Virtual technology and around-the-clock availability has made the line between work and personal life increasingly fuzzy. Performing optimally on the job while relishing your off-time is a constant juggling act — but with some planning and self-advocacy, you can find a rhythm that works for you.
Your Life, Your Career
Protecting your work and personal time is a job that belongs only to you. If you make yourself available 24/7, people will naturally learn to expect it. Talking or texting with family and friends throughout the day is disruptive and reduces productivity — you may need to work late or bring work home to get it done. Responding to a work e-mail at 11 p.m. lets your boss know you’re available late into the evening —leading to disruptions in family life and sleep quality.
You can’t completely separate work life and home life. But too much work at home and too much home at work is a recipe for chronic stress and dissatisfaction with your life.
Establish Healthy Boundaries
Being on call comes with the territory for some professions. Others don’t formally require staying connected after-hours, but informally expect it — or workers feel they must stay plugged-in due to workload. Sometimes it’s required — but it’s often unnecessary. Talk with your manager or human resources department to clarify the expectations for your role. Unless the nature of your work specifically requires being online after hours, unplug and relax. Taking a mental break from work allows you to return refreshed and re-energized tomorrow.
Create a list of guidelines for family members and your childcare providers to help them understand when it’s OK to contact you at work, for what reasons, and how you prefer to be contacted. Let them know you’ll respond to non-urgent issues after work or during a break.
Multi-tasking seems like a good way to get things done, but studies show that it actually causes more stress. When you’re at work, focus on a single task — it’s called mindfulness. Avoid thinking about what’s for dinner, your in-laws’ upcoming visit, or yesterday’s meeting. Focus on the here and now — and you’ll work more efficiently.
When you get home, focus on family, friends, your workout, your volunteer work, preparing meal, or whatever is on your personal agenda — instead of mentally bringing work home with you. Being completely present as you play with your children or talk with your spouse helps you relax after a day’s work and communicates how important they are to you.
A Healthy Perspective
What are you working for? Building a satisfying career and enjoying a sense of accomplishment are common life goals. For many, work is a reward in itself. For others, it’s a means to an end — a way to provide for life’s necessities and pleasures. For still others, it’s both. But no matter how much you love your job, everyone needs some regular down time to stay healthy and happy. Make a point of cultivating hobbies, sports, creative pursuits and other interests to nourish your life outside of the office. Putting off immediate pleasures in favor of long-range rewards is a good thing — to an extent. Enjoying the fruits of your labor today is just as important.
Talk with your manager about flexible scheduling options. A shift in your job’s start time may be all it takes to resolve a stressful home situation. Telecommuting, compressed work weeks, part-time work, and job-sharing are all examples of flexible scheduling — a practice that’s becoming more and more common.
Need to leave early to catch your daughter’s soccer game? Flexing for special work needs can make your work team more willing to flex for your personal needs. Pitch in to cover the workload when your co-worker is out sick. Offer to help out with a project when your schedule is light. Demonstrate that you’re flexible —it’s likely to pay off.
Practice politely declining requests and invitations that add to your work-life stress. Whether it’s an after-work bowling party or chaperoning a 3rd-grade field trip, saying yes means saying no to something else — it will cost you time and energy. Sometimes it’s worth it, and sometimes it’s not. Trust your instincts — make your health and well-being your highest priority.