Five Simple Steps to a Better Work-Life Balance

Mastering this balancing act is a key way to get happier about your job

A study from Bright Horizons childcare centers made news with this disheartening statistic: Nearly half of working parents worry that family duties could get them fired. Another study from Sage revealed that workers' biggest stresses revolve around work-life balance and time management.

We went to an expert for tips on keeping work and life in check: Jennifer Fraone is the associate director at Boston College's Center for Work & Family, which advises employers on integrating professional and personal fulfillment.

Don't multi-task. Yep, you read that right. Our society places a huge premium on the ability to do multiple things at once, but it's hugely counterproductive. How many times have you checked a work email at dinner, then felt compelled to reply immediately? "This compulsion creates a cycle of responsiveness. The more we play into these interruptions, the more we set up an expectation of constant availability," says Fraone. "If your boss emails you at midnight, it might simply be when she works best. Chances are she doesn't expect an immediate reply — so don't create that expectation."

Be secretive. "We live in a culture of complete transparency that didn't exist ten years ago," says Fraone. Now, shared e-calendars are available for our coworkers to see and we're forever tethered to our smartphones. There's no reason to tell someone when you're leaving the office for the night, and you don't need to note your every out-of-office absence on your calendar. Your time is your own.

Prep for tomorrow. Before heading home, evaluate the next day's work to figure out what's high priority, what can wait, and what can be delegated.Fraone recommends scheduling the tasks into a private Google calendar for a helpful visual.

Schedule free time. Lunch with a coworker? After-work drinks with friends? This kind of down time makes you more productive. So schedule these dates like work appointments — relaxation deserves the same respect as a meeting or a conference call.

Be candid with your boss about boundaries. Yes, some employers do see employees as machines that should be "on" around the clock. Most don't, but miscommunication happens all the time. Maybe the boss who emails you constantly simply does it because she's disorganized and doesn't expect you to reply to her every missive. If you do so, you create a self-perpetuating cycle. The more you respond, the more she'll email. Remember: There's no shame in creating boundaries. Tell her you're off duty in the evening, but will respond in the morning first-thing.