We are constantly connected—always on our phones refreshing our emails, responding to texts from clients, and juggling a social life on the side. Some employers expect you to respond to emails late at night even though you’d much rather be sitting down for dinner with your family. These expectations make it really difficult to achieve work-life balance. Here are our suggestions to help you unplug from work and enjoy your time away.
Set expectations and understand your position
- Most people take work home because their boss thinks it’s okay to contact them outside of work. And in certain roles, it is. Upon accepting the job, you need to have a conversation with your boss to establish expectations about your “off” hours. In certain jobs, you have no choice but to bring work home. But you should know that when you accept the offer. If you feel that your expectations aren’t being met, set up a time to meet with your boss to express your concerns. If you’ve established that your position requires no work from home, and you’re responding to work emails on the weekends, you’re communicating that it’s okay for you to work outside the office. This will only make the problem worse. The main point is to establish mutually accepted expectations and then to make sure that both parties respect them.
Set boundaries for yourself
- Determine how many hours per week you want to spend working and how many hours you want to spend away from the office. Once you’ve set your goal, stick to it. If that means that beyond your 40-hour work week, you’re willing to spend an additional 5 hours working from home, do that. If you’re unwilling to work outside of the office, that’s fine too. Choose what’s right for you and try to stick with your plan.
Understand what needs to be done and what does not
- Sometimes you work extra hours because you’re busy. We get that. There are busy seasons in most industries and it’s inevitable that sometimes you’ll have to work more than 40 hours. Other times, it’s simply because your standards are too high. As a perfectionist, I understand how difficult it can be to let things go. But if the font on your flyer isn’t perfect, or if your accounting report could use some extra formatting, often the best thing to do is to step away from it. Come back to it the next day with a fresh eye and you’ll be amazed at how much more clearly you can see your work.
- Put your work computer away. Better yet, leave it at work. But that’s not enough because the internet is accessible pretty much everywhere. So, you probably still have access to all of your work documents on your phone. Try your best to put that away too. When I have a hard time disconnecting, I leave my phone in a different room. I walk away. Then I spend some time with my friends without any temptations to check my Google Calendar or my Outlook. If you want to keep your phone closer, another solution is to put it out of eyesight, like in a drawer. If you can’t see your phone, you’re much less likely to be thinking about what’s on it.
- If you have a hard time staying accountable to your goals, there are some apps to help limit your technology use. Try SPACE which tracks your phone usage and helps you set goals to limit it. This can help you unplug when you’re away from work and be really present at home.
Take care of yourself
- Ultimately, the purpose of achieving work-life balance is for you to feel well. There are many ways to define wellness. One definition breaks the term into nine dimensions: social, emotional, occupational, sexual, environmental, intellectual, financial, physical and spiritual wellness. Of these nine dimensions, work clearly falls into only one category (occupational wellness). There are some ties between work and other dimensions like financial wellness and intellectual wellness. However, the point is that work is not the only aspect of our lives. It’s important to establish routines that make you feel well in all areas. For example, go to sleep at a reasonable hour, treat yourself to a yoga class, schedule a time to grab drinks with friends, or sit down and read a book for pleasure. Do whatever it is that reminds you that you are a complex person defined by more than just your job. If you’re looking for more information on wellness and self-care, we wrote a whole blog about it! Find it here.
In the end, we are not telling you to boycott your boss or to set unreasonable standards about how much you work. We are asking you to consider what is important to you and how to achieve that. Often times it’s easy to get caught up in work without thinking about the other aspects of our lives. If we can properly communicate our needs with our bosses, then we can achieve a happier, more sustainable life.