The “rush hour of life.” That’s what economist Lars Bovenberg calls our 40s—the years when our responsibilities to both our families and our jobs are at their highest. Not coincidentally, researchers have also found that for the average person, unhappiness peaks around ages 40-42.
It makes sense: These are the years when we’re busy rearing school-aged children, taking care of aging parents and moving into leadership roles where we work. Between work and our personal lives, we’re barraged with unavoidable responsibilities, and finding the vaunted work-life balance can be daunting.
But it’s not impossible! Use these tips to achieve a better work-life balance in your 40s:
Stick to a Schedule and Avoid Perfectionism
Shuttling the kids to various events, spending time with your significant other, big projects at work, visiting your parents, personal hobbies and social events—all of these and more are constantly competing for your attention at any given time. With so many demands on your time and attention, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to manage it all if you aren’t organized and on a schedule.
Of course, life throws curveballs at everyone, so expecting to stick to a rigid schedule every week is unreasonable. But as much as possible, you should try to plan out your weeks in advance and make every effort to stick to it.
For example, if every Thursday is game night with your family, be sure to leave work when you’re scheduled to do so. Unless there’s a major emergency, the work will still be there the next day. Setting these boundaries will help prevent work from spilling over into your personal life, and vice versa.
Another part of achieving this balance is to avoid perfectionism. With so much going on, it’s impossible to be perfect at everything you do. Know when “good enough” really is good enough so you don’t lose your grasp on other parts of your life.
Figure Out Your Specialty and Say “No” More
In the early stages of your career, you probably always said “Yes” to new projects, skills and positions whenever they presented themselves to you. This is a great attitude to have when you’re still figuring out what you want to do and who you want to be, but it’s a surefire way to burn out on work when you have so much going on at home.
By the time you’ve reached your 40s, you’ve likely developed some specific skills that put you in a unique position to solve bigger problems at work. Now that you have a specialty, it’s time to focus on that and start saying “No” to projects and positions that don’t fit into that niche. This will help you avoid stretching yourself too thin at work, giving you more time and energy to spend on your personal life.
Decide What’s Important and Cut Out the Rest
Now that you’re in your peak earning years, it’s easy to see your bigger paychecks as an invitation to inflate your lifestyle. Be sure, however, to keep these impulses in check.
Now is the time to figure out what’s really important to you. Whether it’s fun vacations with the family, ensuring the kids have what they need for after-school activities, upgrading the kitchen or any other choice that presents itself, pick out the few things that really matter to you and focus on them. From there, it’s a matter of cutting out the purchases and events that don’t mean as much to your happiness or personal fulfillment.
Achieving a good work-life balance is possible, but it involves tradeoffs, boundary setting and deciding on your priorities to make it attainable.
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