Good work-life balance can sometimes feel elusive and unattainable, so we’re breaking it down into its six key pillars

Poor work-life balance can snatch life’s joyous moments away from us, and be detrimental to our mental health and wellbeing. But levelling it out isn’t usually straightforward. Here, with the help of Dr Kirstie Fleetwood Meade, we’ve identified six key pillars of work-life balance on which to lay your new foundation.

Your ‘why’

It’s pretty impossible to set off on any journey if you don’t know where you’re heading, which is why working out what you’re seeking should be your first step.

“Spend some time visualising what an ‘ideal’ work-life balance would look like to you,” Dr Fleetwood Meade says. “It may be that this visualisation seems really out of reach right now. If it currently feels like it’s a three out of 10 in terms of how aligned you are with this ideal, how could you nudge it up to a four? Focusing on the little steps can make this seem more achievable.

“Next, ask yourself why it’s important to you. If it’s to feel less stressed, why? Does it allow you to be more present with your family? The clearer you are in your ‘why’, the easier it will be to say ‘yes’ to the things that lead you closer to it and ‘no’ to the things that don’t.”

Your values and priorities

Once you’ve explored your ‘why’, Dr Fleetwood Meade recommends shifting your focus to your key values. These are the beliefs that help guide us to live a life that is meaningful to us, she explains.

“Being crystal clear on your values makes decision-making around work-life balance easier,” she continues. “Some example values are: adventure, curiosity, power, fitness, freedom, fun, compassion, self-development, connection, love, equality – but there are many, many more.”

What role do your values currently play in your life, and what would a better work-life balance do for your values?

Your barriers or derailers

“Changing habits, making decisions, and saying no can all be emotionally draining,” Dr Fleetwood Meade says. “Which makes it all the more important to be able to pre-empt your likely ‘derailers’ – the things that will throw your work-life balance off track, or get in the way.”

Spend some time thinking about what exactly these might be for you, and consider how you can address them, plan for them, and get support with them.

Your worth and your infallibility

“It’s so important to look after ourselves just as well as we look after others, but if that’s challenging for you, I often reference the classic ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’,” Dr Fleetwood Meade says. “In my therapy work, I’m also a big fan of the idea of the ‘both/and’ – the idea that two things that may seem opposing can actually be true at the same time. Often we get sucked into black-and-white thinking – e.g. if I am the best colleague I can be, that means I need to be always ‘on’.”

Instead, Dr Fleetwood Meade suggests reframing to something like this:

You are important and you can’t do it all.

You are doing your best at work and the world won’t fall apart if you don’t check your emails in the evening.

You’re caring for others and you need time to recharge.


It’s probably one of the first things you think of when considering how to improve your work-life balance, but that doesn’t make it easy.

“Firstly, try challenging your perspective on the word ‘no’,” Dr Fleetwood Meade suggests. “We often grow up with stories around being likeable, helpful, and kind, and saying no can make us feel like we’re not these things. But it is possible to say no and still be a kind person.”

Dr Fleetwood Meade suggests having some helpful phrases ready. For example, offer an alternative: ‘I’ve got too much on my plate right now, but I can get back to you in X days/weeks.’ You can also try being polite but firm: ‘Thank you for your offer, but I am already committed to something else’. Or, if you tend to people-please under pressure, give yourself some time: ‘Can I get back to you on that?’

Your gut feeling

“Lastly, an embodiment practice (awareness of what is happening in your body and mind) can be very helpful for guiding your work-life balance,” Dr Fleetwood Meade says. “Think of situations where you definitely knew you wanted, or didn’t want, to do something – do you know what a full body ‘yes’ feels like, and, a full body ‘no’?

“We say we know something from a ‘gut feeling’ or ‘in our bones’. The more we know how our bodies feel in any given situation, the more we can respond from a place that feels authentically us, rather than acting automatically.”

You may need to spend time tuning-in to these sensations, especially if you’re used to pushing past them. But, it’s worth it when our bodies could hold the key to our true feelings.

For more information on work-life balance, visit the Counselling Directory or speak to a qualified counsellor.

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