This is a topic that affects most of us these days regardless of what job we have – business owner, mother, mentor, waiter, web developer, builder. Technology today means that information is instantly available and that includes information about each other. We are so accessible to everyone in the world through ridiculously fast and immediate communication that there is no hiding – and when I say hiding, I don’t mean just from other people needing a piece of us – I mean from ourselves as well.
How can we create space for ourselves and set up boundaries?
In my virtual role at YPO, I’m based in Europe and I work across 7 different global regions. My days can start early to catch Australia or Singapore and can also end late if I have meetings with my colleagues in the U.S. I clear my mailbox in the evening before I log off and I wake up to 30 urgent messages the next day. I’ve worked in global roles before but the special blend of 6 direct reports, a massive global project that has just errupted, a highly customer-focused culture and the curse of the totally comprehensive communication systems we are constantly connected to, means it’s taken 3 months for me to say (in a very quiet voice) ‘Here are my 6 tips for balancing work and life’.
Unless you work for yourself, are in the early stages of a start up or work in a job that is your passion – get some perspective and get a life!!
1. Work a set number of hours in a day
If you are working over multiple time-zones and geographical regions, make a decision about how many hours you are going to work in a day – however they are organised – work those hours and then switch off. I work 9 hours a day and if it starts with a 7am meeting, by 4.30pm I have logged off.
2. Book meetings with yourself for at least 30% of your week
Our days can get booked up with meetings and phone calls that are scheduled by others or for others, to such an extent, that we get to the end of it and wonder what time we have to actually do any work or even think. At the end of my week I book meetings/time with myself to get work done for the following week. Even if I have to shift these self-meetings to accomodate an important event or call, I always place it somewhere in my calendar for later in the week.
3. Take back those weekends
Fortunately in my team in YPO, if we work or travel over a weekend, we are encouraged to take some, if not all of that time, back as ‘days in lieu’. Even if you don’t have that official arrangement, it is worth flagging to your team or bosswhen you work weekends and asking for the day or half day back. It can be difficult to bring this up but let me ask you this – was it difficilt for your employer/client to ask you to work over your weekend?
4. Don’t send mixed messages abour your availability
If you are off work and on holiday or unavailable then don’t confuse people by responding to some messages, weighing in suddenly on an email chain, popping on to a conference call or telling people you are available ‘if you really need me’. It is confusing and people will sttuggle to understand your boundary around availability if you don’t know it yourself. I recently allowed myself to get sucked into working for 50% of what was supposed to be a 2-day ‘days in lieu’ for a weekend I had worked through the week before. A conundrum!!
5. Do not access work emails when you are ‘offline’
This is a tough one – particlarly if you have work emails delivered on your mobile device alongside your personal ones. You have to decide how you seperate the two but a huge impact on ensuring you have true work-life balance is NOT accessing any work emails unless you consider yourself to be in ‘working hours’. Some of the team I work in are based in countries in which the weekend is a Friday and Saturday. I’ve had to learn to ignore that Sunday flurry of work activity in my mail box and stick to my working week – not theirs and mine.
6. Declare the impact on your life
It is so important to ensure you provide full disclosure when work has or will encroach into your personal time. If a deliverable involves working a weekend, working late or de-prioritising something else – say it! People you work with or for should be informed of any impact to your work life balance as it will help them to be more mindful of it and not take it for granted. I used to think every time I said the words “Oh work is so crazy. I had to work all weekend!” that I demonstrated dedication, passion, integrity and loyalty. Now I understand that the most important thing to be mindful of is – for whom, for what and to what purpose am I doing this and is that okay?
Ultimately it is our responsibility to decide what proportion of work-time vs personal time we want our life-calendar to look like.