The idea of work-life balance is often a challenge for busy professionals. Figuring out how to keep work at work while providing enough time in the day to address personal needs has always been difficult.

Then along comes a global pandemic, sending those of us who were lucky enough to keep our businesses afloat into lockdown, learning how to work and lead remotely during quarantine. And as was the case with so much of the pandemic-related fallout, we struggled.

According to Microsoft’s 2020 Work Trend Index report, nearly one-third of workers in Asia Pacific experienced increased rates of burnout, and it’s easy to understand why. The tentative hold we had on a work-life balance went out the window as we tried to get used to working remotely and, for those with children, juggled the responsibility of helping them log into virtual school while we ran Teams or Zoom meetings…sometimes simultaneously.

Working from home during a pandemic affected us as a country. In the same Microsoft report, Australians took the prize for the highest increase in their workday during the pandemic, seeing a 45% increase. As we continue to learn how to balance our work lives and private lives now that the two bleed into one another more than ever before, learning how to navigate this new post-pandemic normal can be a challenge. Here are 4 tips that can help.

Set Strict Work Hours

This is true whether you go into an office or not, but it becomes particularly important when working from home. It’s easy to stay logged in for an extra hour or two in the afternoons, or to log back in after the kids are in bed to get a jump on tomorrow’s workload.

You may try to rationalise squeezing a few extra hours into your day under the assumption that doing so makes you more productive…but that isn’t always the case. A recent study conducted pre-pandemic in 2019 found that employees average just 2 hours and 48 minutes of productive work time in any given day. Still not convinced? Consider this—a Rescue Time Survey, conducted in 2020, found only 5% of employees feel they finish their tasks on any given day, and more than half noted an increase in communications (responding to emails, sitting in on meetings) that take away from job duties.

If you’re still in a work-from-home setting and find that (especially given the challenge of working alongside children who remain at home) adopting a modified work schedule with evening hours allows you to be more productive, embrace it. Perhaps your workday shifts from 9am – 5pm to 8am – 3pm and then 8pm – 10pm. Whatever hours you choose, set your work day…and ensure the work happens within those hours.

Set Both Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

I’m a huge fan of using calendars to keep task lists along with short- and long-term goals.

For me, tasks make up the daily work that needs to be completed each workday. Short-term goals are the projects that need to be completed by the end of the week or the larger items that are completed once the tasks are finished.

Long-term goals are more “big picture” ideas. What sought-after client am I aiming to land in the next six months? What short-term goals will help me accomplish this? I start by adding the goal to the calendar six months out, then work my way backward, filling in short-term goals that will get me to my long-term goal, and finally adding the tasks that will fulfil the short-term goals.

Prioritise Work Tasks…and Be Realistic

You’ve set your strict work hours…but there’s only so much work that can be accomplished in a single day and having all tasks for yourself or your employees listed as priority #1 puts you and the business on the fast track to burnout.

You simply cannot run your business with everything on red alert. And if, after taking honest stock of your tasks and to-do lists, you find everything actually is a high priority, it’s time to take a long hard look at your personal decision-making processes and the quality of communication between yourself and your employees.

Once you’re able to prioritise tasks for yourself or employees, start with the most critical and work your way down the list, leaving less critical items for the end of the day with the possibility of placing them at the top of tomorrow’s list if necessary.

Self-Care is More Than a Catch Phrase

The topic of self-care seems to be everywhere these days—in the news, as the subject of talk show chats, and rampant on social media.

But it’s not some generic term for stuff you do when you’re not working. At its core, self-care means putting your personal mental and physical health at the top of your priority list.

The concept isn’t new, even if the term seems to be. How many times have you heard the phrase you can’t pour from an empty cup in reference to your personal wellness? Oftentimes, the concept is compared to the instructions we receive from flight attendants as our plan takes off—In the event of an emergency, should oxygen masks deploy, place your mask over your mouth before trying to assist others. Both examples make clear the idea that, before we can care for others or take care of business, we must first care for ourselves.

To some, the idea of carving out time for self-care is stress inducing as it’s one more thing to add the day’s endless list. But if you can make time for yourself—and we’re not talking about hours here, but minutes—you’ll find yourself better able to tackle the challenges of work.

Another misconception—people often think self-care equals self-improve and assume the term means taking a kickboxing class or enduring a rigorous CrossFit session. While such activities certainly can qualify as self-care to some, the idea is to set aside time for something you enjoy. It might be making and eating a nutrient-rich meal. Perhaps it’s attending a meditation or yoga class. It could even be listening to music while enjoying a warm bath or taking a leisurely walk in nature. Whatever speaks to you and sets your mind at ease…do that.

A lack of work-life balance for yourself or your employees doesn’t just affect personal mental health—it’s bad for business. Companies who are able to balance work and personal time have employees who are less stressed, look forward to coming to work, are more productive while there, and less likely to leave…all of which is better for the company’s bottom line, and that sounds like a win/win to me.