Create your balance. Design your life.

All in a Day’s Work

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As I was ruminating on writing this article a few days ago, it occurred to me that when I think about work-life balance, I often think about how much I’m working versus not, or what I am doing in my down-time for self-care and to decompress. Holy smokes! I have been overlooking an enormous chunk of the day in this equation: the work part of the day. Interestingly, this part of the day has been on my mind a lot recently, as I’ve been having some soap-box moments around the topics of workplace hierarchy and employee-fairness. I will table those for today though, so we can stay on topic here.

The intention of finding or exploring balance between your work and non-work parts of your life is generally around health, happiness, and meaning. Every person is going to have a different relationship to those ideas; a different desire or quest. For most or many people, overwork creates a situation of over-stress and the rest of life goes out the window…so the quest becomes one of pumping up recovery activities, like fun and bubble baths and meditation and all those goodies.

Imagine this scenario for a moment: one where you do not come home from work worn out. That’s right! For those of you working full days outside the home in a focused or fast-paced or multi-tasking environment, coming home worn out might be the norm. If you work at home, or your job is really easy, or you are self-employed, you might need to think a little harder about how you feel at the end of the day..and if it’s okay with you or not. So back to imagined scenario, imagine ending your work day relaxed, energized, calm, and if that’s too far fetched then just imagine neutral.

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I suggest to you, now, that there are likely a number of things you can do, adjustments you can make, throughout your work day to move you closer to this imagined scenario. Things like setting priorities for your day when you first arrive at your job, before any meetings, before any email, before helping any customers with their urgent customer service needs.

Try it tomorrow: take two minutes right when you arrive (or just before, if you know you will walk into a maelstrom) to close your eyes, notice how you feel now, how you’d like to feel walking out at the end of the day, and get clear on what will help you get there. It might be particular projects that are pressing, it might be remembering to take frequent breaks, or eating a healthy lunch, or handling a challenging employee that you have been putting off. If you work in a position with a lot of production activity, like a kitchen, perhaps it’s reminding yourself what you enjoy about it, or remembering to stretch between tickets. Getting clear on your focus for the day will not only help you to be more productive and efficient, but generally adds a sense of meaning to your day of work.

Another tip for leaving your work day feeling less run over by a semi IS to make sure you have some downtime. Even when I work at home there are times I suddenly notice I have been ignoring a biological need like food or water or the bathroom trying to finish ‘just one more thing’. Be your own best employee on this one! If your body says “I need”, your job is to say “Yes Sir” or “Yes Ma’am” and deliver. There’s another piece to this though, which especially applies if you are working for someone else, and can get tricky. Take a look at your day, and know not only your personal limits, but also the employment regulations in your state. Are you being allotted and taking the required amount of breaks, typically two short breaks and a lunch break in an eight-hour work day? I hate to say it but it’s true – many employers conveniently overlook the rules and pressure their staff to work on through. This issue is not about whether or not you can take it – it’s about the law, and it’s about your health. I guarantee you that you will be more productive and creative with a few moments to hit ‘reset’ here and there throughout the day. If your boss is a chronic rule-breaker, consider your options with regard to having a discussion with your manager, filing a report with your human resources department or your boss’s boss, and if this position is really working for you or you would be better off looking for a different work environment.

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Last tip: find a way to shake off the work day and really make that solid transition to your non-work life. Even if you love and adore your job, non-focused “downtime” is vital for maintaining nervous system health and keeping more than one stream of meaning in your life. One of the reasons people have a tough time entering retirement is if they have put all their meaning-eggs in one work-basket. When the work is done, they now have an enormous task of creating something new. Making the transition from the work day to home (or wherever) can be challenging. I frequently catch myself thinking of a new idea or way to handle something, or wondering about the day tomorrow. Good ways to cleanse your system include a workout, singing in the car, meeting up with friends, or developing your own mini-cleanout ritual like brushing your work day off your arms and clicking your heels together three times to signify the work is over.

I hope this article has given you some food for thought about putting YOU back into your work environment. A great place to start is in noticing the next time you are at work, how your day is going and what’s working for you or not. Unless you already have an A+ in creating your own work environment, I bet you will find some areas for adjustment. Try it out!

I have a bonus tip for the chronic overworkers and self-employed: you are not your job. Although it might feel like it sometimes, you are more than just your vocation. Although I cannot say 100% for sure, it is most likely that the world will not come to an end if you turn off your email while you eat your lunch. A rested brain is a creative brain, meaning, you might come up with those solutions a whole lot faster if you take a break and come back to your work, than trying to muscle your way through. Your work will feel easier, and your customers and co-workers and managers will likely appreciate your improved demeanor. If your work is your whole life, either by choice or accident, consider if there is something else you’ve always wanted to try like reading or friendship or skydiving, and take the first step towards trying it out.

And for anyone reading who’s thinking, “Well, this just doesn’t apply to me. There’s not room in my work-life for change. I’m overworked, underpaid, and I see no way out,” that end-of-work-day ritual is going to be incredibly important, as is considering if there is a change you might want to make to move yourself into a healthier work environment. I am not offering the illusion that it will be easy, but the only person who can make that change is you. And you’re worth it.

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Jen Kahn is an integrative healthcare practitioner specializing in functional and behavioral nutrition, yoga therapy, and metaphysics with a focus on chronic health conditions and emotional eating. Through the blessings of modern technology she works with clients all over the world in private consultation and through online workshops. Her website is currently under construction, but you can find her latest event at http://freetastecall.weebly.com or contact her by email: jen@elementalhealthwellness.com. When she’s not working with clients, running events, or writing, she can be found biking, cooking, painting, snuggling with her cats or doing nothing at all in the Pacific Northwest.

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