How I Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance (Even with a Demanding Job)

More time for family, fun, and creative endeavors

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I was never good at maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

In my early twenties, I was a young bachelor with no real at-home responsibilities except for a puppy. Somehow I had no energy during the week — always beat up and exhausted from work. 

At 26, I made a huge mistake and quit my job because I was burnt out and wanted something better.

But now, I’m 34 with a family of five (about to be six). Plus two dogs and one cat. Somehow I have more energy during the week than I did in my twenties.

My job is arguably harder. My home life crazier. But my work-life balance is better than ever.

There’s no secret. It’s hard work. The four things I’m about to share with you are the four pillars of my effective work-life strategy, honed over 15 years of corporate servitude.

If one pillar buckles or falls, the other three might hold, but probably not. If two fall, it all comes crashing down.

It’s best to keep all four in good working condition.

1. Be Productive During “Work” Time

My 14-year-old stepson, a freshman in high school, has been working 4 to 5 hours every evening after school during the week.

Like most teenagers, he’s really good at making us feel guilty for forcing him to do his homework.

We realized that, despite his heroic efforts, he was still missing assignments. We were confused. How the hell do you work so hard and still not have time to turn things in?

After a heart-to-heart, he broke into tears because of how stressed he was. He insisted that he was working hard and still struggling. We believed him. His mom and I came up with a plan to spread the work out over some weekends so that he wouldn’t feel as overwhelmed during the week.

Some time later, assignments still weren’t being turned in.

Well, turns out that “working hard” to him meant doing some homework while mainly watching YouTube and browsing the internet. So, instead of finding more time for him to work, we implemented changes for him to make better use of his time.

Sounds like typical kid behavior, but it’s surprising how many adults do the exact same thing.

A healthy work-life balance HAS to start with how productive you are at work. Otherwise, you’re injecting unnecessary stress into the equation.

That means, even if it’s an unpopular opinion, work-life balance is your responsibility first. Be productive when you are working and you make things way easier on yourself.

Plus, a productive high-performer has all the leverage in their favor.

Some tips on how I stay focused and productive at work:

  • Find your best hours and protect them. Try to schedule meetings and less critical tasks outside that window.

  • Don’t react to emails. Filter key ones from your boss, team lead, and your customer(s) then ignore the rest. Plan to respond to emails in batches just like any other task. You’ll be far better off than most people just by doing this.

  • Use a productivity system that works for you. I’ve been using the same one for the past few years and I love it. It works great. Here’s my system if you’re interested.

2. Be Very Good at Asking for Help

This is where your productivity starts to pay off.

If you’re a top performer who makes great use of your time, yet you’re still working 50+ hours a week, something’s up.

My job puts me in this situation often. To be honest, there’s a high chance that it’s on purpose. Companies love to take advantage of their best workers.

But, I’m not so easily bullied anymore. I push back.

When I’m overwhelmed and working way more than I should, I grab my boss for a candid conversation. I’m straight up with him and say, “I need help.”

Then I follow it up with an email.

Here’s a simple template (similar to what I would say):

“Hey [Boss],

Thanks for chatting earlier. Just wanted to follow up and reiterate my need for support on this project. My plate is overfilled and without help I’m going to start missing key deadlines.

Thanks again,


This serves three strategic purposes:

  1. It lets them know you’re serious

  2. It gives you an excuse to dial it back

  3. It covers your ass if you do a work-life rebalance and miss deadlines. You worked your ass off, but you needed help. You asked for help. It’s in your boss’ best interest to support.

3. Set Boundaries and Stick.To.Them.

I’m a boomerang at my current company.

A boomerang is someone who quits a company and then makes the bold (and sometimes ludicrous) decision to go back.

I quit because I was overworked and didn’t get the help that I needed…for months.

The second time around needed to be different. My unwritten terms for returning were:

  • New boss

  • Respect my work-life balance

  • No working with the same team as before

Today, I show up around 8 AM after the kids are off to school. I gym at lunch. I’m done for the day by 5 PM. Don’t try to contact me after that unless it’s an emergency, otherwise I won’t answer.

Does 8 to 5 suck? Yeah, but it’s the best I can expect right now from an engineering job in my industry. Personally, I think the whole system needs a change. Though that’s a story for another day.

Because I’m human, I overstep now and then, which I think is reasonable for a demanding job as a salary worker. But when it starts becoming a habit rather than an exception, I look to raise the flag. I ask for help and dial it back.

Boundaries are so important but I don’t think everyone understands them.

They are not walls meant to isolate work from life. Boundaries are like shallow rivers dividing the two. When you finish work for the day, you wade through the water to reach the other side. It’s not an immediate process. It takes time to decompress and to mentally “turn off” your work brain.

If you work long hours, your river is shallow but wide. It takes longer into the evening to adjust. 

Now this last part is important. Once you step out of the river, you’re still wet. Your work life lingers into your personal life, just like your personal life lingers into your work life.

I don’t think a present-day professional worker can truly dissolve all work from their thoughts when they’re not working. Work is a part of who we are. Not the full part, which is why work-life balance is so important in the first place, but a sizeable part.

Don’t expect full isolation. A nice blend is better anyway.

Construct your metaphorical river, then maintain it.

4. Rule Your Life. Don’t Let It Rule You.

My last pillar is that pesky “other” part of work-life balance.


Try to picture your work-life balance as if it’s a scale. One side is work. The other is life. Everyone thinks that work is the side with all of the problems. But honestly, I’d bet many people struggle just as much, if not more, with life.

Today, I have a crazy at-home life with everyone who depends on me for their well-being. I could spend every bit of my non-work time caring for everyone else in my household but it still wouldn’t be enough.

I don’t try to do that because I would go insane.

Instead, I manage my life in the same manner that I manage my work — I prioritize.

I aim to strike a healthy balance between:

  • Time with the kids

  • Time with the wife

  • Time for friends

  • Time just for me

Without the right split, life is hard.

Too much time for myself and my family might start to hate me. Not enough time for myself and I might start to hate them. Not quite, but you get what I mean.

People are really good at treating their personal lives like another inbox, responding to the needs of others and neglecting their own.

If I neglect myself, that doesn’t do anyone good. I’m at my best when I strike a balance between self-care and my duties to everyone else.

The writing that I’m doing tonight, right now, is a form of self-care. It’s something I enjoy. Tomorrow I probably won’t write, but I’ll spend some extra time with Nicole or the boys.

I try to think of my priorities, for both work and life, as weekly things and not daily. I can’t squeeze everything into each day. But when I spread it all out across the week it’s manageable.

Your life may be similar, or it may be very different. The point is to be intentional about what you do with your free time. To enjoy it.

Don’t be one of those people who complain about work while having zero control over your personal life.

It’s your life. Own it.

To recap:

I sucked at work-life balance, but then I got better. If there’s hope for me, there’s absolutely hope for you.

The four pillars of my healthy work-life balance routine are…

  1. Be Productive During “Work” Time

  2. Be Very Good at Asking for Help

  3. Set Boundaries and Stick. to. Them.

  4. Rule Your Life. Don’t Let It Rule You.