Coaching on Work–Life Balance: 11 Strategies & Questions

Coaching on Work Life BalanceIn our fast-paced, money-driven, demanding society, the concept of finding and maintaining work–life balance can seem like an impossible dream.

The hours at work, inflexible schedules, long commutes, family commitments, time with friends, self-care, and demands from community organizations are just some of the competing forces for our time and energy daily.

Work–life balance has been described as an individual’s concept of how well they manage work and non-work-related obligations while having satisfaction, health, and wellbeing (Casper, Vaziri, Wayne, DeHauw, & Greenhaus, 2018).

A coach steps in to strategize with clients to find a more feasible work–life balance. Coaching on work–life balance can help clients explore ways to get more satisfaction out of their life domains.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

Coaching on Work–Life Balance: 4 Tips

Creating work–life balance (WLB) may seem like a simple concept, but it can quickly become a complex process. Research on WLB shows that finding this balance depends on numerous factors such as skill and education level, gender, work style, personality, out-of-work demands, and personal beliefs and values (Drew & Murtagh, 2005).

As such, coaching on work–life balance has to be individualized, with no clear one-size-fits-all solution. But there are a few general tips that can point clients in the right direction.

 

1. Educate clients

The importance of finding work–life balance is not just for life satisfaction and a happier home life. Research shows that individuals who report a better WLB have higher work ability outcomes, such as increased productivity and the ability to work longer (Berglund, Anderzen, Andersen, & Lindberg, 2021).

Often, clients need to understand the far-reaching benefits of creating positive WLB in order to initiate change. Learning that working longer hours can negatively affect work performance is good motivation to work in moderation.

 

2. Gather background information (current situation and personal values)

An important first step when working with clients is learning about their personal values and any discrepancies between these values and their current work–life situation.

Fewer than 3% of people actually plan goals in work or life (Maestre, 2018). By learning what a client’s ideal life looks like compared to where they are, balanced and achievable goals can be set.

 

3. Validate concerns and personalize the challenges

Many clients have real obstacles and significant fears about changing how they spend their time, energy and resources. In some cultures, working long hours and turning down vacation time are seen as admirable. Debunking this myth will depend a lot on individual perception, experience, and personal life demands.

Similarly, clients with families have unique challenges for maintaining WLB compared to those who are single or partnered without children. Things like personal debt, level of education, ability to obtain different employment or get promoted, and physical health are all factors to consider when working with clients to set realistic WLB goals.

 

4. Meet clients where they are

Every individual is in a unique stage of life. After helping clients find their ideal and realistic WLB, knowing their readiness for change and comfort level with taking steps to achieve it are important factors to consider.

Some clients will be ready to make significant changes to their career, move to improve their home and family life, or take a radical pay cut in order to have more free time. Other people will need to take smaller steps, such as changing their work hours or making the best of where they are currently.

 

5 Strategies to Teach Your Clients

Flexible work options

1. Look for flexible work options

Time at work does not necessarily depend exclusively on in-person presence at the workplace.

Often, it is a matter of accomplishing certain tasks that can be done within self-selected time slots or from remote locations.

Clear agreements on how and when to work can be made with supervisors, managers, mentors, colleagues, and family to optimize productivity and time flexibility (Pencavel, 2015). Flexibility in when and where people work can provide a sense of freedom and control over their environment.

 

2. Set boundaries for workplace and time

With increased flexibility, it is important to set spatial and temporal boundaries around work to focus on the task at hand and prevent work from creeping into other parts of life.

When at the office (home or away), create a quiet space without distractions. Designate specific spaces for work and turn work off when NOT in those spaces.

Disconnecting from work also includes turning off screens, digital media, and phone calls during off hours. This might also include investing in technology to make a workspace optimal for productivity, such as a white noise machine to eliminate noise or organization tools to keep things tidy and efficient.

 

3. Find strategies that increase efficiency and productivity

Time management activities (see below), to-do lists, and collaboration with colleagues and family members can be helpful strategies.

Automating more of your life with routines and habits can minimize decision fatigue, which can deplete self-control and increase emotional stress, lack of persistence, and underachievement (Reiner & Krupinski, 2012).

One of the best strategies to minimize decision fatigue is to make the most important decisions early in the day and to limit and simplify choices as much as possible.

 

4. Create a long-term strategy to prioritize

Creating a long-term strategy based on dream goals and a timeline needed to reach them can help with day-to-day priorities and learning to say no to things that are not leading toward the goal.

This includes keeping track of how time is spent and setting both short- and long-term goals. Some of the exercises below are good examples of how to start this process.

 

5. Make personal health a priority

Spending time on self-care to maintain a healthy body and mind can lead to a fulfilling lifestyle, which may in turn, lead to peak performance and productivity in the workplace.

Creating time and space for a healthy diet, adequate sleep, physical activity, and mental health is critical for optimizing WLB. Research shows that lack of sleep not only increases stress and fatigue, but is directly linked to self-report measures of low WLB (Wu, Tao, Zhang, & Tao, 2015).

Additionally, a 15-minute mindful meditation can reduce stress and increase productivity in the middle of a workday (Cannizzo, Mauri, & Osbaldiston, 2019).

 

3 Exercises for Your Sessions

While finding a healthy WLB can seem daunting, the following exercises are simple and practical ways to get clients headed in the right direction.

 

1. The “clock day” exercise

Draw two clock faces on a page. One will be for an ideal weekday and one for an ideal weekend.

Split the “clock day” into pieces of how much time would be ideally spent sleeping, eating, doing necessary chores, working, commuting, etc.

Specifically, find spaces in the “clock day” for things that bring joy, life, and purpose. Think of your hobbies, things you would like to learn, experiences you enjoy, and relationships you want to foster.

At the end of the exercise, check to see how realistic the balance of time is and decide how closely you could realistically implement it in real life.

 

2. Recording your dream

Have your client write out a script of their ideal (near) future, including all aspects of their life.

Using any form of audio recorder (such as a smartphone), let the client read the script, conveying emotion, excitement, and energy as they bring their goals to life. The client can listen to this recording regularly to motivate small changes toward their dreams.

 

3. Pictorial goal plan

Start with the word “me” (or a picture of the client) in the center of a blank piece of paper or cardboard. Define specific goals the client wants to achieve. Write these on the paper, surrounding the central ‘me’ or picture. Draw lines from the center to each goal.

Find pictures of things for each area. For example, pictures of a family eating dinner together, their ideal house, car, travel/leisure activities, hobbies, etc. Cut these out and paste them next to each goal.

Make the collective picture bright, exciting, and desirable and have the client keep it somewhere out in the open as an incentive to work toward their goals.

 

6 Questions to Ask Your Clients

Work-life Balance QuestionsAchieving a better balance between professional and personal identities can be done through reflexivity and role redefinition (Bartlett, Arslan, Bankston, & Sarabipour, 2021).

Answering meaningful coaching questions taps into both of these concepts. The following questions provide a few ideas to start.

  1. When was the last time you felt fully alive?
  2. If you had one year to live, how would your priorities (time, energy, resources) shift?
  3. What are you prepared to do to get the life that you want?
  4. When do you want to achieve the work–life balance you desire?
  5. What is currently causing you stress, unbalance, or dissatisfaction?
  6. What are you currently prioritizing, and what are you willing to sacrifice?

 

Useful Resources: 4 Questionnaires, Surveys, & Scales

  1. This Basic Needs Satisfaction assessment allows clients to rate their perception of specific life factors on a scale of 1–7.

While it is designed to measure autonomy, support, and competence, it is an excellent starting point to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, and areas that can be improved upon to create WLB.

  1. This Quality of Worklife Questionnaire by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  measures the relationship between the job/organization and worker health. It can help identify targets for healthy interventions.

The CDC (2011) put together the NIOSH WorkLife program to promote health and safety for workers across the globe.

  1. This quiz designed by Brandman University is applicable to students, potential college students, employees, and self-employed individuals. The interactive approach is a fun item to send to clients or have them do on a computer during a session.

  2. This self-awareness worksheet is an excellent starting place for clients to evaluate their strengths, accomplishments, and how these can be best used to find life satisfaction in both work and personal areas.

 

Helpful Planner Tools & Apps

Strategies that help organize time, tasks, and team members are one of the most practical ways to improve WLB. In addition, tools that help to increase efficiency and productivity at work and at home will free up personal time and space for things that add meaning and value to life.

 

1. Quenza

QuenzaQuenza is the ultimate tool for coaches and therapists trying to help clients find work–life balance. Once clients set specific goals, this tool allows coaches to automate assignments between sessions and track client progress toward goals in each area of their life.

 

2. Rescue Time

RescueTime

This time management app is a tool for clients that considers personal work style and the items on your calendar to help you set goals to maximize productivity and minimize stress.

 

3. Toggl

Toggl is a multifaceted tool that can help track time, manage projects, synchronize teams, and even hire employees or help for achieving goals. It is great for managers or employees to track and report how time is spent and create more efficient goals for success.

 

4. Cozi

Cozi

This family organizing tool does everything from creating a shared grocery list to organizing school and extracurricular schedules with anyone who shares the app.

The color-coded scheduling system makes it simple enough for the entire family to get involved.

 

5. Timenotes

Timenotes

Timenotes with Trello is a system for tracking the progress of projects.

Often used for writing assignments, it can also be a great tool for groups and organizations to use to manage the workflow of any project that has a conveyor belt method of progression.

 

Top 5 Inspiring Podcasts & TED Talks

Getting inspiration from video and audio sources can help stimulate action toward creating and maintaining WLB.

 

1. What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?

This informative TED Talk discusses our motivation for work from the perspective of a behavioral economist. It reveals how finding meaning in work can change the way we feel about it and our lives in general.

 

2. The Happiness Hustle podcast

This podcast was originally designed for entrepreneurs but is applicable for anyone in the workforce.

It highlights the importance of finding joy, purpose, and meaning in work and helps listeners understand why these are major components to WLB.

 

3. Why Work–Life Balance is a Myth

This engaging podcast, which emphasizes the need for every individual to complete a Wheel of Life exercise (see below), debunks the myth that we can “do it all.”

It provides a different concept of balancing the various areas and values of life to create a greater sense of wellbeing and more meaningful relationships.

 

4. How to Make Work–Life Balance Work

This encouraging TED Talk inspires viewers to take control of their time, energy, and resources. It provides examples of how to fulfill family, personal, and work needs in a way that is enjoyable and sustainable.

 

5. The Happy Secret to Better Work

This entertaining TED Talk challenges the idea that working hard is the only way to be happy. If we can instead learn to be happy, we will be more productive and fruitful in our work.

 

A Look at the Work–Life Balance Wheel

The work–life balance wheel can take on many forms. It is a simple way to create a visual representation of the significant areas of a person’s life. Generally, six to eight of the most important areas of a person’s life are selected. Each area is displayed as a “spoke” of the wheel.

This wheel is frequently used by people from a variety of industries, professions, and stages of life to evaluate if they are effective and satisfied with the most important parts of who they are.

To create a work–life balance wheel, clients will select the most important roles they fill in life and then assess the importance of each, from 1 to 10. The client will then rate how they are currently doing (on a scale of 1–10) in each area. The areas with the largest discrepancies are the ones that can be addressed first in creating a plan to achieve optimal work–life balance.

Our Wheel of Life tool provides preselected life domains to simplify the process for clients. It also provides areas of feedback for each domain and the ability to review specific ideas for improvement in the areas that need it most.

A recommended read is our excellent Wheel of Life Coaching article, which provides very specific details about the wheel and how to apply it.

 

PositivePsychology.com’s Relevant Resources

PositivePsychology.com also provides a plethora of relevant exercises that can help set goals, assess values, and point clients in the right direction to achieving WLB. Of these, we recommend this masterclass:

 

Balancing Life Domains© Coaching Masterclass

Balancing Life Domains© is a coaching masterclass that will teach you how to help others effectively manage attention and energy between our most valued life domains, such as family, work, and leisure. This is taught by addressing the roles of attention, need fulfillment, and actions required to create life balance. Your clients will be given all the necessary tools to create a more balanced life through fun and engaging exercises and techniques.

The Balancing Life Domains© Masterclass is exclusive to Life Navigation©, our comprehensive positive psychology certification program. As such, it can only be accessed by joining Life Navigation© and cannot be purchased as a standalone component.

 

A Take-Home Message

Creating work–life balance can be helpful for maintaining physical, emotional, and mental health; relationships; work productivity; and performance.

There is no one-size-fits-all method for finding work–life balance. The optimal balance looks different for everyone, which makes helping clients find it both an art and a science.

Learning individual and personal values, setting realistic goals, and learning skills for collaboration, time management, and prioritization are key factors for successful WLB. These skills and knowledge set the stage for long-term health and wellbeing in every area of life.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

 

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  • Cannizzo, F., Mauri, C., & Osbaldiston, N. (2019). Moral barriers between work/life balance policy and practice in academia. Journal of Cultural Economics, 12, 58–73.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). NIOSH WorkLife, 1(3). Retrieved August 28, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/twh/newsletter/NWLnewsV1N3.html
  • Drew, D., & Murtagh, E. (2005). Work/life balance: Senior management champions of laggards? Women in Management Review, 20(4), 262–278.
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  • Reiner, B., & Krupinski, E. (2012). The insidious problem of fatigue in medical imaging practice. Journal of Digital Imaging, 25, 3–6.
  • Wu, X. Tao, S., Zhang, S., & Tao, F. (2015). Low physical activity and high screen time can increase the risks of mental health problems and poor sleep quality among Chinese college students. PLoS One, 10.

About the Author

Dr. Melissa Madeson, Ph.D., believes in a holistic approach to mental health and wellness and uses a person-centered approach when working with clients.   Currently in full-time private practice, she uses her experience with performance psychology, teaching, and designing collegiate wellness courses and yoga therapy to address a range of specific client needs.

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