Raise your hand if you feel like your life is ruled by your phone. You take a coffee “break” during work, but end up refreshing your inbox constantly. You dash off just one more email before turning off your light, but are still left feeling like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done—let alone to have any fun.
If that sounds like you, Sally Cleary, licensed counselor and adviser for women’s wellness site Nourish + Bloom, says you’re not alone.
“Before modern technology people thought, once we get computers and robots we’re going to have all this free time to do whatever we want, when really it’s turned into the opposite,” Cleary says. “Now, the expectation to produce twice as much is what we’ve got. So people have a hard time finding the off button.”
“Now, the expectation to produce twice as much is what we’ve got. So people have a hard time finding the off button.”
But what’s so important about having an off button? Doesn’t always being on just mean you’re a hard worker? Not if you’re working so hard that you’re constantly stressed, Cleary says.
“Stress is a big deal, and I think we underestimate that,” Cleary says. “One of the reasons work-life balance is important is it’s killing us—stress is killing us, from adrenal fatigue to heart problems.”
To find more balance and decrease your stress, Cleary recommends focusing on the things that make you happiest, and says that for women especially, friendships are a great place to start.
“We need a place where we can be raw and let our hair down a little bit. Many times our spouse or partner can do that, but women need each other,” Cleary says. “Women need to get back on the same team with each other, and when you have that time with your girlfriends you get a sense of having that team.”
And yet, finding time to achieve your girl-squad #goals—or just schedule a simple dinner date—can be a challenge. If you’re shaking your head in agreement, Cleary has some solid advice. Bonus: If you want more wellness wisdom from women like Cleary, download the N+B Life app for all the intel.
Keep reading for the three steps to tackle work-life balance—and feel better in the long run.
1. Be honest with yourself and others
Start by taking inventory of the motivations behind all the decisions you make in a day. Did you accept the extra project assignment from your boss because you really want to earn a promotion, or because you were afraid if you admitted you were too busy you would get fired?
By getting real with yourself, you’ll be able to invite healthy balance into your life, rather than just making decisions out of fear.
“People are terrified of conflict,” Cleary says. “People will make sacrifices they wouldn’t normally make in order to avoid what they perceive might be a difficult conversation. Everyone thinks they have communication problems. It’s not a communication problem, it’s an honesty problem. It’s a fear of unpleasantness problem, and so sometimes it’s just about being brave.”
“Everyone thinks they have communication problems. It’s not a communication problem, it’s an honesty problem.”
Another honesty tip: Be open when making plans with friends, too. Will it be a major letdown if your friend bails on your birthday dinner, or can she mark it in her calendar as a “definitely maybe” if you know she’s slammed at work? By being honest and up-front about your expectations, you can avoid a lot of drama (in a healthier way than just ignoring it).
2. Identify your priorities
If you find yourself wishing for more hours in the day, consider that it might not be more hours you need—but streamlined expectations of how you should be spending them.
“Social media puts out the message that you can have it all,” Cleary says. “I would argue that you can’t have it all, and you don’t need it all.”
“Social media puts out the message that you can have it all. I would argue that you can’t have it all, and you don’t need it all.”
To identify what her balance-seeking clients really do need, Cleary has them make a list of their personal stressors. That includes everything from “I should have a spotless apartment and work out daily,” to “I should be a more devoted friend.”
Then, they decide which are priorities—and which can get the boot. “The stuff they get rid of first is the stuff they realize doesn’t matter, which is usually task-oriented, like I should have a clean garage. Often people can look at the list like, ‘Wow this is crushing me, and it’s because of a little bit of dust.’”
3. Be prepared to disappoint people
Once you’ve Marie Kondo-ed your priorities list, it’s time to put it into action—without apologizing for it. Not letting others sway your decisions is one of the keys to maintaining balance, Cleary says. The friends worth having in your life will support those decisions, even if sometimes that means a less favorable outcome for them.
“Letting other people down is not the worst thing that can happen to you,” Cleary says. “Letting yourself down is.”
“Letting other people down is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Letting yourself down is.”
And no, she doesn’t advise that you disregard all your boss’ requests in the name of balance (sometimes working extra hours is just a necessary part of life). But if turning in a non-pressing report a few hours late means you can make the mid-day workout that’s a non-negotiable part of your day, do that. You’ll return to work happier not just from the endorphins, but because you kept your commitment to yourself.
Top photo: Nourish + Bloom