, build the habit slowly using the micro-habits approach.
Set your alarm clock back 15 minutes earlier for the first week. Successfully wake up 15 minutes early for 7 days in a row. The next week, set it back another 15 minutes. Keep doing this week after week for at least 8 to 12 weeks. This is how a new habit is built. It’s far easier to wake up 15 minutes early and get used to that for a week than to try to start waking up 2 or 3 hours earlier straight off the bat the very next day.
If you’re committed to improving your work-life balance, then this is an essential habit to have. In the morning, be sure to tackle the things that matter. Create a to-do list, exercise, eat a healthy breakfast and work on your long-term goals.
#5 — Focus on Spirituality
Take up one activity of your choice that will allow you to spiritually center yourself. Whether that’s yoga in the morning, meditation, or even heading to your local church for prayer, get spiritually grounded. Make this habitual and do it day-in and day-out. The mental clarity that arises from this will astronomically improve your work-life balance. It will also give you more peace of mind.
There is far more here than meets the eye when I talk about focusing on your spirituality. Some people might chalk this up to some mystical thinking. However, there is real power in the ether. This goes beyond simply improving your work-life balance and stems more into attracting the right things into your life by grounding your self spiritually.
Whatever you decide to do, spiritually speaking, choose something and make it habitual. Do it every single day without fail. This allows you to tap into that invisible fiber that binds us all, really helping to move you forward on a number of fronts. Not only will your work-life balance improve, but so will the rest of your life.
Focus on your faith or simply the oneness of energy that binds us all. It’s real and it’s out there. And the more that we can tap into the power of the true belief that arises from things like faith and a deeper spiritual connectedness, the more we can happily succeed rather than succeeding to be happy.
We cannot root our happiness primarily in success. As much as it might pain us not to have achieved our goals, the focus must be on the journey. Your spiritual journey is just as important as your physical, emotional and mental journey, so don’t forget it while you’re working towards your goals. It will add immensely to your work-life balance, improving nearly every facet of your life.