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How do you achieve work/life balance?

I recently finished up grad school and have entered the workforce as a mechanical engineer. Since there is so much to do, I have been staying up later to manage all the different projects I'm working on. It's a bit overwhelming. Any tips on how I can balance a heavy workload along with other parts of my life?

#worklifebalance #career #engineering #engineer

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Victoria’s Answer

Great question!

I just started my career about a year and a half ago and sometimes finding a good work life balance can be hard. One of the main things I have learned to do is saying no when something is way outside of work hours. It is still hard for me to say no to calendar invites from a boss or colleague. Unless it is an urgent matter, I have learned to prioritize my well-being and say no.

One of the other main things I do to prioritize a good work-life balance is blocking out on my calendar when I won't be available. This way everyone on your team and other colleagues know that you won't be around during that time. It's also important to make sure that you put your calendar on working hours so it is known when you will be working and when you won't be around!

Finally, if I am feeling overwhelmed I make sure to let someone on my team know! You are on a team for a reason, if someone can help, they will!

I would just say remember to put yourself first, especially if it is in a remote working environment.
Thank you comment icon Thanks so much Victoria, this is all pretty great stuff! Yeah saying no will be tough for me, but I'll definitely strengthen that. Melvin Summerville
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Gurpreet’s Answer, CareerVillage.org Team

Howdy Melvin,

Work/life balance is hard and looks different for everyone. What works in one position won't necessarily work when you move to a different company. It's a lot of trial and error but here are some things that I have found work well for me:

1. Your calendar is everything! Along with using it for work, use it to make sure you schedule in self care. Taking care of yourself is one of those things we often forget about unless we are reminded to do so. This can look like blocking off time on your work calendar to take lunch, scheduling time to go to the gym, or just setting aside 15 minutes for some meditation.
2. Only do work during working hours. This might change if you're working on a project or have a big deadline approaching but try to hold yourself to only working during normal hours. Not only is this a form of self care but it also sets an expectation to your coworkers that you will be online and responsive during business hours only.
3. In the age of technology, we feel the need to be plugged into all conversations at all times. I'm guilty of having my work email and Slack available on my phone because I don't want to feel like I'm being unresponsive when people need something from me. A way to achieve balance between being informed and using your off hours for yourself is to mute notifications after a certain time (ex: 6p). The messages are still there but you aren't constantly being pinged throughout the evening.
4. This is one I personally struggle with but it's important to say no. When a colleague asks for help, it's natural to say yes and want to be helpful. Before taking on a new request, take a few minutes to assess what else you're working on and if you have the capacity to help. If you're already juggling too much, it's okay to say no or say that you can help at a later time.
Thank you comment icon Thank you for your answer. And I completely agree with your specially the item 4. It's really difficult to be kind but say no to all kinds of request come to you suddenly and breaking your plan. If you can understand the most important thing for you at that moment and focus it an make the right decision. It would be very helpful to keep work/life balance and feel happy Jasmine
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Mike’s Answer

It is tough to do early in your career, but you need to learn to say no. There will always be times when you have to work longer to finish a project but it is bad for you and your employer if you consistently work at a level that will burn you out.
Further, take the time to handle your personal life. Many times after taking on a new job I took too much focus away from my family. One year into the job I could see how stupid it was as whatever i was working on would have been fine with me giving it a little less attention.
Finally, the best advice I have ever seen is to not get good at the stupid things. As an example, if you become the best person to set up a test (or make a fancy spreadsheet, etc.), you will find that is what you are known for and will find yourself getting pulled in to do that for others. Find out what is valuable to your company and boss (and his boss) and get good at that.
Thank you comment icon This is helpful for me, thanks for your input Mike! I definitely need to master saying no and prioritization. Melvin Summerville
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Andersen’s Answer

Hi Melvin. Work-life balance sounds like an ideal goal, but we can always identify ways to keep getting closer to it. In your situation specifically, I would start with managing expectations with your team.

Andersen recommends the following next steps:

Make a list of projects you are working on
Understand their priorities
Understand the expected outcome
Understand if you can perform as expected given your current capability and availability
Align with your team and make adjustments
Thank you comment icon Great advice, Andersen! Alexandra Carpenter, Admin
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Rebecca’s Answer

This is a question on time management. Firstly, I suggest you have to find a diary tool that best you, e.g. Calendar in your phone, Microsoft Outlook, etc. You can choose which tool's interface that you like most.
After having the tool, I suggest you can consider below :
1. Firstly, you have to put in routine tasks you have to do everyday
2. Put in the meetings you have to attend
3. You can estimate how work you need to complete the project and break it into small tasks
4. Put these small task into the free slot of your diary every day. Remember to put some buffer in to review and make fine tuning
5. After putting in the above, you should also put in some time for your exercise, rest, leisure and meeting with friends and family.
You don't need to fill up all time slot. You can reserve some 'Me' time for reflection and relex.
Hope this helps! Good Luck!
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Magdalena’s Answer

It is sometimes hard to find work life balance, especially when you are new and learn your new tasks, don't know the rules and relationships inside the group of coworkers, as well as don't know how to say "no". I can give you a few advices:
- you will learn how to perform some tasks more efficiently, think about some automation
- prioritize tasks, you may also discuss priorities with your supervisor
- maybe you think that only you can do a certain task, but you can share it with others, ask for help
- maybe your workload is too big and you need to discuss it
- try to find things that you do not need to do - maybe some meetings?
- do not be afraid to ask for help - both when it comes to priorities and the way how to do things efficiently
Maybe you are young, enthusiastic and everyone things that you need more challenges?
I hope it will help at least a little bit and you will find balance.
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Melisa’s Answer

Hello Melvin.

Great question and I’m sure you are not the only one with this on your mind. You have some great responses and answers here.

I find it helpful to prioritize, especially when you have so many things to do. For me, faith and family come first. Care for the things that mean most to you, so you can then achieve balance in other areas of your life.

I also think it is important to make time just for your own mental and physical health. I have a favorite workout class I try to do 1 to 2 times each week. It is an hour just for myself. As others have shared, you can block times on your calendar for reading, studying, eating lunch or exercising, etc. Make time for yourself so you can do what you need to do that works best for managing stress.

On days where it is particularly hectic or stressful for me, I try to take mini-breaks and just step away for a few minutes and walk up and down stairs, or sit in a dark room and just breathe or meditate, sit or walk outside if it’s nice, pet my dogs, etc.

Best wishes for success in your educational and career goals!

Melisa recommends the following next steps:

Check out some mindfulness apps like Headspace, that can help with meditation techniques. Or put on a relaxing video or audio book in the background while you study or work.
Check-out some helpful TED Talks on managing stress https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=managing+stress+TED+Talks&qpvt=managing+stress+TED+Talks&FORM=VDRE
VOLUNTEER! Volunteering to help others can often be a fun way to relieve stress and make an impact in your community at the same time.
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Bill’s Answer

Below is a list of some of the things I do to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

1. Set small goals each day.
- Break large tasks into smaller, attainable daily goals. This helps provide a sense of control, and also contributes to a sense of accomplishment each day.

2. Request flexible hours or work-from-home options.
- With COVID-19, many employees are already telecommuting. Asking an employer for greater flexibility to work from home can help free up time by eliminating the commute.

3. Take breaks.
- Regular breaks don’t impede productivity. Rather, they help the mind relax and regain some strength and focus on the next project or task. Taking 5 or 10 minute breaks to grab a coffee, go for a quick walk, or simply decompress can work wonders.

4. Stay active.
- Physical activity is one of the most important components in maintaining high energy levels, robust stamina, and an elevated mood. It’s important that a worker’s home life includes regular walks, jogs, bike rides, or activities with friends or family.

5. Take phone breaks.
- The constant activity of email and social media can have a draining effect, especially when bosses and supervisors send after-hours messages. Taking some regular time to unplug and put the phone away can be a balm for mental health.
Thank you comment icon Thanks so much Bill! I love this, especially the first one you mentioned about setting small goals. At least that way I will feel less burnt out from the workload. Melvin Summerville
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Alicia’s Answer

First I do want to congratulations on finishing grad school. That's an amazing accomplishment! Work life balance is something that can be achieved with the right mind set and sometimes we don't exactly get the right balance because of different aspects. There are some ways that we can achieve this which if this is applicable.
1. Designate a place that is for work purposes only. This is something that is great for work from home which I know that with your case, engineers may bring work home. If you live with multiple rooms, having a room designated to work with a door especially will help give you a place to focus and when you need to stop working, getting out of that room and shutting the door is your signal to stop thinking about work all together. The other option for this is if you are working from an establishment, once you leave those doors, no more thinking of work.
2. Don't bite off more than you can chew. It's great when you have the ability to accomplish so much. Sometimes there are times where it all piles up and it becomes overwhelming as you have expressed in your question. It's good to keep in mind as to what you have project wise going on and their status. This would be a good thing to think on to help more with your work life balance.
3. Communication with your supervisors and coworkers is definitely going to help. They are pretty much those you report to with your projects and the like. If you feel like you have taken on too much, talk to them. There is no shame in admitting the truth about the way you feel and your work. Also if you are working on a project that has multiple people, you can communicate to your coworkers to help create a balance in the project between each of you.
4. This is my last piece of advise which is if your company offers time away, USE IT. I have worked with companies that don't offer it and it was always a pain to schedule time off for vacations or unexpected sick time without pay. It's hard enough to keep a full paycheck without those benefits. If you are feeling overwhelmed and you need time to get away, use the paid vacation or sick time your company offers. You come first in health and the company would understand if you needed time to step away.

I do hope what I provided for you helps and good luck in your future endeavors.
Thank you comment icon Thank you Alicia! This is extremely detailed and helpful. There's so many intricacies to work-life balance from what I'm reading but I appreciate the depth of the knowledge you gave! Melvin Summerville
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Billie’s Answer

There are some great answers already posted. I think setting boundaries is very important. That doesn't necessarily mean saying "No" to something but rather setting proper expectations. When someone asks you to do something or your manager assigns work. Ask questions -- When is this due? What is more important, Project A or Project B? What's at stake here? Once you have the facts, you can set expectations. For example, "Based on my current workload, I can have this ready by Monday. Is that acceptable." And if it's not, you negotiate. Sometimes we think something is urgent and we drop everything, only to find out it was a low priority request. Sometimes, people tell you something is urgent because they want it now, but it's not necessarily more important than other project you are working on.

It's also important to make time for YOU! Find what is most important to you and what brings you joy and schedule specific time for these activities. You will bring more to your work if you have some time to recharge.

All of this is easier said than done. Start slow and test the waters. See how people respond.

Finally, if you are feeling overwhelmed, talk to your manager or other trusted colleague. Make sure your manager knows how much you have on your plate. They can help prioritize. They can give advice on how to navigate internally to work more efficiently. They are invested in your success.

Best of luck! This is a common concern, especially when you are just starting out and trying to navigate everything that comes with a new role.
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Eleanor’s Answer

A lot of great advice so far in this thread. Something that I would add that helps tremendously when you get that last minute, urgent request from your boss is to learn to negotiate deadlines or priorities. So when your boss sends you a must-do task with a deadline of yesterday, you can negotiate by asking "what would you like me to reprioritize from this list to accommodate this request?" Your boss most likely does not know exactly what you have on your plate and therefore may not recognize the bomb he just dropped on your plan. When I've used this technique I've either been able to renegotiate the deadline on the last minute task, delegate some of my current work to other or renegotiate those deadlines.

Now some techniques to head those kinds of situations off are to share your calendar in full detail with your boss and to leave yourself slack time throughout the day so you can absorb those inevitable fires.

Lastly, when you sign out of work. SIGN OUT. If you are on vacation, do not log in to check email or slack "real quick". Your mind, body and soul need rest from the grind.
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Carlos’s Answer

Great question.

It is hard to accomplish at any stage of your career, especially at the beginning of it. Here at the items that have help me on dealing with that.

1. Organize your time and start early.
2. Prioritize the goals and tasks to be completed, also, if you are part of a team and/or lead one, learn to delegate and make team members accountable. Set the expectations early.
3. Learn to say no. Respect yourself and your time (lunch, vacation, etc).
4. Understand that work problems or issues will ALWAYS be there, so, trying to "get ahead of the curve" is not always feasible.
5. Communicate and learn to ask for help. It can save a lot of time and actually get things done faster and with better outcome.
6. You are not your job description. Find a hobby, be active both physically and mentally.
7. Family and health are first. Prioritize that.

Hope you all find this useful.

Hope this helps and good luck!!

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Jason’s Answer

Something to consider, is a healthy work/life balance possible where you work? Some places, their business model is to run their employees into the ground, burn them out and figure they will quit eventually. They factor a high turnover rate into their business plan. When speaking to and working with management about your work load, keep your eyes and ears open for gaslighting. It happens. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. I know this is a “glass is half empty” answer, but reality is some places are genuinely bad to work at. I hope things work out for you and your employer but sometimes the problem isn’t with you, the problem is a bad culture.
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Emily’s Answer

This is a great question!!! I think you need to establish what makes you happy and prioritize your needs and wants in order to be successful both at work and in your personal life. For me, I make a daily to do list and check things off and then, at the end of the day, I am able to shut my brain off - knowing I accomplished what I needed to get done! Everyone is different, but it makes a HUGE difference for me..
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Benroy’s Answer

From my experience of working for roughly 3.5 years in MNCs, it is indeed a challenge to achieve that balance when the pressures and demands of work are evidently high especially in face-paced companies. What works for me is learning to plan and where to draw boundaries, i.e. learning to say no but in a professional manner that does not affect business operations. For example, if a colleague or superior asks you to do a task out of office hours, evaluate the urgency of that task and if it can be done the next day and if so, communicate that in a professional manner. If you are being overloaded with tasks and responsibilities, first do your part by prioritizing and planning to complete them in an orderly manner. If you're absolutely overloaded, reach out to your superior with clear data in the form of hours spent on responsibilities to help them help you. Remember, you first need to work (function) in order to work.
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Brad’s Answer

Try to strucuture what you can. Put things to do on your calendar to force you to get away from work. For example block out your lunch hour on your calendar as Out Of Office and go take a walk or do something other than work at lunch.

Join a league or team. For example if you play basketball get on a team that is in a league that plays regularly. Committing to a team with set games will commit you to get away from work. It also gives you an opportunity to meet others that have interests similar to yours and you can do other activities with them that take you away from work.

Learn a musical instrument. I play guitar and work from home. During the day I pick up my guitar and play for a few minutes to get away from work.

Meet with your manager and get a clear plan of your deliverables. If you think it is too much workload discuss with your manage how to reduce the workload so you have better work/life balance. Most managers don't want to lose good employess due to burn out so he/she should be able to adjust your workload to help with the work/life balance. If they are not willing that is a red flag to me. You probably don't want to be working for them in the first place.

Hope this helps.