Early Career

How to Find Work-Life Balance in a Demanding Field

When I was a teenager studying journalism at Indiana University, I dreamed of mixing things up in the newsroom of a major publication. I imagined myself trading barbs with my co-workers, asking hard-hitting questions and standing up to the editor-in-chief if they tried to neuter my story. I was going to be a grizzled, street-smart reporter.

That fantasy came crashing down around me when I worked my first newspaper gig right out of college. As it turns out, arguing with coworkers made me sad, asking tough questions stressed me out and standing up to authority figures was just terrifying. I was living the dream, it just happened to feel more like a nightmare.

Working in an action-packed, labor-intense position is a dream many young professionals hope for – until they’re actually doing it. The demands of a stressful career can be overwhelming for anyone, no matter how many zeros are at the end of your salary. When it comes to your mental health, there’s no substitute for work-life balance.

If you like your job – but don’t like how it’s affecting your life – here’s how you can smooth things out.

Outsource Non-Essential Work

The key to managing a high-pressure job along with a family or a time-intensive hobby is to only focus on the essentials.

“When you focus on what you do best, on what brings you the most satisfaction, there is plenty of space for everything,” writes author Laura Vanderkam in her book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. “You can build a big career. You can build a big family.”

Too many people try to do everything, including tasks that don’t bring them satisfaction like running errands, going to the grocery store and completing a load of laundry. It’s no wonder their personal life falls to the wayside.

That’s why hiring a cleaner or outsourcing chores can help you find the time to meet with friends or exercise with a personal trainer. Even services like Blue Apron or Instacart can help you save time. It doesn’t matter if you pick up the dry cleaning or whether you hire it out via TaskRabbit, but it matters if you pick up your kids from the soccer game instead of the nanny.

Combine Activities

Randi Zuckerberg, entrepreneur and former Facebook executive, once famously said, “The entrepreneur’s dilemma: Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time with family. Staying fit. Getting sleep. Pick three.”

Her insinuation that entrepreneurs can’t have it all might be right, but sometimes you can find a way to combine multiple activities together.

For example, if you want to work out and hang out with your girlfriends, ask them to join you for a yoga class and smoothies after. If your kids have a friend’s birthday party to attend at the local park, drop them off and then run a lap around the perimeter as your daily workout.

When I was working full-time and writing on the side, I’d do this by asking a friend to come with me while I ran errands. We’d go to Costco or Target together, fulfilling both of our to-do lists while also enjoying some quality time. It wasn’t as fun as making margaritas and watching “Game of Thrones,” but it was better than not seeing each other at all.

Focus on One Thing

When you’re working long hours in a stressful field, it’s easy to feel pulled apart in a million directions. When you’re at work, you worry about what you’re going to make for dinner or who will pick up the kids after dance class. When you’re at home, you wonder if your client liked your presentation or how much money your department has left in the budget. How can you feel balanced when your brain is running a mile a minute?

Product manager Bob Lai said he manages a full-time job, family and a side business by focusing on one thing at a time instead of trying to multi-task.

“When I’m spending time with my loved ones, I only spend time with them rather than checking my emails at the same time,” he said.

Notice how you operate at work or at home. Are you fully engaged and operating at 100% capacity or are you juggling five things at once?

Create Reminders

When you’re working a lot, little things like calling your grandpa every week can fall to the wayside. Marketing executive Brenna Loury said she uses reminders in the Todoist app to manage her family obligations.

“For example, I have a project called ‘family and friends’ where I input recurring tasks like ‘call mom’ or ‘email grandma’ or ‘text little brother,’” she said. “Without having consistent reminders, it’s very easy for communication to slip through the cracks.”

It might seem silly to input a reminder like “Call dad” in your phone, but it’s better than forgetting his birthday.

 

Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.