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How busy parents can improve their work-life balance

The author and host of Eat Sleep Work Repeat shares four useful tips for achieving that elusive balance.

For many working parents, everyday life with kids and a job can feel like the same old “eat, sleep, work, repeat” — and that was before the ongoing pandemic turned us into full-time homeschool teachers.

Bruce Daisley wants to help. First, the workplace culture enthusiast (and former Twitter vice president) created a top business podcast, Eat Sleep Work Repeat. More recently, Daisley researched and wrote a book of the same title. Both are designed to help you bring more joy to your work, and to your personal life.

For working parents, Daisley’s book can offer a path not only towards being more productive at work, but also being more present at home. Eat Sleep Work Repeat includes 30 workplace hacks, ranging from “celebrate headphones” to “frame work as a problem you’re solving.” (Both, incidentally, can help at home, too.)

That said, Daisley understands that busy parents might not have the time to read the entire book — and that’s the point. “I wanted to make the book feel digestible for people who might not necessarily finish as many books as they want to,” he says. He advises readers to think of Eat Sleep Work Repeat like a cookbook: Scan the table of contents, find something that looks interesting, and try it out. “There are some very simple interventions there,” Daisley explained — and then he generously shared four of them with Haven Life, in case you’d like to put his methods to the test.

In this article:

#1 Take email notifications off your phone

If Daisley could offer one piece of advice to stressed-out working parents, it would be this: take email notifications off your phone. He considers it one of the best things anyone can do to feel less overwhelmed about their jobs — and yes, you should try turning off work email notifications even if you feel like there’s an expectation for you to be connected at all times.

“All of us have an interesting relationship with our phone,” Daisley says. “We’re partly in adoration of what our phone enables for us, and partly frustrated with the amount we look at it.” He cited a 2015 study conducted by Telefonica Research and Carnegie Mellon University called the Do Not Disturb Challenge, in which participants were asked to disable all computing notifications for 24 hours. “Two years later, half of all the people still had their notifications turned off.”

If your job does not expressly require you to watch for email notifications on your phone, turn them off. Try it for 24 hours, see how you like it, and then ask yourself if you want to turn off any other phone notifications as well.

#2 Stay productive by taking breaks

If you’re having trouble managing your workload, it might be time to learn how to manage your productivity. This means using your high-energy times to focus on work, and your low-energy times to refresh yourself. It means taking breaks when you need them. It means actually going to lunch, rather than eating at your desk — a tip so important that there’s an entire chapter of Eat Sleep Work Repeat devoted to it. (And if you’re one of the many adjusting to the work from home lifestyle, that might mean keeping your workspace and your lunch space separate from one another.)

“Parents are so able to concentrate their activity into bursts of high productivity,” Daisley explained, noting that many working parents are able to get a lot done if they can successfully manage their energy highs and lows. If you’re always tired in the afternoons, for example, that might mean you need to take a more substantial break in the morning — which, when combined with a true lunch break, might give you enough of an energy boost to help you stay productive throughout the afternoon and help keep you from bringing work home.

#3 Avoid late nights and long hours

Some of us work in offices that require us to be present during certain “core hours.” That doesn’t stop most of us from arriving early, staying late or taking work home. Staying in the office after hours to work on a project or showing up bright and early to impress a boss might seem like the way to get ahead — but Daisley argues that all those extra hours can actually hold us back in our personal and professional life.

“There’s some evidence that suggests the more people claim they work, the less they actually achieve,” Daisley said. Or, as he puts it in Eat Sleep Work Repeat: “Longer hours might make us feel like we’re doing more, but we’re achieving less with every second of extra toil.” Daisley argues that people who put in 80-hour weeks get the same 40-45 hours of productivity as everyone else, so why not keep your workweek to 40-45 hours?

We spoke with Daisley before much of the country was under a stay-at-home order, but we think his advice still applies. Trying to be “on” with both your work and your family all day, every day, will keep you from being successful on either front. Maintaining boundaries is an essential aspect of maintaining a healthy balance in your personal and professional life.

#4 Observe a Digital Sabbath

When you do get the opportunity to spend time with your kids, your partner and other friends and loved ones, do your best to be fully present. Try this phone stack during dinner one night.  Not only will this make your quality time together more enjoyable, but it can also serve as the kind of restorative break that might make you more productive during the workday — and the better you can manage your productivity at work, the less work you might end up taking home and so on.

That’s how work-life balance works, after all. Both sides balance each other.

One way to help support that balance and to carve off personal time is by taking what’s called a Digital Sabbath. For some people, this means staying off all forms of digital communication for an entire day; no phones, no laptops and no internet. Other people find it difficult to fully disconnect from online tools like maps or weather apps, or refrain from family bonding activities like watching streaming videos together — and that’s fine.

Daisley suggests you start by keeping your Digital Sabbath simple: “Stay off work emails on the weekends. Don’t go to Slack.” Those two activities alone should make your weekend feel much less overwhelming. Plus, disconnecting from work gives you more quality time and mental space to connect with your family — and, as Daisley notes in Eat Sleep Work Repeat, taking time away from work on the weekends can actually make you more productive during the workweek.

These four tips are just a sample of what Daisley offers in his new book. And again, while the book was written for more normal times, much of the advice still applies to life in quarantine.

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

Read more by Nicole Dieker

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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