The Work–Life Boundary

You feel the buzz in your pocket while you’re at your friend’s bar-be-que. You hear the chirp of a new notification while you’re on a date with the love of your life. The phone rings while you’re trying to spend time relaxing. Guess where most of these notifications, new voice messages, and ringing is coming from? You guessed it – work.

Since we have the technology to be at work virtually through our cellphones and laptops now, many of us might struggle with balancing (or even having) life outside of work. Our work life spills over into our home life, so we don’t get a moments peace. It can be a burden to bear when we can’t spend time with our loved ones, because we are too busy dealing with the latest email.

There needs to be a boundary between work and home. We need to learn how to place these boundaries in our lives, so when we come home, we can have a relaxed mental state. We need to leave work at work, so that we can focus on what is really important – our loved ones and much-needed relaxation time.

Set Times at Work to Help With Work-Life Boundaries

Jennifer Winter, Forbes writer and career consultant, suggests setting clear work hours and letting others around you know that these are the times to consult you about projects. For example, let it be known that you work from 7am – 5pm, Monday – Friday, and during the hours after 5pm, you are not to be disturbed. If someone from work is calling you, let voicemail get it.

It’s okay to work some weekends and some evenings, but don’t make it a habit. Your family deserves to see your face around and you owe it to yourself to have time to connect with them – without distractions.

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Establishing this boundary early on will allow your boss and co-workers to know when they can (and can’t) contact you. It will not only encourage them to respect your “off” time, it will also allow you to enjoy that time without interruptions from projects or deadlines.

Set Physical Boundaries

Ed Batista, executive coach and an Instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says to avoid checking your work emails or answering calls from work once you’re home for the evening. This is family time now, and you need to learn to let the virtual world go.

Batista says that we need to “ensure that we get out of our offices and workplaces at regular intervals and create actual distance between us and our work (which includes not only the office itself, but also all our professional tools and artifacts–laptops, tablets, phones, papers, everything). Again, the question is not about balancing the two worlds, but establishing boundaries to create the needed separation.”

Do you have that much-needed separation between work and home? If you don’t, start setting up a system where you can physically and mentally get away when you should be in home mode.

Take Time Off – Regularly

Winter gave a great example of how taking time off can make a difference in a person’s mood and attitude towards work. During her time working in an office environment, people often talked about the unused vacation time they had racked up. But she remembers one man who always “worked efficiently, and used his time off as it was meant to be used. And you know what? He was the happiest guy in the office. While those of us who were stuck in the office while he was enjoying a week in Hawaii with his family groused, deep down we all admired him.”

Your company gives you vacation time for a reason. When you take some time off, it not only allows you to get away physically and mentally, it also has a positive effect on your creativity, motivation and overall health.

But remember, when you go on vacation, don’t allow anything work related to invade that time. This isn’t your work time, so don’t allow yourself to even check on the project you left behind. It will get done when you get back. While you’re away, be away! Soak up some sun and enjoy the moment.

Other Ways to Set Boundaries

Each and every one of us is unique and the challenges we face may be vastly different, but each of us will benefit from doing whatever we can to set those boundaries between personal and professional.

Wayne Parker has some additional tips that might work for you:

  • Learn to say No – this helps keep your priorities in check and clearly sets the boundary with others as well. (Just remember to be polite when saying no.)
  • Have friends outside of work and spend time with them
  • Create transition rituals – (a.k.a. mentally disengaging from work before coming home.) This can mean listening to jazz music, a favorite comedy routine or meditation. Whatever works for you.
  • Don’t allow your work to make you miss the most important events in life When it all comes down to it, being “present” for things like birthdays, anniversaries or even regular family activities will be what matters the most.

Cathy Sexton is a reformed workaholic who understands that learning boundaries can be tough. Need to learn how to set boundaries? Have questions? Contact Cathy at cathy@theproductivityexperts.com