Finding a healthy balance between work, rest and play has always been a challenge. Add to the mix a global pandemic and a looming recession and it’s no wonder we’re all feeling stressed out and swamped by the day-to-day demands of work and life. A 2021 study by Allianz found that two in three Australians are struggling with their work-life balance, leading to increased physical and mental health issues. But there are tips and strategies to help make the juggle easier. We asked a range of experts and professional powerhouses to share their secrets when it comes to time management, productivity and switching off at the end of the day.

SEE ALSO: Hybrid Working: How to Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Tip 1: Establish Boundaries

Hao Nguyen is an expert on work-life balance. As editor-in-chief of work-life-balance publication Balance the Grind, he’s interviewed more than 3000 professionals from all over the world. “Every one of them had a different approach and perspective on achieving work-life balance,” Hao says. “But I would say establishing clear boundaries is the first step. That means having boundaries for your team, but also for yourself too.”

Start by having honest conversations with the people you work with, including managers, staff and colleagues, and make sure you’re on the same page with regards to expectations, availability and time management strategies. Be clear and consistent with due dates, taking breaks, and start and finish times, plus establish rules that work for you and the rest of your team. 

“For me, I find activating the Do Not Disturb function on my phone at certain hours of the day really helps with switching off from work,” Hao says. “I also recommend not looking at emails first thing in the morning.” By having these boundaries in place, you’ll ensure work doesn’t bleed into your personal time.

Tip 2: Focus on Your Health

Achieve work and life balance by taking regular exercise, enjoying family time and getting adequate sleep.  

“It’s important to maintain balance between work and life because if you don’t everything will fall apart and you’ll experience burnout. You won’t be there for your family and you won’t be able to give your business what it needs to flourish. Nobody wins in this situation,” says Melissa Molinaro, a mum of three who juggles full-time work with a side hustle she’s passionate about: an event-planning app called Elite Partyz.

According to Melissa, the secret to her success is taking care of herself, which means going back to basics: eating well, getting plenty of sleep and regular exercise. “I’m always in bed by 10.30pm, ready to sleep, and I never scroll on my phone before bed. My quality of sleep is better that way,” she says. “I’ll also do 30 minutes of exercise every day and try to eat well 90 per cent of the time and cheat 10 per cent! I find this routine helps me stay accountable and consistent.” Making positive lifestyle changes, like factoring in daily exercise and creating healthy sleep habits, can help you feel less stressed, as well as contributing to your overall physical health. And, when you’re feeling your best, you’ll also have more energy to handle any challenges that come your way.

What To Try

SEE ALSO: Clever Time Management Skills for Working From Home or Office

Tip 3: Nurture Your Relationships

When you’re busy making strides with your business or climbing the corporate ladder, it can mean less time for friends and family. “This can really cause a strain on your personal relationships,” explains Celeste Kocabay, a successful entrepreneur who’s also a mum of four.

Celeste is the founder of Soar Active, an activewear line for tween and teens, so she knows how stressful and lonely running a business can be. “A lot of weight is carried on the shoulders of founders, but it’s important to build a support network around you, and delegate and outsource where possible,” she says. 

For Celeste, her connections with family and friends are fundamental, and she keeps her relationships strong with plenty of quality time. “You don’t need grand gestures,” she explains. “A quick phone call or text message to let someone know you’re thinking of them is all you need. The important thing is to be consistent and genuine.”

As for her kids, Celeste and her husband schedule special family time, including weekly family dinners where everyone joins in with the meal prep. “Another thing we do is family date nights,” she says. “With four children, home life can be incredibly busy. My husband and I take turns picking a child’s name out of a jar for an exclusive date night together. It could be as simple as popping down to the local burger shop, but it’s one-on-one uninterrupted time.”

Tip 4: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Time-management strategies, like time blocking and finding your ‘zone of genius’, can help you work smarter not harder.

"As a mum who runs her own business, it's really important to me to manage my time well so that I can give my best to my business and my family,” says Natalie Lasance, the woman behind The Meaningful Social Club, a Melbourne-based boutique social-media agency. “There's nothing I hate more than procrastination and time-wasting.” 

Natalie uses a range of clever time-management strategies to increase her productivity and plan out her work days. “A concept I'm really passionate about is 'The Zone of Genius', which is a term coined by psychologist Gay Hendricks,” she says. “It refers to the time when you're able to really focus and perform at a high level. We need to structure our days so that we have the time and energy to enter our genius zone.” 

Natalie is also a fan of time blocking, where she creates a to-do list each morning and assigns a block of time to each task. “I group smaller tasks together into a block, for example: one hour for emails and checking in on social media. This way you have an accurate picture of what your day will look like. And you can check in to ensure you are on track.” 

What To Try

SEE ALSO: The Importance of Ergonomics for Wellbeing

Tip 5: Be Realistic

Experts don’t come more distinguished than behavioural scientist David Penglase. As well as numerous academic accolades, David has literally written books on work-life balance. His number one takeaway? “Life is more complicated than 'balance' and once we realise and accept that life isn't easy, it gets easier.”

David recommends getting clear on your priorities and then communicating these honestly with your co-workers. “Sometimes you will need to seek extensions on timelines so that you can collaborate or help others out, or maybe you’ll need to explain to others why you might not be able to help until your priorities have been completed,” he says. “Many of us have lost the art of having meaningful adult conversations, and being able to have the tough conversations about what’s really going on in the workplace.” 

Knowing what you value and where your priorities lie should help you with time management and making decisions. “We know from the research that many people do not have clarity around their personal values,” David says. “Without a clear understanding of their values, making decisions about what to do and why to do it in their professional and personal lives is depleted.

“If we are not clear on those values, how do we switch off from one part of our lives and intentionally tune into others? Values give us clarity around what really matters.”