As the average American workweek continues to increase, balancing our personal and professional lives becomes more challenging. Americans take fewer vacation days and retire later than those in other industrialized countries. As a result, stress levels in the U.S. are on the rise.    

In our rush to get it all done at the office and at home, it’s easy to forget that as stress levels increase, our productivity diminishes. Stress can prohibit focus; cause irritability and depression; and harm our relationships. Over time, stress weakens the immune system and can increase the risk of chronic diseases.  

Workplace stress levels are highly personalized–it’s not the job, but rather how the person fits into the environment that matters. Someone who thrives in a high-pressure, multi-responsibility role will not feel overwhelmed by stress when they perceive control. However, that person will experience high stress levels in a mundane, assembly line-style environment due to the lack of autonomy and control.

The feeling of control comes when an individual has decision-making authority on the demands that are being placed on them. One study found that having to complete paperwork was more stressful for many police officers than the dangers associated with pursuing criminals. Officers feel in control while chasing criminals because they are in command of their actions, where as they have no choice when filling out paperwork. This clearly indicates that the perception of control is a major factor of determining job stress levels.

While a little stress helps drive us to perform our best, the key to managing stress is balance. An effective work-life balance is struck when actions reflect priorities. Below are five tactics that will help take back control and align priorities with actions:


  1. Seek Clarity: Ask yourself, what’s the point? What am I working toward? Will I know when I get there? If you want to balance work and life, you must first understand why you want to work and live.
  2. Manage Your Time: Set clear time boundaries and expectations. Deciding when to stop work is challenging, so pick a time every day that you can stick to.
  3. Set Realistic Goals: Make clear, realistic daily and weekly plans. “To-do” lists are unlimited, time is limited. Set realistic daily expectations for yourself.
  4. Take a Break: If you feel stuck in a rut, take time off to do something you enjoy. Ironically, down-time makes us better at work.
  5. Reconnect: Reconnect with those you serve, like your family and friends, to cast a clarifying light on your "to-do" list. This will help clarify what’s most important today.


The tactics above help translate priorities into actions. Now fill out the table below to get a clear indication of your priority hierarchy.  Rank each priority using a number between 1-10 (1 being highest priority and 10 being lowest priority.) Don’t use the same number twice.








Full-night sleep






Spending time with children


Continuing education


A fulfilling career






Caring for aging family members



Review the results and compare them to the way your life is structured. Is your priority hierarchy aligned with your day-to-day actions? If not, how can you take back control?

Achieving a healthy work-life balance is an attainable goal. When workers are balanced and happy, they are more productive, take fewer sick days, and are more likely to stay in their jobs. Businesses are even taking note and promoting the positive effects of a balanced workforce. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 70 percent of U.S. employers offer wellness programs as a part of benefit packages, up from 58 percent in 2008.

Employees also are taking matters into their own hands by opting for non-traditional workspaces that provide greater flexibility, such as coworking spaces. The coworking concept directly reduces common work-place stressors by shortening commute times, allowing a stronger sense of control and providing space to relax. The rise in popularity of non-traditional workspaces and wellness programs is an encouraging sign that the American workforce is seeking balance in their work and personal lives.

Balancing is an ongoing process, that must be maintained. Do not be discouraged by the occasional shift out of balance. Observe and catch the shift as it's happening and respond. Your response to the shift is what matters.

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