Balancing work and life

Apr 21, 2024

Strategies for successfully managing work-life balance and reclaiming your personal life while continuing to grow in your career.

Finding time outside of work to enjoy your favorite hobbies, relax, recharge, and unwind can become increasingly difficult as you progress through your career and your list of responsibilities continues to grow.

High level positions often come with increased demands on your time and energy. Whether you are asked to develop a new piece of software, manage more clients, develop and train new employees, or are even tasked with opening a new office, you will quickly realize the amount of extra effort you are putting into the success of these projects can directly correlate with the lack of time you can make for yourself. Heavy workloads, tight budgets, and fast approaching deadlines can result in tunnel vision that makes it challenging to separate yourself from the work in front of you.

While I am still relatively young in my career, I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by a number of incredible mentors who have spoken to me at great length about the effects of this sort of burnout and the consequences it had on not only their personal lives, but also on their careers as a whole. From my own personal experience, and the conversations I have had with each of these mentors, here are three essential keys to success for managing work-life balance and reclaiming your personal life while you continue to grow in your career:

  1. A time for work and a time for play. Being effective, efficient, and optimizing your time spent at the office is a critical step for creating a better work-life balance in your day-to-day life. A Gallup poll published in 2007 reported that U.S. workers claimed they waste nearly one-and-a-half hours a day during business hours. Now, with this being a self-reported metric, you can almost certainly guarantee that this number of “non-working hours” is slightly to seriously underrepresented. (Important to note, the world has also experienced a few slight changes since 2007. For example, Twitter launched in 2006 and was home to 50,000 active users in 2007. Today, X (formerly Twitter) boasts 528.3 million active users.)
    Between surfing on the internet, online shopping, scrolling through social media, unproductive meetings, constantly checking emails, recurring workplace distractions, and good ole procrastination, you can lose hours of productivity a week, causing you to fall behind and forcing you to make up those hours when you should be off the clock. While I am not saying you should not make time for things such as catching up with coworkers, giving yourself mental/ physical breaks throughout the day, and the occasional personal errand, effectively utilizing your time at the office and completing your tasks in a timely fashion will allow you to leave the stresses of work at the door.
  2. Time off isn’t always time off. Have you ever returned to the office after a stint of PTO and been asked by a coworker, “Did you take a vacation or did you go on a trip?” The first time I was asked this question by a coworker, I looked at them like a cow looking at a new gate. “What’s the difference? A trip is a vacation,” I ignorantly quipped back. Back then, I did not understand this, but time away from the office does not always equate to time away from work. Understanding this difference is paramount in creating a healthy work-life balance for yourself so you can make time for the things you have to do and find time for the things you want to do.
    As we continue to progress in our careers, our personal lives also evolve alongside them. We get married, start families, move to new cities, deal with novel challenges, engage with new groups of people, and before you know it, our personal lives can quickly become filled with so many commitments and obligations that our weekends start to feel like a part-time job. Taking the kids to soccer practice, buying groceries, cleaning the house, and, my least favorite, folding laundry, are just a few of the everyday life tasks and chores that take away free time you have set aside for yourself when not at work.
    Carving out time in your busy life schedule to be selfish and solely focus on your wants and needs is crucial for creating a healthy work-life balance. When you prioritize self-care, you’re better equipped to handle the demands of work and personal life. Ultimately, investing in self-care isn’t selfish; it’s essential for ensuring your long-term happiness and fulfillment in both your professional and personal endeavors.
  3. The importance of clearing your mind and focusing on the now (actively and passively). Finding hobbies that not only allow you to completely clear your mind and be present in the moment, but also challenge you to think and have introspective thoughts is another important aspect in generating a symmetrical work-life balance. These two types of hobbies are essential for mental growth as they allow you to reset yourself and formulate new solutions for everyday problems you experience throughout your life and in your career.
    For instance, engaging in activities like meditation, journaling, or reading can foster self-awareness and introspection, helping you understand your thoughts and emotions better. On the other hand, hobbies such as hiking, painting, or playing video games can provide an outlet for relaxation and rejuvenation, allowing you to disconnect from work-related stressors and focus on the present moment. By balancing these introspective and mindfulness-enhancing hobbies with leisure activities, you can cultivate a healthier mindset, improve productivity, and achieve a more fulfilling work-life balance.
    I have always been an avid mountain biker for most of my adult life. Gliding through the woods on a tree covered trail next to a shimmering body of water is where I truly begin to feel at peace. Mountain biking has always been an incredible outlet for me to destress, but after speaking with one of my mentors, I realized I wasn’t practicing any sort of hobby that demanded me to have expressive thought when I was not at work.
    After that conversation I began leisure reading for the first time since college, and last year, I read the book 10% Happier by ABC news correspondent Dan Harris. In the book, Harris chronicles his experiences (and initial skepticism) about embarking on a journey of mindfulness meditation and how it helped him manage his high-pressure career in journalism (where he was a reporter in active war zones across the Middle East), cope with anxiety/self-doubt, and find a sense of inner calm in and outside of work.
    While my job as a civil engineer working in land development isn’t quite that stressful, I have been able to apply many of Harris’ practices to my own life during stressful situations in and out of the office and found a wide range of benefits from them that have improved my life significantly. Coupling this newfound practice of mindful meditation (no, I am not a hippie) with my physical outlet of mountain biking has been an essential method for managing stress as my responsibilities and workload have continued to increase throughout my career.

Achieving a healthy work-life balance is essential for overall well-being and success, especially as you navigate the demands of a growing career. As your responsibilities increase, it becomes progressively more challenging to find time for personal pursuits and relaxation. However, it is crucial to recognize the importance of making time for yourself amidst the hustle and bustle of work and daily commitments. Whether it’s optimizing your time at the office, understanding the distinction between time off from work and time away from work, or engaging in hobbies that promote relaxation and introspection, prioritizing your self-care is paramount. By investing in yourself and finding moments of respite, you not only enhance your productivity and effectiveness at work but also ensure long-term happiness and fulfillment in all aspects of life. Remember, striking a balance between work and personal life isn’t just a luxury – it’s an essential component of a fulfilling and successful career. 

Wesley Jones is an engineer in training at Westwood Professional Services. Contact him at

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