Maintaining work-life balance in our connected world

Back in the day, once you left the office for the weekend, no one expected to hear from you until Monday morning. Today, hyper-connectivity has taken that away.

Image via Pixabay.

WASHINGTON, February 16, 2017 — When Siri tells us the fastest way to get to a restaurant, there are no fights with the navigator, and when Whatsapp lets you keep all your friend chats centralized, there’s no chance of just losing touch. This helps bring balance to our personal lives.

Image via Pixabay.

When iCloud makes it possible to access projects during your lunch, you don’t have to worry about being unproductive, and when that same Whatsapp allows you to run multiple conversations with colleagues, managers, and clients at once, more gets done faster. This also brings balance to our work lives.

Yet these two things only set each other aspects of our lives off kilter. Work never really gets left at work, because a client’s reply is there when you open your email in the morning, and those tempting Facebook notifications are there when you open your tablet for a meeting. Both our personal and work lives have become easier. But now they’re impossible to separate.

This is true whether you’re in a high-tech field like working for converged systems vendors, or managing a restaurant or retail chain. In a world where everything is literally at your fingertips, how do you create and maintain the balance between your career and the life you have outside your career that keeps you happy and productive? Here are a few ideas.

  1.    Make weekends (or any days off) sacred

In the pre-tech world, once you left the office for the day for the weekend, no one expected to hear from you (unless it was a huge emergency) until Monday morning. Same for workdays vs. evenings at home. But today’s hyper-connectivity has taken that separation away.

Force it back into practice. For the next two weeks, be sure to mention in all your emails when your upcoming days-off will occur, whether its a weekend or other days you’ve chosen. Make it known that you won’t be available those days. Of course, you can respond if it’s an emergency—a real emergency—but otherwise, stick to your guns. if an email isn’t marked URGENT, then it doesn’t exist until Monday.

  1.    Different apps (or devices, if you can afford them) for different purposes

Your level of mental fatigue counts a lot when it comes to your personal endurance and the quality of to-do list items you’re checking off. Seeing that personal text pop up while you’re emailing colleagues sets your mind in the wrong direction, making it difficult to switch back. Likewise, seeing a complaint from your manager as you’re trying to unwind for the night only makes you feel more tense, not to mention carrying at least some low-level dread through the night and into the morning commute. You feel as if you’re “on,” work-wise, not 8 hours a day but 24/7.

So don’t allow your phone or tablet do that to you. Make a clear distinction just which devices, programs or apps are for exclusive work use, and which are exclusively personal. Examples: If you can’t afford a work phone or a work tablet, then use certain apps or email addresses exclusively for personal matters and other apps exclusively for work. Create a second email address to use among family and friends. Only access your work Dropbox account from your work computer. You get the picture. The more clear the delineation between what’s a work matter and what’s involved with home, family and friends, the easier it is to shut one or the other off at the appropriate time, helping to keep both in balance and avoiding intrusions from each.

  1.    Set deadlines, not office hours

As a manager or an employee, to let your boss know how you plan on working, rather than setting office or availability hours, set deadlines instead. If you’re expected to be primed and ready for eight specific working hours a day, this takes away from you the advantage of managing your own schedule and being able to handle personal emergencies as they arise.

Add some mystery to your persona and balance that with some results by setting deadlines and, of course, observing them precisely once they’re set. So long as they’re met, don’t waste time recounting what you do every day. You’ll reply to all emails within the day, you’ll have that project finished by Thursday, and you’re ready for that meeting on Tuesday.

But as for what you do from midnight to noon to midnight? That’s anyone’s guess, because it’s your business, not theirs and not your employer’s. Setting deadlines and hours worked along these lines gives you a sense of freedom and affords the ability to shut off when you need to.

  1.    Single-tasking

Ultimately, the greatest key to a work-life balance is making the two completely separate – because personal life is distracting, and work is exhausting. By trying to handle both at the same time (i.e., replying to friend texts while replying to client emails, working on a project while surfing social media), you’re cutting your concentration in half and effectively lowering your ability to do each by 50 percent. Both work and personal life suffer as a result.

Your mind is often trying to be professional and trying to be casual. Attempting to problem solve even when you try to take it easy gets twisted into a huge muddled and inefficient blend. Instead of permitting this to happen, set a time for work and set a time for your personal life, and don’t let the two intersect. When it’s office hours, it’s office hours. Once you’ve taken  day off or gotten into your car to head home, don’t allow your head (or yourself) to go back to work again until office hours officially resume.

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