Ever feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day? As a 20-something, the path towards work-life balance can seem like a distant dream if you find yourself all-consumed by your job. If you identify as a “workaholic,” you might hear yourself using the excuse “I’m too busy!” more than you’d like to avoid situations outside of work, which includes anything from happy hours with friends to getting in an evening workout.
In an attempt to impress your boss, strive for a promotion or make bonus, it can be easy to forget the aspects of life that can add to your happiness and overall well-being. If you’re drowning at your desk, frustrated with your current situation and in desperate need of more time, we’re here to help with a list of areas to make more of a priority without changing your work schedule.
1. Don’t put physical activity on the back burner
After a long day at work, it can be tempting to crash on your couch and watch TV for the rest of the night. Sometimes that is totally acceptable, but it’s vital for your health to make physical activity a key component of your routine.
If you feel as though there simply isn’t enough time to squeeze in a workout at the end of the day, try waking up earlier to go to the gym or exercising during your lunch break. You will find that regular exercise can have a major impact on your job performance by improving your mood, relieving stress and boosting your energy level, which should provide some motivation.
Sydnee Lyons, a second year graduate student at Florida Atlantic University, understands the positive effects of fitness. “I find that when I start a new job, before long I forget all about my workout routine, which really affects not only my fitness but also my mood,” she says. “I work hard to remind myself to stay active as much as possible, even when I have a hectic schedule.”
Haley Cahill, a 2015 graduate of Appalachian State University, also needed reminders to make fitness a priority in between work. She says, “I changed my habits so that on Sundays, I write my exercise plan out for the week so that I have it worked into my schedule—nonnegotiable. On the occasion that I decide to skip a Tuesday workout in favor of happy hour, I don’t stress about it, because the rest of the week is planned out.”
Improving your physical activity level doesn’t just involve going to the gym more frequently, however. If you find yourself at a desk job that involves little to no mobility, try taking breaks throughout the day to walk around your office and get your blood flowing. Activity bands such as a Fitbit can help hold you accountable to ensure that you’re walking enough during the day.
Some offices also offer standing desks or even treadmills at which you can work, which are great options for staying fit while being productive! If you don’t have access to these things however, periodic breaks can be extremely helpful to avoid a sore neck and shoulders.
2. Make healthy eating part of your routine
We’ve all been there. It’s 9 p.m., and you’re finally packing up your things at the office after a long day. On the drive home from work, you see a McDonald’s with its golden arches suddenly shining brighter than before. You’re not a fast food fanatic, but right now you’re on sensory overload and nothing sounds sweeter than a burger and fries; so, you give in and enter the drive-thru.
While it’s easier to eat something that’s quick, the foods that you choose can positively or negatively affect your performance and mood at work.
Cooking your meals doesn’t have to be boring and time-consuming, however. Meal prep is an increasingly popular trend, where one makes a large portion of the same food (usually during the weekend) and divides it up for the rest of the week. In addition to saving time, it’s also cheaper!
Haley noticed that she struggled to maintain a healthy diet once she left college, but she found tips that worked for her. She says, “I’ve always been a healthy eater, but working a 9-to-5 job and exercising for an hour or so after work, the last thing I wanted to do was stand over a stove when I got home, which meant fast food or grazing on junk food in the evenings. So I started cooking all my lunches and dinners for the week on Sundays and waking up a few minutes early during the week to make an egg white omelet or other hearty breakfast before work.”
Haley adds that she started entering her nutrition information on the app MyFitnessPal, and attributes her ability to stay on track to having healthy meals fully cooked and ready to heat up on the go.
If you find that it’s too time consuming to meal prep, or perhaps cooking isn’t your forte, try planning out your meals in a journal with options that are in your office’s cafeteria or a local restaurant.
3. Always keep learning
After some point in your job, it might feel as though you’re not learning anything new, and that rather, each day includes the same tasks on repeat. Why not learn something outside of the office instead? Don’t forget that you were continually learning something new in college, either recently or a few years ago, so the transition to a more routine job might seem a bit awkward initially.
If grad school isn’t on your horizon, try taking an evening class in a field related to your work to help you improve, whether online or at a local college. You can also test for a certification in a specific technical tool, such as Photoshop or Google Analytics.
Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom, however. From reading after work to attending speaking events, it’s easy to broaden your horizons.
4. Rest is essential to strong work performance
After a long day, it’s essential to try and get enough sleep in order to perform your best the next day. However, even after coming home, you might find yourself wired and restless, with your mind only focusing on work.
One tip is to give yourself a technology detox, especially close to the hour that you typically fall asleep. Occasionally it might be necessary to bring some work home with you, but you have to give your eyes a break from your computer screen.
Morgan Dux, who is now in her second year of working full time, immediately saw the benefits of taking a break from technology. She says, “By [the] nature of my work in communications/public relations, I am constantly using technology at work. By listening to podcasts, spending time exercising outside and getting creative in the kitchen, I feel engaged and refreshed. If I’m on my phone or in front of the computer, it feels too much like work.”
Alaina Leary, an editor and a graduate student at Emerson College, noticed her health deteriorating when she struggled to separate herself from her work. She says, “I stopped taking care of my health. I started getting these incredibly painful migraines out of nowhere. I’ve never had headaches before.”
Alaina learned a big lesson from her ordeal. “I realized I need to prioritize work, but I also need to prioritize my health. It’s important I get time to myself, to re-charge and re-energize every night if possible.”
In order to give yourself proper rest after work, some helpful tips include doing meditation and breathing techniques, curling up with a good book, taking on a hobby or talking to friends and family on the phone.
5. Don’t forget about your friends
You don’t want to be that friend who always turns down plans because you’re too busy; before you know it, it could gradually hurt your relationships as your friends become increasingly frustrated with you.
It’s essential to make your close friends feel like they’re important and worth your free time; after all, they’re probably busy, too! Try to Skype or FaceTime with your long-distance friends on a regular basis. If you’re in the same city as some of your friends, work on getting together as regularly as possible. It’s easy to send a text, but it’s more meaningful to grab coffee or drinks.
In becoming more social, you also don’t want to forget about your roommates. After work you might want to immediately lock yourself in your room and pass out, but you’ll find it hard to build solid relationships with them if you hardly see them! Don’t be that roommate who’s always MIA because she’s so busy at work.
Instead, spend even a little time each night when you get home asking about their days and checking in. Maybe even schedule in a nightly or weekly dinner, so you have regular time to bond. You don’t get a lot of time to interact with them outside of the weekend, so make your time together count.
Despite a busy work schedule, it’s important to still make time for these key aspects of your life on the quest towards work/life balance. These changes won’t happen dramatically overnight, but if you make small tweaks to your daily routine, you will find that it’s not impossible to make time for these things that can have a really positive effect on you.