Life is a juggling act. As a mother of two young kids and an executive of a large company, I am constantly struggling to find the balance between my personal life and my work life. Like any other working parent, my days consist of dropping the kids off at school, attending business meetings, providing support to my team, going to parent-teacher conferences, helping with homework, cooking dinner and getting the kids ready for bed. With an already impossibly full day, there is little or no time left for me.
Although our natural tendency as parents and leaders is to put ourselves last, continually putting your own needs at the bottom of your to-do list will quickly lead to burnout. Studies have found that this chronic stress doesn’t just affect your performance and engagement at work and home, but has serious consequence to your physical and cognitive health, including memory loss, emotional difficulties and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Here are three ways I try to make more time for myself:
1. Leave work on time
I can’t remember the last time when I’ve finished everything on my to-do list by end of the work day — there’s just too much to do. But I’ve made a commitment to leave work at 5:30 p.m. every night, no matter what.
Leaving at a set time each night not only ensures that I have plenty of time to spend with my family, but it also models healthy behavior for my team and sends the message that work/life balance is important. My people know that if I leave by 5:30, I expect that they do the same. By sharing this goal with leaders and team members, they also hold me accountable. Any time I’m in the office past that time, I inevitably hear, “Leslie, shouldn’t you be gone by now?”
2. Don’t let work invade personal time
Though work often finds a way creep into your personal time, there are ways to avoid it. One way is to practice mindfulness and train yourself to be more present. Dwelling on your work day will only lead to missing out on important and meaningful moments.
Another way to take back your personal time is to unplug. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading a book on my iPad — trying to relax — when a work email pops up and distracts me. Before I know it, the book is forgotten and I’m responding to emails and focusing on work. To avoid distraction, make a commitment to unplug for at least an hour each night — if that means reading paper books, so be it. To make this even more effective, make it a family rule.
By leaving work at work, I have been able to enrich the l relationships with the important people in my life and free up time to focus on the things I like to do outside of work like blogging, being active in the community and advocating for causes that are meaningful to me.
3. Exercise regularly
Of course we know regular exercise is essential to our physical and mental well-being, but that doesn’t make it any easier to make it a priority in an overloaded schedule. But the health benefits are too important to ignore.
One way that helps me get to the gym on a regular basis is blocking out time for it on my calendar. Like leaving work on time, I’ve made a commitment to keep these exercise appointments no matter what. Regardless of whether you prefer to work out in the morning, afternoon or evening, find a time that works for you and stick to it.
Another great way to get regular exercise is to make it a family affair. I love the outdoors and enjoy sharing my passion for it with my kids. A lot of our family time is spent mountain biking, hiking, skiing and even snowshoeing. Not only are we spending quality time together, but I’m instilling in them the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and taking the time to enjoy the things they love.
Finding a balance that works for you
There’s no magic formula to achieving the ideal balance in every aspect of your life. But you can start by finding a plan that works for and refining it as you go. It’s important to set realistic expectations and not be too hard on yourself — some days will be better than others. If you aim for perfection, you’ll only set yourself up for failure.
Remember, even little things make a big difference. Start out by focusing on two or three areas where you want to improve your work/life balance and then find small and achievable ways to make these improvements. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes.
This post originally appeared on FamilyShare.