Balancing our jobs and our families is a challenge at the best of times, and the 24/7 connectivity that in recent years has increasingly allowed us to work anywhere and at any time hasn't made it any easier. These days, finding an equilibrium between our professional and our personal lives can feel so elusive as to be practically an impossibility.
It's a situation that is even more of a struggle for women. They're the ones who all too often find the bulk of responsibility for day to day chores and care-giving for children, older relatives and partners falling squarely onto their shoulders. And things aren't much better in the workplace, where they're often paid less than their male colleagues to do the same jobs in environments that can seem modelled exclusively around male needs.
In fact, trying to find the elusive work-life balance can be such hard work that it ends up becoming a source of exhaustion in itself. Predictably, all of this has knock-on effects on health, with studies showing that the competing demands of work and family are causing increasing numbers of young women to suffer from worrying levels of anxiety, stress and sleep deprivation, which can in turn lead to depression.
Despite whatever progress might have been made over the last 40 years, right now the aspirational '80s myth of women 'having it all' seems more distant than ever.
Obviously, many of the changes needed to tackle this situation are structural: overwhelmingly, women say that inflexible working environments are one of the main obstacles to their achieving a good work-life balance, citing increased flexibility, paid family leave and quality childcare as factors which would make a huge difference. But while they wait for society to catch up, what steps can women take as individuals to try and improve their own work-life balance?
One important thing, experts say, is to be less demanding with yourself and to avoid comparing yourself to others and attempting to live up to the unrealistic standards women are constantly bombarded with. They recommend planning your time, but also making sure that your scheduling includes time dedicated to yourself: making space for the things that you personally find rejuvenating – whether it's meditation, getting a manicure, reading a book or just doing nothing at all – is absolutely vital for recharging your mental batteries.
Another key to improving your work-life balance is making an effort to communicate your wants and needs clearly, and learning how to delegate and how to say “no”, both at home and at work. Having a clear, focused vision of your own boundaries and priorities will mean that taking choices and making decisions will become less stressful and more productive.
Prioritise not skimping on sleep. A lack of sleep can cause forgetfulness, a lowered attention span and even depression, as well as health risks such as high blood pressure, none of which make life any easier.
But most important of all is to remember to give yourself permission not to be perfect, despite the pressure women are constantly under in this regard. Don't let a desire to find that ideal balance between the personal and professional sides of your life end up being something that consumes energy and time you could more profitably dedicate to the things you want to do.
You might just find that if you stop worrying about it, the work-life balance takes care of itself.