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Originally written for www.stuff.co.nz published 12 September 2017

Before smartphones and email, most of us left our work at the office at the end of the day and had our weekends to ourselves.

Now you can be contacted anywhere, anytime and have access to work 24/7 (who hasn’t checked their email before bed or as soon as you wake up?).

The OECD Better Life Index reported in 2015 over 13% of all New Zealand employees worked over 50 hours a week and in 2013 the Harvard Business Review reported that 60% of American executives, managers and professions who carried smartphones for work were connected to their jobs 13.5 or more hours a day on weekdays and 5 hours on weekends – about 72 hours a week.

While work/life balance is getting harder to attain, it’s still valued – Employment NZ states that for 69% of professionals in New Zealand work life balance, including flexible working, is their top priority when seeking a new role.

And it’s easy to see why.  Work/life imbalance can lead to job exhaustion, fatigue and stress, reduced productivity and output, relationship disruption, and loss of enjoyment of life.

So, how do we reclaim work/life balance when it’s impossible to separate the two?

Consider these strategies:

Focus on work/life effectiveness:  consider all your roles in life – parent, friend, partner, employer/employee – and make each one the highest quality you can within the limits you have.  Organise your life to ensure you’re going in the direction you want and make time for the stuff that’s important to you. This includes the fun and relaxing stuff – even if it’s only 15 minutes a day.

Define your success: success looks different for everyone so be clear what it means to you and make sure you’re doing the things that are important.  Success is not just about work, so reflect on what it means in other areas of your life too and how to achieve them.

Break free of perfectionism: attaining perfection is often impossible when you have competing priorities and striving for this can lead to burnout.  Aim instead to do the best you can and accept that outcomes can’t always be perfect.

Actual quality time: constant phone notifications when you’re not at work feeds an underlying level of stress in your life.  Switch off when you’re taking quality time with your family and friends and be completely present.

Breathing exercises: when we get stressed, our breathing gets faster and shallower.  Take slow, deep breaths, to down-regulate the stress response and encourage the relaxation or calming response.

Work and life will always be entangled, we just need take steps to make sure work doesn’t overwhelm our lives.

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