It is no secret that the typical American is working long hours with little respite compared to other countries with large economies. Full-time employees report an average work week of 47 hours and four out of 10 American workers say they work over 50 hours a week. Americans work an average of 34.4 hours a week, according to data sourced from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is longer than the work weeks of nations like the United Kingdom (32.25), Austria (31.33), Canada (32.77), and Germany (26.37).
Despite this long work week, Americans are also terrible at taking a vacation. First of all, employers are not required to offer any paid time off. Americans, on average, received only 10 to 15 annual vacation days (and six federal holidays). And, a majority of American workers don’t even use all of that vacation at an average of four days of unused vacation days, which resulted in a record-high 658 million collective unused days off in 2015. Comparably, companies in every country part of the European Union legally have to offer at least four work weeks of paid vacation to employees (not including holidays), and Europeans tend to use all of their vacation days.
What’s the reason behind this lack of taking much-needed vacations? The biggest reason employees cite is the enormous amount of work that piles up while on vacation, followed by the reasoning that no one else can or is available to do the job, and then they say they cannot afford a vacation. People are also worried they’ll be seen as a slacker or think they are more likely to lose their job if they take a vacation.
Even when Americans do take a vacation, 61% work while they’re out of the office. The statistics that a majority of Americans (53%) say they’re overworked and burnt out, then make a lot of sense. And, in 2015, nearly 25% of American adults reported they were “under extreme stress,” up from 18% in 2014.
Life outside of work, whether that’s a weeklong vacation or time after office hours, is essential. It is important for a healthy body and mind to recharge, refocus, spark creativity, and increase productivity. Now, immersing yourself in “life” outside of work is easier said than done when the email app on your phone is constantly chiming and you take your projects home to prepare before your numerous meetings this week.
You may even legitimately love what you do during working hours, are your own boss, and own your own business, but the work-life balance still applies—it’s not just for those who are less than enthused about their daily grind. Use these tips to be more mindful about fully embracing time completely outside of work.
- Write down your top five priorities that don’t have anything to do with work. These priorities are personal and could be anything from spending quality time with your family to reading two books a month, to working on your tennis swing or learning to surf. Don’t complicate your priorities or think they have to be time-consuming. Keep your list of priorities somewhere prominent so that you’re perpetually reminded of your intentions.
- Schedule at least one thing to look forward to each day, and then stop trying to multi-task. When you’re doing that thing you look forward to wholeheartedly, whether that’s a round of golf, an activity with kids/grandkids, beer with a friend, or a walk with your spouse, be fully present. That means turning off your phone and welcoming the joys of being with people and doing things you like.
- Say “no.” Yes, it’s okay to say no sometimes to the external asks from work that require your time after working hours or on the weekend. Say yes to the asks that legitimately interest or inspire you. And, part of saying “no” is setting boundaries. Meaning when you’re on vacation, set your out-of-office auto-reply so it sets clear expectations for a response. That extends to when you’re with family or friends or taking time for yourself, don’t answer the phone or check your work updates.
- Take a long, hard look at your habits. The basic necessities of good nutrition, enough sleep, and the right exercise are fundamental to feeling balanced. If you’re having a hard time objectively evaluating your daily activities, consider enlisting a life or wellness coach who can help point out where there is room for positive change for better balance.
- Exercise always. When faced with a busy schedule, exercise is one of the first things to get cut, but it should really be the mainstay—the keystone to a productive, invigorated life. Beyond all the physical benefits, exercise relieves stress and clears the crowded mind. Choose types of exercise that you enjoy, so you are more likely to keep your dedication to the workout. And, don’t be afraid to think outside the walls of a gym. Go on hiking, hit the water in a kayak, jog with the dog, and join an adult softball league.
- Involve others. Talk with mentors, friends, and family members about where you’re at with balancing work and life. Ask them to share their work-life balance tips and struggles. Sharing your approach to being successful, productive, and happy throughout work and life will help to keep you on track.
- Meditate. Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged with eyes closed. Meditation can mean a slow walk through a peaceful environment or a yin yoga practice. Find what works best for you to meditate, the goal is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the body’s rest response) instead of the often activated sympathetic nervous system (the body’s stress response) within the autonomic nervous system.
- Reevaluate your work-life balance often. With changes at work or shifts in commitments outside of work, it’s always a good idea to actively reflect on the balance between your work and life and then take steps to evolve your approach to balance.