Early in my career, I remember hearing about work-life balance but my urge to demonstrate that I was competent largely meant that I ignored what I was hearing. I didn't start paying much attention to how much I was working until my now-wife pointed it out when we first started dating.
Up until that point, I enjoyed being 'productive' all the time - replying to late-night emails, responding to instant messages immediately, and being accessible over vacations. Like most of us, that post-collegiate mentality wore off and I started to prioritize my well-being and time with my family.
However, in 2021 what does Work-Life Balance look like? With working from home being more of an institution, how do work activities and home activities get separated? Also, with technology that puts work right at our fingertips and gives us constant updates and notifications, where do we draw the line? Let's dive in.
What is Work-Life Balance?
Work-Life balance suggests a harmony between work life and personal life. The intent is to pay appropriate attention to work without it encroaching into our personal lives. More often than not, however, the concept is used to prevent work from making its way too much into our home lives as opposed to the alternative.
While the concept has been beaten to death, there is significant value in what it hopes to accomplish. Productivity starts to diminish when we consistently work for extended hours. Also, the re-charge we get from spending meaningful time away from work helps to enable better focus and concentration.
How Are We Taking Work Home?
When I first started working, I remember pushing to get a laptop so that I could work more 'flexibly.' What ended up happening is that I started to do work in the evenings and on weekends. However, this never happened during my first few months on the job.
Over time, work became more and more integrated into my home life. If I'm honest, mostly because of how convenient it made things, being able to get emails and IM's on my phone prevented me from missing updates when I was away from my desk.
There are also so many great synergies that allow me to pass off work from my phone to my laptop. Calendar, OneNote, and OneDrive enable me to do almost all of my work while mobile. I can even join in on conference calls. So, the temptation to always be productive and engaged, even while at home is enormous.
How Can We Regain Balance?
Like I mentioned in the beginning, I didn't realize how much time I spent on work when I was 'off the clock' until someone else called it out. There is a difference between deciding to spend an hour in the evenings reviewing your calendar for the next day and constantly checking emails all night. The latter keeps you constantly engage and prevents needed disconnection.
So, here are a few strategies that I've found successful in regaining work-life balance -
Turning Off Notifications
Often the constant pull of work comes from being accessible and the best way to remain accessible is to receive notifications as soon as our attention is required. Phones are also designed to remind us and encourage us to clear these notifications. So, muting notifications at set times or turning them off altogether can be crucial to being able to unplug.
Set Expectations (Before Issues Arise)
One bad habit I had was responding to emails while on vacation and at all hours of the night. It set the expectation that my colleagues should be comfortable communicating with me during these times and that I would be available. To address this, I proactively shared that I prioritize my time away and shouldn't be expected to respond unless there is an emergency.
Work is tied to our livelihoods. That alone makes the work that we do a significant priority. It's how we care for ourselves and our family, and it's often how we get health insurance and retirement savings.
However, family time, personal time, rest, and rejuvenation are major priorities in most of our lives. We, therefore, need to make that front and center instead of relegating these items to the side once a work priority arises. Once we have changed this mindset, it will be easier to maintain a work-life balance.
One key thing to keep in mind is that finding this balance is seldom a destination but a journey. Life will naturally change and create hurdles that will need to be addressed. There will be times when we need to lean into work and others when we lean into our personal lives. It's our responsibility to spend the time and effort to maintain a healthy sense of balance.