According to a recent Gartner study, just over 10 percent of the workforce is “largely satisfied” at work and nearly half are “largely dissatisfied.” Those are sobering statistics when we consider that many of us spend more than half of our waking hours working.

There are many reasons for the low satisfaction rates, but one is most definitely a lack of “work-life balance.” Work often takes precedence over everything else in our lives, weakening one, two, or all three pillars of a happy, human life—mind, body, spirit. If we’re not careful, we can put our own happiness, our relationships, and our physical health at risk.

In today’s world, achieving a healthy work-life balance can be challenging, even for those of us in the education field who have jobs that generally bring high degrees of satisfaction. Many of us own and run our education businesses, and whether you are both the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, or you have a staff, the weight of the world on your shoulders can be an all-too-common feeling. Moreover, you are constantly working hard to serve and satisfy a demanding clientele as they work through a stressful admissions process. But as challenging as it might be to give our personal lives the proper care and attention, it’s worth making that effort. Life is too valuable and too short to do otherwise. Creating a harmonious work-life balance will not only help you to become a fuller, healthier, happier human, but it will likely lead to greater job satisfaction and, perhaps unexpectedly, more professional success.

Many different forces and mindsets can conspire to throw us off balance. 

  • Your business is growing, and your responsibilities and overall workload are increasing.
  • Your identity is wrapped up in the business, and you can’t let go.
  • You feel like your work will suffer if you take a break or even if you stop thinking about it.
  • You give your clients, staff, and others 24/7 access to you. You feel the need to get back to everyone immediately.
  • Every issue seems like a fire that needs to be extinguished right now.

And here are just a few signs that you’re off kilter.

  • You’re always tired.
  • You’re constantly stressed.
  • You bring your work home, physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.
  • You don’t exercise.
  • You’ve forgotten how to enjoy yourself.
  • You’re not taking days off.

I’ve spent 33 years building a business, and I’ve had my share of struggles finding out how to fit all the pieces of my life into a 24-hour day. (It’s impossible, by the way!) There is no perfect in this equation, but here are a few tips that might put you on a better path.

Spend time with those you care about and those who genuinely care about you.

Yes, your students and their families may really like you, but they won’t care about you, love you, and appreciate you the way your loved ones do. Take the time to spend unfettered, mindful time with those close to you. Schedule dates with your spouse, partner, kids, or close friends. Get them in the calendar and protect those dates so nothing else can intrude upon those relationships.

Create boundaries. 

Yes, we’re helping families through what can be an emotional process, but that doesn’t mean you have to respond immediately to the Friday 9:30 p.m. text from the anxious mom or dad. You can still deliver professional, caring expertise without asking “how high” when the family asks you to jump. Communicate early in the relationship your process, expectations, availability, and response time. Consider spelling out these items in an engagement letter that sets the parameters and structure for the relationship.

Prioritize your health–mental, physical, and emotional.

Without our health, not much else is possible, so shouldn’t this be our main concern? If you’re feeling unhappy or depressed, consider therapy or at least talk to someone you trust. If you’re not exercising, start small. Something is better than nothing. Instead of trying to do an hour of running a day, three days a week, start by scheduling a 15-minute walk around lunchtime. Those small steps can turn into habits that can grow. Above all else, though, whatever steps you take toward improving your overall health, put the activities in your calendar, and treat them as sacred.

Dedicate time for yourself. Unplug each day. 

Prior to the pandemic, I would often eat lunch in my car. Strange, maybe, but it was a conscious, daily unplugging for me. Nobody asking me questions, no email, no phone calls—just the quiet solitude of my car. Sometimes, I’d meditate afterward, or, if I was tired, I might lean the seat back and take a 15-minute nap. It was a time to relieve stress and recharge. We’re not robots, but even robots need to recharge! Whether it’s meditation, reading, or napping, unplug from the world for at least a few minutes every day to de-stress and recharge.

Work to live. Schedule vacation. 

I’m certainly guilty of going long periods of time without taking vacation. Or, when I did take vacation, I was often working for some or even most of that time, depriving myself, my wife, and my kids of this precious time together. While the daily unplugging is maybe analogous to a partial recharge of your phone, a more substantial break is more like a complete reset and recharge. You need that! The start small idea can help here as well. If you’re having a hard time scheduling a full vacation, plan a one-day “staycation” during which you completely unplug from the office and do something for yourself—a hike, a spa day, a warm bath with a glass of chardonnay…the world is yours.

Work-life balance will mean different things to different people, depending on your life circumstances. But no matter your life stage, letting your work consume you is not healthy. Nourishing your physical, mental, and emotional well-being is essential to being a healthy, happy human being. This life is yours. I encourage you to examine it, cherish it, and make the most out of it.

By Charlie O’Hearn, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Summit Educational Group