Here Are 5 Ways to Work When Life Unbalances You

September 17, 2018 - 8 minutes read

Original article written by Dave Kerpen for Inc. Magazine

There is a proven correlation between our happiness and productivity. Of course, sometimes whether or not we’re happy isn’t up to us. When your situation rules out happiness, it’s time to revise your strategy. If you relieve a little pressure, you’ll find the balance needed to keep your head up during the daily grind — at work and beyond.

In spite of the many illusions that insist otherwise, there are only two things in your life that are totally under your control. Your action, or your response to a given situation, is the first. Your attitude is the other, and it’s your outlook relative to that situation.

It may sound like a frightening prospect, but it can be a relief to realize that most things are outside your control. You can drive carefully and still get in a car wreck. You can renovate your home and still struggle to sell it. The thing is, even when your circumstances appear to be working against you, you do control both your outlook and response.

There’s no doubt that it can be difficult to deal with the day-to-day when your life is unbalanced. Fortunately, the following tips — one of them dealing with mindset and two focusing on actions — can help.

1. Pitch picture-perfect.

That idyllic work-life balance we’re all striving to achieve isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. You’ll be much happier when you ditch the idea of work-life nirvana and instead recognize the value in experimenting with the ideal balance. Make sure your family, employees, and the people you care about know that you’re relying on their feedback. It can be hard to tell you’re dropping the ball if no one lets you know.

If you create the kind of environment, both at home and at work, where people feel comfortable communicating with you, you’ve already established a balance check. Realize that every now and then, something might slip through the cracks. It’s OK, and it happens to the best of us.

2. Schedule slack time.

We’re inundated with stories of CEOs like Elon Musk, who works for days without ever leaving his office, and Tim Cook, who gets out of bed at 3:45 each morning. These leaders are certainly successful, but modeling your behavior after them is a mistake. According to a study from researchers at Stanford, our productivity plummets after 49 hours of work in a week. Entrepreneurs, in particular, are prone to burnout and its profound negative effects.

In the early days of co-founding mobile technology studio Dogtown Media, CEO Marc Fischer worked himself so hard that he lost more than just productivity.

“Even though I loved what I was doing, I sacrificed my mental and physical health. I’d work until my vision got blurry, and once I literally made myself sick,” Marc says. “That’s when I realized how important it is to take a break. If you don’t, life will force you into downtime, anyway.”

To avoid working yourself into the ground, schedule time for breaks during your workday, and plan to take time off for vacations. While even the briefest hiatus might feel indulgent, you’ll profit from renewed energy when you return.

3. Take advantage of tech.

There is an entire family of apps devoted to increasing our productivity. Task management apps like Evernote and Things keep you organized and task-focused. Procraster and SelfControl put a stop to your procrastination by getting to the root of your delay. And if your productivity problem is really just that you look at your phone too much, the Forest app encourages you to focus elsewhere by growing virtual trees on your screen (but only if you leave it alone).

Another family of apps — this one focused on health and fitness — can help you when you do get close to burnout. Headspace, Inc., for one, is trying to bring the stress-relieving power of meditation to the masses, and the company currently has the top-ranked meditation app on Wirecutter. Calm, Apple’s 2017 iPhone app of the year, has meditation lessons and sleep stories that will soothe your thoughts away from life’s stresses. While one app download might not offer the whole solution to your particular circumstance, every bit of balance helps.

4. Be kind.

I’ve found that the best way to change my mindset is to focus on kindness for others. It’s amazing how doing a simple, mundane act of kindness can shift my perspective and improve my mood. In the heart of New York City, I like to go downstairs and give $5-10 to a homeless person to make my day. But there are lots of quick, easy options for acts of kindness: Hold the door open for people entering your office building for 10 minutes. Grab coffee for a couple of coworkers. Call your mom. You might be surprised at how great you end of feeling after an act of kindness.

5. Practice gratitude.

I’ve found that the other simple, fast way to improve my happiness and therefore my productivity at work is to practice gratitude. Write a list of people and things you’re grateful for. Write a hand-written thank you card. Go up to a fire fighter or police officer to say “Thank you.” Whatever your choose, being grateful will actually make you happier!

Sometimes trying to work in life’s crazier seasons can make you feel like you’re in a hurricane — and not the eye of it, either. Ditching the idea of perfection, recognizing the importance of downtime, practicing kindness and gratitude, and exploring the variety of productivity-boosting and stress-relieving tech tools available are all small but important steps that will help you regain some balance. Start with these ideas and regain control of your actions and mindset. You’ll be surprised at the benefits that result.

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