With the constant presence of technology in our lives — smartphones, computers and tablets that deliver notifications at any time of the day — it’s easy to remain attached to your job well beyond closing time.
And it can happen with the best of intentions. At first, you decide to respond to just one e-mail. Shouldn’t take too long, right? But then that e-mail turns into an hour of responding to e-mail. Then you get lost in a spreadsheet a coworker, who’s also burning the midnight oil, has questions about. Before you know it, your family has long been asleep and you’ve allowed yourself to be virtually on-call 24 hours a day.
While that may seem like a bonus if you have customers who have questions in the off-hours, or coworkers who want to brainstorm late at night, but not being able to unplug from your workplace can actually be detrimental to your health, your relationships, and your mental well-being. Striving for the appropriate work-life balance will help you remain productive at work and present at home.
Here are a few ways you can make it happen:
If you work for someone else, the idea of establishing boundaries and learning what is expected of you in the off hours could be a little intimidating. But the sooner you have this conversation, the better. Ask your employer what level of involvement he or she expects from you once you leave for the day, and express what boundaries you would like to set for yourself at home, so that you can come to a compromise. Consider practices like turning off notifications on your phone at night, or even putting it in a basket until a specified hour.
If you work for yourself, you’re in control! But it’s important to communicate with clients what your boundaries are, so they know when they can expect to receive responses from you. Set a schedule and rules for when you’re working, and when you’re not. If you’re doing something you love, it can be easy to allow yourself to break your own boundaries. Writer Kaleigh Moore discusses boundaries in a Creative Class podcast: “I always want to respond to every email as soon as I get it, but I have office hours that I try really hard to keep, and even though I might read the email I won’t respond to it until the next day. Or I won’t do the thing that’s being asked until the next day when my office hours start again. So it’s not only just smart because things happen, things come up, but it’s good for healthy boundaries, too.”
You know that old saying, “Work smarter, not harder?” That definitely applies here. Making sure you’re getting the maximum amount of work done during your normal business hours will make it easier for you to turn off the work switch when you leave for the day. Working all hours of the day causes you to be more susceptible to burnout and less productive. If procrastination is an issue for you, see our tips for overcoming it.
Learning how to say “no” is also key to maximizing your efficiency. When you’re asked to spearhead an extra project outside of your normal responsibilities at work, or invited to lead a volunteer effort in the community, consider it carefully and make sure it doesn’t throw off your work-life balance. It’s OK if you feel you have too much on your plate, and it’s OK to respectfully decline. If you take on one too many projects, you could find yourself working more when you should be tuned in at home.
Pay attention to your health.
Our health is commonly the first thing we let go of when we have too many things to do. Making sure you eat right and get plenty of sleep and exercise is crucial to keeping your work-life balance on track. Without it, you are likely to experience increased stress, lower stamina and a weaker immune system.
Ask for help.
If your efforts to maintain balance at work and at home are futile, talk to your employer and your family so you can build a support system to help you keep things in check. Simply getting someone’s assistance with one task can provide a great deal of relief in accomplishing others. Many companies offer counseling benefits for employees to help them navigate stressful situations and adopt strategies for achieving work-life balance. Not communicating stress or anxiety can cause it to build, leading to a number of health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to work-life balance. What is best for one person may not be best for another. Communicate with your employer (or utilize resources available to develop a schedule, if you work for yourself) and your family to determine how best to meet their needs and ensure you remain happy, healthy and fulfilled.