I recently read the very annoying New York Times article (that I refuse to link to, because I am still annoyed) about how today’s young people work longer and harder than ever before and are addicted to working long hours. It’s plain and simply true, because it takes a lot more work and a lot more grit to achieve the same level of success.
Without getting into my own personal bitterness about generational differences and why things are much harder for millennials than they were for older generations, I did want to address something that many people my age struggle with – separating work from home.
The work life home life balance is… delicate, to say the least, in most of my friends’ lives, and it can be in mine, too. When I first started my new job – which is a job I love and care very much about – I was working 10 or 12 hour days and coming home after 7 p.m. I still have long days sometimes, but I do better about leaving at 5 p.m. to at least go home, even if I do a few more work tasks at home once I get there.
My students still tease me because I have been known to send Slack messages at very odd hours, and I definitely don’t ignore my inbox outside of work hours. However, I try to make a conscious effort to separate my two lives, and I feel more refreshed at the beginning of every workday because of it.
Keep things physically separate.
Physically keeping your personal life and work life separate will make a huge difference in finding this crucial balance.
If you work from home, this can be tough. Having a designated work-from-home space is always useful, if you can manage that. Close the door and walk away at the end of your work day. If you don’t have a separate space, that’s OK – that is a luxury! But make sure to put away your work life, whether that means closing out the work tabs that you were using; storing your work supplies away where you can’t see them; or closing your inbox for the evening.
If it is possible for you to have both a work laptop and a personal laptop, do that. I have a desktop computer at work that I don’t use, so I use my personal laptop for most of my work tasks.
Since I don’t have a work laptop and a personal laptop as I’ve had at previous jobs, I keep my browser windows separate and have one browser with work tabs and one browser with personal tabs. I close the work tabs out before I leave for the day and don’t open them back up until the next morning.
Just because it is crazy and busy right now does not mean it will stay crazy and busy forever. Sometimes, you will end up owing yourself some free time after a very busy season at work; the most important part, of course, is remembering to give back to yourself.
If you have to stay late a few nights or work outside of your usual hours for an extended period, don’t be afraid to ask to come in a little later or leave early one day so you can run some errands or take some time for yourself.
Make plans for after work.
Give yourself a reason to leave and do something that isn’t work-related. It is tempting to finish up a busy work day and head home, just to pick up where you left off and keep working.
I like to make plans for right after work at least once a week, so that I am less likely to start working as soon as I get home. On other days when I’m not going out or running an errand after work, I “schedule” something like going to the post office, walking the dog or making a phone call I’ve been putting off. That breaks up the work day and makes me less likely to open my work email back up as soon as I sit down on the couch.
Give yourself a hard out.
I am the timer queen. No one sets more timers than me.
Give yourself a deadline for leaving work or stopping a task. Walk into the office and say to yourself (and to others, if that helps!) that you have a hard out at 5:05 p.m.
Story time: It’s very hard to park in Chapel Hill. I work in an office that doesn’t have parking spaces, so I park in a pre-pay garage and walk over. Because I have to pay in advance, I set the time I have to leave – that’s my hard out. If I stay much longer past the time my parking expires, I risk getting a ticket, and uhhhhh, no thanks. This gives me a reason to leave.
Manage your notifications.
I will never be a “completely unplug at 5:05 p.m.” kind of person. Never, ever, ever.
However, I do turn my iPhone on Do Not Disturb when I need uninterrupted time to read, write or spend time with Patrick, and I do not answer any work emails that aren’t urgent after 6 p.m. I keep my Slack notifications live until my phone goes into Night Mode at 11 p.m., but again, I don’t answer any Slack messages after 6 p.m. unless they are urgent or non-work related.
Manage your expectations for yourself and your notifications. If you have to turn off your push notifications to stop yourself from checking, do that. Make sure the people who might need you in an emergency have your contact information, but take the necessary steps to cut yourself off.
If you can trust yourself to adhere to your own rules for when you answer communication outside of business hours, that’s OK, too.