Want to Improve Your Work-Life Balance? Here Are Some Tips to Help You Do So

Achieving that work-life balance you crave is possible.

For many, achieving that perfect balance between climbing the corporate ladder and spending quality time with your family is the dream, right? But, sometimes, in the process of trying to achieve it, you may stretch yourself too thin.

Maintaining the ideal work-life balance may not always be easy — in fact, one-third of respondents in an Ernst & Young survey said managing a work-life balance has become more difficult — but it’s something you really can achieve, especially when you implement some of the tools others have found helpful.

Take Charge of Your Time

The first step — and often the most challenging — is to remember that your time is yours. You get to decide how to spend it.

“Learn to value what you do, who you are, and your time,” Tina Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Southern California, said. “You will be more effective and less stressed if you learn to take charge of your work, personal and family time. Reducing stress means you’ll have the mental freedom to make better decisions and enjoy your life more.”

Simplify Your Routine

We each only have 24 hours in a day, but if you simplify some of the things you have to do on a regular basis, you may cut back on the time you waste. This can include everything from putting your credit card bills on automatic payment so you don’t have to worry about them to “putting a key rack near your front door so you never lose your keys,” Alison Kero, the CEO of Ack Organizing in New York City, said. “The more you can implement effective systems into your life, the easier everything will flow, and you’ll find yourself less likely to be wasting time, energy or money.”

Don’t Fear Saying ‘No’

It can be challenging, and make you feel like you’re letting people down, when you don’t do something. This applies to both your work life and personal life. But it’s OK to say no to allow yourself to maintain that essential balance.

“Learn to say ‘no’ whenever work, friends or family make unreasonable requests,” Tessina said. “You get to decide what’s unreasonable.”

“Saying no to one thing gives me time and space to [say] yes to another,” Amanda Basse, marketing coordinator for Laguna Beach House, a boutique hotel in Laguna Beach, California, said. “I have had to learn to be firm with my no, and when I am able to say yes, I go above and beyond to perform. I just know I can’t be all things to all people.”

Use Your Commute to Your Advantage

“I’d urge [those] who commute to work in their own cars to decompress on the drive home by talking out what might have been frustrating or encouraging during the day,” Carrie Aulenbacher, an executive administrative assistant for Transportation Investment Group in Erie, Pennsylvania, said. “If they commute by rail or bus, I’d suggest making a journal entry on the way home to decompress before getting home to their personal life.”

Clock Out

It’s easy to let technology run your schedule, especially because it can help you feel like you can be in many places at once. But sometimes it can be better to simply disconnect and be present in the moment.

“I have [my work email on my phone] set to manually update, which means I have to choose to open the app in order to see new emails,” Erica Zahka, the founder of Boston-based professional attire rental company Own the Boardroom, said. “That way you aren’t taking ‘me time’ to respond to work emails, but you are still available when it is an actual emergency.”

Prioritize

“Figure out what’s really, truly valuable to you and your life and then set boundaries and let go of anything that you don’t like, use or need in your life anymore,” Kero said. “When you start choosing for yourself — whether it’s how you spend your time, who you work with or what you buy in the store — all those decisions are telling the story of who you are.”

Once you’ve decided this, it’s time to put these priorities at the top of your list. One way to do so is by writing it down.

“Use your calendar to claim time and space for priorities and not just meetings,” Helene G. Lollis, president and CEO of Pathbuilders in Atlanta, said. “When something is on your calendar, it is like you have given yourself a ‘permission slip’ to focus on something important to you.”

Set Life Goals

“We all have business goals, but what about personal goals?” Alison Podworski, CEO of Alison May Public Relations in Agawam, Massachusetts, said. “Make a short list of what you want to achieve that week for yourself.” She recommends keeping these weekly goals attainable, but not to forget about bigger picture goals you want to work on over time as well. This can include everything from financial goals, like paying off a credit card by the end of the year or saving for a down payment on a new house to getting everything ready to start college in the fall.

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4 Things to Tell Your Boss If You Want to Work From Home

These days, more and more employees are working from home on a regular basis. In fact, Global Workplace Analytics says that about 2.8% of the total workforce work from home at least half time. Nearly all U.S. workers say they’d like to work from home at least part-time, and about half the workforce say they could  work remotely at least some of the time.

But what if you’re not one the lucky ones who stumbles into a job that already allows working from home, whether sometimes or on a regular basis? In this case, you might need to convince your boss that working from home is a good idea.

And, in fact, working from home is a good idea, much of the time. It can actually save you money, and it can reduce your overall stress level. And if you’re like many people, you might actually get more done in less time when you’re working from home.

But those arguments, especially the ones that are mostly beneficial to your personal life, may not be enough to convince your boss to let you work from home. Here are four more convincing arguments to try:

1. Better Productivity

Working from home isn’t a good fit for all jobs, but for some types, studies show that working from home actually increases productivity.

2. Reduced Overhead Costs

Outfitting an employee with an office or even cubicle comes with overhead costs. Not to mention all that water you flush down the toilet on bathroom breaks! In fact, many large employers started moving employees to work from home positions specifically to reduce overhead costs. (Of course, you’ll be taking on some of those costs by working from home — increased electricity and water usage can eat into your savings on commuting. You can try some of these easy penny pinching tips to help offset those costs.

3. Fewer Sick Days

Having the ability to work from home often curbs the number of sick days you take. You might not drag yourself into the office when you’re feeling under the weather, but you may opt to work as normal from your comfortable couch. Your fellow employees will appreciate fewer germs, anyway.

4. At-Home Workers Are Happier (and Stay Longer)

If working from home is really important to you, and if you’re in a field where it’s common, you may be more likely to stay in your job for the long term if you are allowed some flexibility to work from home. You don’t necessarily need to tell your boss this, but you can show that employees who work from home are happier in their jobs.

Making Your Proposal & Pulling It Off

Now that you’ve got some arguments in your back pocket, how do you go about actually asking your boss to let you work from home? Here are a few steps to take:

1. Create a Formal Proposal

Don’t just approach working from home by the seat of your pants, especially if it’s not already a common practice in your workplace. Instead, create a formal proposal for what working from home would look like for you.

What tasks would you accomplish at home? How would you handle meetings and phone calls? Would you be available during certain hours online? How would you keep track of the tasks that you’re working on at home? What sort of accountability system could you build in?

Put all this into writing. When in doubt, talk to someone else with a job similar to yours who works from home. See what kind of arrangements they have with their employers, and go from there. If others in your organization work from home, talk to them about their written work plans, too.

2. Pre-empt Your Boss’s Concerns

When you’re creating your proposal, try to think about it from your boss’s perspective. What concerns will he or she likely  have? You know this person best as a supervisor, so you can likely anticipate how the conversation will go.

Again, talk to others in your organization who work from home sometimes or regularly, and use that as a jumping off point. You’ll want to work those points into your written proposal, preferably, or at least address them in your conversation with your boss.

3. Propose a Trial Run

Don’t just jump in and ask to switch your in-office job to a full-time, work-from-home position. Instead, propose a trial. You may want to propose a part-time work from home schedule of one to three days per week at first. And you should also suggest trying to work from home for a period of thirty to ninety days before you and your boss formally evaluate the situation.

Starting with a trial period can help make working from home more palatable. Plus, if you’ve never worked from home before, you may find that a blended schedule of in-office and at-home actually suits you better than working from home full-time.

4. Be Flexible

Go into the conversation with your boss with goals and a proposal, but be willing to take his or her feedback into account, too. Be flexible in what you’re asking for, and be prepared to give up ground if that’s what you need to get your foot in the door. Maybe your three days a week goes to two, or your ninety day trial goes to thirty. It’s still a start!

5. What Else Can You Give Up?

Oftentimes, people who really want to work from home are willing to take a pay cut to do so, or at least forgo a big raise. This means that evaluation time can be a good time to ask for work-from-home privileges. If you get a great review and are offered a raise, consider counter-offering a smaller raise with the ability to work remotely part-time.

Maybe you’re not willing to give up a raise, but you have other privileges you could lay on the table in order to work from home. Or maybe you feel you’ll be so much more productive at home that you can tackle additional responsibilities. Either way, you could give a little to get a little in this conversation.

6. Prove You Can Do It

Finally, when you do get to work from home, don’t take advantage of the situation. Put 100% into your work each day, and set up your lifestyle so that you’re more productive than ever. Keep track of your goals, metrics, and to-do lists, so that if there’s ever a question of whether or not you can work from home well, you’ve got data to back up your answer.

[Editor’s note: It’s also a good idea to keep track of your financial goals. One way to do that is to check your credit scores. Credit.com’s credit report summary offers two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, plus tools that help you establish a plan for how to improve your scores.]

Image: AlexBrylov

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Here’s Why You Should Be Sleeping With Your Co-Workers (Not Like That)

Would you take a nap at work if your boss allowed it? If you’re like most workers, you could probably use one, but unless you work for one of a handful of companies that actually encourage napping at the office (Ben & Jerry’s, Nike, Google, Zappos, to name a few), chances are you’re just going to have to muddle through with a yawn and another cup of coffee.

Two recent surveys show that American workers aren’t as well-rested as they think they should be — and it’s likely costing both the employees and the firms they work for.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of U.S. workers surveyed by staffing firm Accountemps said they work while tired, with nearly a third (31%) saying they do so very often. Survey respondents, made up of more than 1,000 U.S. office workers aged 18 or older, said they lack focus, are easily distracted, procrastinate more, are grumpy and make more mitakes — whoops, mistakes — when they are tired.

Another survey, this one from Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder, found that more than half of workers (58%) feel they don’t get enough sleep, and 61% say lack of sleep has a negative impact on their work.

More than 3,200 workers across industries in the private sector participated in the nationwide survey, and just 16% said they actually get eight hours of sleep each night. The majority (63%) log an average of six to seven hours each night during the workweek, while 21% average five hours or less. Worst of all? 44% said thinking about work keeps them up at night.

Forty-three percent of respondents said they’d caught someone sleeping at work, so it’s no surprise that 39% said they would take advantage of a designated “nap room” if offered at their place of work.

“Rest is an undervalued necessity these days,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, said in a press release. “We see more and more workers check into the office at all hours of the day, give up vacation time and work even when they’re sick. Yet it’s not necessarily making us more productive, and companies are starting to recognize that. We’re starting to see companies put more emphasis on employee wellness and work/life balance – whether it’s providing designated ‘nap rooms’ for employees, encouraging them to take advantage of their vacation time or simply giving them more flexibility in their work schedules.”

Lack of Sleep Is Bad for Business

Sleep-deprivation doesn’t just hurt workers – it hurts business, too: 61% of survey respondents said lack of sleep has had an impact on their work in some way. And the workers surveyed in the Accountemps survey admitted to some pretty major mistakes due to lack of sleep, including a $20,000 mistake on a purchase order, the deletion of a project that took 1,000 hours to put together and ordering 500 more computers than were needed.

Productivity is even worse the week after the transition to daylight saving time. (Reminder: don’t forget to set your clocks ahead this weekend). One research study found, per the New York Times.

“…workers tend to ‘cyberloaf’ – that is, they use their computers and internet access to engage in activities that are not related to work – at a substantially higher rate on the Monday following the shift to daylight saving time than on other Mondays. What’s more, we found that for every hour of interrupted sleep the previous night, participants in our lab cyberloafed for 20 percent of their assigned task. When extrapolated to a full day’s work, that would mean daylight saving time and lost sleep can result in substantial productivity losses. In fact, a recent estimate of this effect put the cost to the American economy at over $434 million annually, simply from a subtle shift of the clocks. Unfortunately, we don’t regain that productivity when the fall change adds an hour to our schedules.”

Nap at Your Own Risk

While you may now feel armed with enough data to petition your boss for a “nap room,” it might not be a move any better for your career than getting caught napping. You certainly don’t want to lose hours, get demoted or, worse, get fired.

Without a regular source of income, you face the risk of defaulting on loan obligations, incurring late fees on a slew of bills or worse. Your income isn’t generally listed on your credit report, but your ability to repay a loan is often considered when a lender reviews a credit application. If unemployment prevents you from paying bills, you could see the effects of that in your credit scores and, ultimately, your access to credit products and decent interest rates.You can see how your payment history and debt levels have affected your credit by getting two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.

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