With Labor Day and the annual frenzy of returning to school and work approaching, let’s talk about finally striving to achieve a reasonable work/life balance.
Many of us fall into the trap of working all the time, thanks to tools and technology that make this possible, especially for those who work from home. While it can be satisfying to accomplish a lot, it can also be detrimental to our mental health. We all need down time, fun time, and family and friend time. How can we achieve that if we are being constantly sucked back into our work life in our off time? So… How can we start to carve out some time for ourselves?
Begin by setting limits on yourself. Shut off the computer at 5:00 or your COB (Close of Business) time. At the very least do not allow yourself to feel obligated to check work emails after that. One trick is to use different email addresses and/or different mail clients to ensure personal and work emails are separated. Someone I know has different emails for friends, shopping sites, and work, and she does not have her work email set up on her cell phone. Instead, she uses Outlook for work and the Outlook app on her phone so that she can still get the emails and not miss anything important. However, since those emails aren’t coming to her regular inbox, they aren’t commanding her attention when she’s at the beach or dining out with friends. They’re available when she goes looking for them, but not “in her face” when she’s off the clock.
Inform colleagues and co-workers of the hours you are not available. Just because people can text and email at all hours of the day, it does not mean you HAVE to respond the moment you receive something. A word of caution, though: it goes both ways. Don’t break your own rule by texting and emailing a brilliant idea on your off hours. If you do craft that sure-fire, million-dollar idea and feel you must get it down on paper while in a creative way, write the email or text, scheduling it to be sent during your defined work hours.
Finally, be careful not to over-promise. I don’t know why it is, but there must be something in the air either 2 hours before the end of the workday, or more frequently, the latter part of a Friday afternoon. At those times, doesn’t it seem like people have gotten their second winds, awakening with the best, last minute requests and expect results by the next business day? Don’t fall into the trap of promising that the work will be completed by the next day. Unless you can complete the task by the end of your current workday, you know darn well that you will now feel compelled to work on it well into that evening, or God forbid, over the weekend. Work hard against that compulsion. As my sister tells her graduate students at a top-notch university: “Unless you are the president of a Fortune 500 company or a surgeon performing a life-saving operation, it is simply not necessary.” No one could reasonably expect that!
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule for which only you can be the judge. That said, to achieve the goal of establishing a better work/life balance, it is incumbent upon you to set the boundaries and to stick to them. Doing so can ultimately lead to a happier life.