Work-life balance

Whether you regularly skip your lunch break or just find it difficult to leave work worries at the office, here are the habits you need to create a healthier work-life balance

With a quarter of us unhappy with our work-life balance and an increase in employees burning the midnight oil (last year we worked an average of 7.7 hours’ unpaid overtime each week), there’s never been a better time to reclaim some balance.

Mastering the art could have a significant impact on our health: more than 40% of us are neglecting other aspects of our lives because of work, making us vulnerable to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

France took action last year by banning out-of-hours digital communication for employees, while research from Harvard Business School has proven that workers who make a conscious effort to disconnect from work-related content not only felt happier at home but were more satisfied, enthusiastic and efficient at work.

To help regain control of your free time and keep winning at work, here are 10 easy changes you can make now.

1. Put a filter on it

If you’re addicted to checking your work emails at home or on holiday, try a digital blocking app like Offtime. Created by German psychologist Alexander Steinhart in collaboration with the University of Berlin, you can choose to set periods of time for the app to block disruptive notifications, so you can fully relax during your downtime. You can also use it to block out distracting social media apps when you’re at work to encourage your productivity.

2. Try time blocking

Used by everyone from top CEOs to Beyoncé, time blocking is an efficient way to manage your time. Requiring a bit of pre-planning, it involves dividing your day or week into segments of time, helping you to split up important work tasks and lock in your personal and social time, too.

Stay on track by sectioning off time for just one task – whether it’s replying to emails, writing a report, hitting the gym in your lunch break or having a date night with your partner. This means the balancing act simply becomes a case of sticking to the plan, potentially relieving the stress that comes with juggling several things at once.

3. Take tips from the Danes

Denmark recently came out top in the annual OECD Better Life Index, which ranks countries based on their work-life balance (the Danes scored 9.1 out of 10 on the scale, versus the UK’s 6.6). For them, efficiency is more respected than working long hours. They commonly openly prioritise ‘life’ over work, taking their lunch break at a designated time each day to eat together out of the office. Plus, they negotiate flexible working hours with their employers, including choosing their start time and working from home more often.

4. Clean up your act

According to time management expert Julie Morgenstern, your physical workspace can have a big effect on your mood and productivity. She suggests keeping your desk clear apart from the project you’re currently tackling, with an ‘in’ pile for new tasks and an ‘out’ pile for completed ones ready to pass on. Then, spend the last 10 minutes of your day readying your desk for tomorrow, so you don’t have to start your day with yesterday’s mess and you’re not thinking about it once you’ve left the office.

5. Get smarter in your tea break

Ted Talks can help you reclaim your work breaks with their curated playlist of 10 talks under six minutes, designed to fit into your work break. From 8 Secrets Of Success to Archaeology From Space, learning something new can be a mental refresher and help to fuel creativity, according to Action for Happiness.

6. Have a digital declutter

People spend 13 hours a week on average sorting through their email inbox. Save yourself time with tidy tools such as unroll.me, which automatically groups your subscription emails into one email and allows you to mass unsubscribe. Or try Organizer, an email management tool that intelligently organises your emails into folders for you.

7. Head to a coffee shop

Japanese researchers at Yamaguchi University found that relocating to a café instead of your desk could help you be more productive and focused. This is because the constant background hum of other people’s idle conversation is much less distracting than conversation between colleagues. Not possible to leave the office? Break out into communal areas such as the canteen or lobby and plug in an ambient audio app like Coffitivity.

8. Find flexi-freedom

It sounds obvious, but checking with the HR department about your company’s policy on working hours could offer you more flexibility. Since June 2014, all employees have the right to request flexible working after 26 weeks of service and some companies offer flexi Fridays, where you can opt to leave the office earlier.

9. Have a creative recharge

Using your downtime to do something creative such as writing, gardening or playing an instrument could have a huge hand in helping you unwind and switch off. This is because when we do creative activities, we’re engaged in what psychologists describe as a sense of ‘flow’. Psychologist Elaine Slater explains that performing a creative task puts us in a ‘near-meditative state’ where we feel removed from life’s stresses. Instead of crashing out on the sofa, try spending just an hour or two each week working on a creative project for a more effective way to recharge.

10. Try 10 minutes of meditation

If your mind is whirring before or after the working day, taking just 10 minutes to meditate is a great way to calm your thoughts, increase your memory and become more focused. Never tried it before? Try free app Headspace, which easily guides you through 10 minutes of mediation a day.

Want more inspiration for making the most of your time off? Read our 5 ways to make this weekend your healthiest yet

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