Be realistic about your habits
The first step to successfully balancing your work and home life is to be honest with yourself. Will you really have the energy to get in an after-work workout? Do you really think you can stop yourself from blowing your weekly calorie count on beer at that work function this weekend? Will you actually ignore your email once you settle into the couch to watch Netflix with your family/roommate/significant other?
That’s not to imply you can’t stick to your guns. However, it’s highly likely you won’t. And that’s okay. Just keep that in mind when you’re telling your wife that you totally have the time mow the lawn tomorrow—right between your P90X workout and picking up your daughter from soccer practice. If you can be straight up with her about what you can actually accomplish in one night, she might be straight up with you about how long it will actually take her to get ready for the company holiday party.
Likewise, if that report can’t be on your boss’s desk first thing in the morning, it’s time to own up and say so before he schedules a 7:30 a.m. meeting with the client.
Foist responsibility—have someone else keep you accountable
Our collective lack of self-control is what leads to the second piece of advice—ask for help. Or, when you’re too proud to admit you might be in danger of eating an entire package of Oreos after lunch or binge-watching House of Cards instead of cleaning the bathroom, trick yourself—and others—into keeping you on track with just the power of your voice.
“Does anyone want some Oreos?” or “I think the mold in our shower has a life of its own,” are examples of phrases that will somehow, magically, recruit others to hold you accountable.
Bringing people on the bandwagon, like convincing a coworker to join you in doing exercises over lunch, is another way to help keep the promises you made to yourself. And it makes you feel less silly for doing squats in the empty conference room.
Whenever possible, kill two birds with one stone
You don’t need to waste another hour of your down time yammering on about your insecurities and criticisms. Tell your coworkers a story about that time your six-year-old walked to the grocery store alone without telling anyone where he went. When your coworkers chime in with their own crazy stories, you can all judge each other together.
In their effort to one-up you with awful parenting stories, you’ll not only feel more secure in your parenting tactics, you’ll also have gained valuable advice, entertained your office and successfully mingled your home life with work in one fell swoop. This also works with complaints about in-laws, harping about your boyfriend leaving the toilet seat up and proclaiming your love of food.
Doesn’t it feel good to get that off your chest? Don’t take that kind of thing home with you. Besides, your hands will already be full carrying that pile of work crap you didn’t do at work.
Work hard, play hard
As good as a beer tastes after a long day at work, it will taste even better after a long, hard day at work. A reward always feels better than a consolation prize. Turn your after-work activities into first place ribbons instead of honorable mentions by putting some pride into what you do from 9 to 5.
Work isn’t the only place you can use this strategy. If you know you can’t keep yourself from eating a piece of cake at your best friend’s wedding—and your other friend’s wedding, and your boyfriend’s sister’s wedding—then tack on an extra couple miles of jogging to your summer workouts and forget about that body-con dress from college you thought you might reuse for all these damn weddings.
Accepting that it takes a level of responsibility to enjoy any level of luxury will lead to a happier, healthier balance of your professional and personal lives. All of the indulgence, none of the guilt.
Remember why you do what you do
Besides absolutely loving what you do every second of the day, as we all do, remember those special moments that make work worthwhile. That time the CEO remembered your name. That time your content went up on a high-traffic billboard. That time the client finally admitted you have better ideas than they do. That time your raise allowed you to escape to the beach with your family for a week.
As well as keeping you from giving up and getting fired, remembering your reasons for working in the first place can restore your zest for what you do. In the same way, remembering why you fell in love with Mr. Never-Does-Dishes in the first place can convince you to get off your email and indulge his Walking Dead obsession for a night.
The truth is, both your professional and personal lives should make you feel proud, valued and successful. They both allow you to achieve your goals, and you should respect that. Balance should not be about putting them in their separate corners and building a wall between them—instead, try to tactfully integrate them. Combine them when possible, enjoy them and always give it your best.