How to find balance in a high-pressure environment – 3 steps you can start with right now

Photo by Christophe Hautier

The number of hours we work increases year by year, wherever we may be. While productivity is not increasing at a similar pace (anymore), the level of stress and the precedence of burnouts are.

How can we influence the effect it has on our lives? How can we (re-)find the balance we need, to enjoy our daily work (again)?

I am a strong believer of and-and, not either-or. To have a joyful life and cope with increased work pressure, we need to do the things we like. Here are the first 3 steps you can take.

1. Think about what balance means to you and prioritize

Photo by Curtis MacNewton

First things first, what does a balanced work-life mean to you? I am not talking the number of hours or days worked, but how you get most satisfaction out of your days, personally and professionally. In other words: What gives you energy and makes you tick? What makes your days joyful and brings long-term happiness?

Balance is a function of work, sleep, relaxation, food, relationships and exercise. And that function is different for everyone, dependent upon personal needs and preferences.

For some, balance would mean starting work early, feeling fit by eating healthy and hitting the gym on a regular basis. For others, it means a minimum of 8 hours sleep. Or maybe it means having dinner with the family every other night. It’s not either/or, there are no sacrifices, it’s how you envision your perfect day or week.

Obviously, there is only so much you can do in 24 hours and you might not always be able to predict all events. But you can influence your time spend by prioritizing what you find important, what gives you energy and brings the balance you need. To do that, you must define what balance means to you.

2. Know where you can influence the balance

Once you have listed your preferences and prioritized them, indicate for yourself where you can influence your balance. Be specific:

- What time slots can you use for personal activities? E.g. if you work late, can you create time for a quiet breakfast, exercise or maybe an extra hour of sleep?

- Can you create a flexible work arrangement? E.g. If you travel often, maybe you can work from home (part of) Fridays so you don’t have to do all your laundry in the weekend. Or if you work long days, can you work from home in the evening so you can have dinner with the family/friends?

- When are you ON and OFF? Having to check your phone every minute of the day can be tiring and stressful. Use the settings of your phone to give yourself some time to relax during off hours, e.g. use sound only for messages and tell people to send you a text for anything urgent.

A reactive mode is hard to sustain long-term. Feeling in control of your own work-life balance brings calm and puts things in perspective.

A final note on this: As someone who has worked in the deal environment, I understand there are busy and less busy weeks. While the less busy weeks can be used to catch up on sleep and seeing friends, I do believe there needs to be balance during the busy weeks too, albeit with less time for personal activities. Going back to step 1, indicate what you want to prioritize during the busy and less busy weeks. It will make your life much more pleasant to have some personal space rather than having the feeling you are continuously sacrificing.

Feel free to reach out if you need help doing this!

3. Share your preferences and cooperate – You are in-it-together

Photo by Marvin Meyer

Now you know what you find important and you know where you have the time and options to create your personal balance, share your preferences with those in your close environment, e.g. your team members, significant other, family and/or friends.

Not only is it good for them to know when and how they can reach you if needed, it will open conversation on how to best cooperate and ensure you meet your balance goals and they meet theirs. You are in it together; you will need your close environment to meet your goals - as a stimulus, for accountability (see previous post) and as a partner. And, especially in high-pressure environments, you must be realistic: the work needs to get done, so better be a team player.

In my previous job, we often started our projects asking for each other’s preferences regarding personal time (e.g. evenings, mornings), how to reach each other before/after business hours (e.g. text or e-mail), timing of feedback conversations, etc. While we started off on the right foot, the daily pressure often made us forget these balance goals. Not only is it important to share your goals, but with keeping each other accountable you can keep the energy high and, in the end, have a better team outcome.

I know it’s hard in practice and reaching a balanced work-life does not happen overnight. It can also easily change when things in life change, such as job transfers or starting a family. But I think everyone can attest to its importance for our own physical and mental health in the long run.

Please share your thoughts and any tips/tricks! How do you work towards more balance?

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