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Balancing work and personal life

By Karyn Santl

Photo of legs and feet carefully balancing while walking on a log
I am preparing for a presentation titled “Balancing Life” for our statewide staff development conference. I was encouraged by a staff member I supervise to submit a proposal on this topic after we had a discussion about workload, prioritizing, and balancing life. Youth development work regularly requires long hours, including nights and weekends and youth workers frequently find themselves in conflict among the demands of their time and energy between clientele, administrators and family. (Stark et al, 2012).

I have been supervising frontline 4-H Youth Development professionals for the past 20 years with the Minnesota 4-H program. Here are four tips I have given staff throughout my years as a supervisor:

  • Mark days off on your calendar - birthdays, sports schedules, last day of harvest, etc. to protect what is important to you.
  • Take a week-long (or longer) vacation at least once a year. We all need a break from work and we will come back more refreshed.
  • Know your limits. I would not schedule a night meeting after a day long staff meeting. I knew I would not be at my best physically and mentally for the evening meeting.   
  • Find your tribe - Make sure you have a support system with professional colleagues as well as family or friends.

Balancing work life and personal life has always been an interest and priority of mine. I recently read an article from the Harvard Business Review that I felt summed up my strategies and those I share with staff quite well. Their research showed that achieving a better work-life balance boils down to a combination of reflexivity and intentional role redefinition. Balancing work and life is not a one-time fix, but rather a cycle that we should engage in continuously as circumstances and priorities change.  

This cycle is made of of five distinct steps:

Pause and denormalize

Pause and ask yourself: What is currently causing me stress, imbalance or dissatisfaction? Is it affecting my job performance? Is it impacting my personal life? 

Pay attention to your emotions

Awareness of your emotional state is essential in order to determine the changes you want to make in your work and in your life. As you pause and reflect, think about what brings you joy and energy, and what brings you stress or feelings of resentment.


Increasing your cognitive and emotional awareness gives you the tools you need to put things into perspective and determine how your priorities need to be adjusted.

Consider your alternatives

Brainstorm what could be different with your work and life to better align with your priorities. 

Implement changes

The change might only be noticed by you, or it may be more public like shifting your work hours or changing positions.   

What is a strategy you use to balance work and personal life? What advice do you frequently give others?

-- Karyn SantlExtension educator

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  1. My office phone forwards to my cell phone since I work some days from home. Because my position only requires daytime office hours, I don't answer calls from work outside those hours. Mentally, I need that separation between work and home life.

    1. This is a great boundary to have! I too need the separation between work and home. I had a colleague share with me "google voice" which is a phone number & part of our google suite that they use as their "work" number which goes to their personal cell. This enables them to keep their personal cell number personal. I am going to check it out.

  2. Thank you for this great post on such an important topic!


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