3 Lessons on Work-Life Balance

Sooner or later, we all have to find a way to find a good work-life balance.

If not, we find that work takes up so much of our life that there is little time left for anything else. Or, we pay a much greater price in terms of our physical, mental, or emotional well-being.

We don’t usually figure out we have a problem with an imbalance between our work and the rest of our lives until we are already in trouble.

Here are 3 lessons that we can learn and practice to prevent those troubles from developing, and to help us re-balance our work with the rest of our lives.

1. Learn to Set Limits

Everybody wants to do a good job at work, at least if you want to keep your job.

For some of you, that means that you will do anything that is asked of you at work. Some even do what they think might be asked of them.

When you learn to set limits, you review the requests and demands made of you at work and then do what you can in the time available.

One of the best ways to set limits around work is to physically schedule the time that you are available for work.

That’s probably not going to be the 35-40 hour work week of the past, but there’s nothing wrong with setting a goal or a limit of 50 hours in the office per week.

At home the same applies, and you could offer to be ‘on call’ or available until 8 at night, or one day on the weekend, in the case of a work ‘emergency’.

Just remember that while it’s great to set limits, they only help your work-life balance if you actually stick to them.

2. Learn to Say No

It’s funny. We spend the first two or three years of our lives being told no, and then the rest of our days, especially at work, forgetting everything we have learned about that little three-letter word. Saying the word “no” is something you have to learn again if you hope to gain a good work-life balance.

Here’s a mantra to help you re-learn this important word: “It’s okay to say no.” Some people, unfortunately sometimes even our supervisors, seem to think that saying no is an excuse or some kind of cop-out.

They make us feel like saying no is a personal failing, or even worse a personal insult. Whenever they try that on you, just repeat the mantra: “It’s okay to say no.”

It’s okay to say no when you are overwhelmed and can’t keep up, or when you feel that the request is unfair or unreasonable. When someone asks you to work late on Friday night and they wait until just before 5 to ask, it’s okay to say no.

If you have worked the last three weekends and they ask you to work a fourth, it’s perfectly fine to say no. Saying no is also acceptable if you physically can’t perform a function, or if it involves a task where you do not feel qualified or competent.

3. Learn Healthy Coping Skills

We all cope differently with stress and the pressures of the modern workplace, and the good news is that most of those coping techniques work to some degree to help us stay in balance at work and at home.

But while some coping skills are effective in reducing stress, they can also have a downside. This applies to a range of activities, from drinking alcohol, to gambling, to shopping.

All of these things may make us feel better at the time, but if done more than moderately they will ultimately cause us more problems than before. Possibly as early as our headache tomorrow morning or our credit card bill at the end of the month.

Other coping mechanisms will not only make us feel better in the moment and alleviate our stress, they will also help us get restored and rejuvenated. Being stress-free and refreshed is essential to maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

The best and healthiest coping skill that we can learn is regular physical exercise. Walking, or any other activity for twenty minutes three times a week, will do wonders for our physical well-being and, even more importantly, our mental health and emotional balance and ultimately our work-life balance.

Plus, we get to burn off those extra calories and feel better about ourselves. Healthy coping skills really are the gift to ourselves that keeps on giving.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of Change the Things You Can (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: Change the Things You Can


  1. Scott on the 4th March

    This is a really good post that covers a lot of the same issues I do as a coach. Setting boundaries & learning how to cope are protective mechanisms that only you can enforce. No one is going to tell you how to do these things, yet it’s the proactive way to be healthy. So much of stress results in physical pain, but knowing your limits makes it known what’s ok and what isn’t. As for coping, so much of life isn’t about planning, but responding (not reacting) the best way we can. Such an important skill both professionally and personally.

  2. Rob Hooft on the 8th March

    Funny to see “no” being called a three-letter word. I’d think it is either two (count them) or four (figuratively).

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