Every month, career coach Liz Bentley will be answering your candid questions about work, so you never have to stress about the office.
I’m struggling between work and home balance. My partner complains that I’m doing work or checking Slack on my phone all the time, but work never stops for me, and it feels like I’m always trying to catch up. Do you have any advice?
It’s so hard in today’s world of constant contact to turn off your phone and disconnect. The demands of our clients, co-workers, and careers make us always feel there is an urgency to respond and be on top of our business at every moment. And with good reason. Many people are successful because they are great at being highly responsive. It can be a big differentiator between you and your co-workers or competitors. People who are hungry and get the work done quickly and efficiently are in top demand. But it begs the question, where do you draw the line?
Here’s how to understand where your line is and how you can adjust it.
1. Take stock of why you are working so hard.
Everyone needs to have some boundaries between work and play but they have to be thought through and all of the variables need to be considered. Here are some examples of when work will rightfully demand more of your time.
- You’re in the proving ground. If you are at the beginning of your career or just got a promotion, you need to be more focused on success than balance. Your goal is to prove you have what it takes, not to take breaks and disconnect. Once you have demonstrated your worth, you can check out a little. Until then, stay in the game.
- It’s the busy season. In the busy season of your business, you will likely need all hands on deck at most times. This season will not last, but it’s the time to show up all in and show you’ve got what it takes to get it done. This is not a time for balance; balance will come when things slow down. And if you are not hyper focused during this time, you may fail to take advantage of all the opportunities the experience will bring.
- It’s for a VIP. Who is asking you to work matters. If it’s a boss, a leader in your organization or a client, then you want to say “how high” when they say “jump.” These are the people you need to be impressing and responding to as they will control your future.
If you are in one of these situations–which is a good thing if you are looking to develop in your career–let your partner know. While it won’t lessen the amount of time you’ll have to devote to work, at least your partner can understand why and what to expect as you navigate through it.
2. Determine the right time for breaks.
No matter what’s happening in your career or the season or who is asking, you are human and need to have some breaks. There are good times in the day and week to make it happen.
Most people break at dinner time, 6:30-8:30pm, and shut down around 10pm. The weekends are also good times to check out. Many successful people take all of Saturday off (depending on the business) to recharge and then start to check back in on Sunday. Aligning your schedule to those of your colleagues and clients can help you carve out time for yourself when you know being out-of-pocket is fairly typical.
If you find that there is no flow to your colleagues’ work schedules–perhaps you work on a distributed team–then be clear with them about any regular time blocks you require. Also, don’t be afraid to let them know when you are temporarily unavailable (e.g. you’re driving somewhere, going for a run, having dinner out with your partner). They’ll appreciate the heads up and know you received their message. The more proactive you are, the better.
3. Schedule time to disconnect.
Giving your brain a rest is the most important thing you can do for your productivity as well as your personal relationships. While your breaks should be strategic, they also have to happen, so you don’t burnout, make mistakes, and become unhappy.
It is critical for you to be able to shut down your phone and focus on the people and experience in front of you. I have met many people who are so addicted to their phones that they cannot put them away. This is not because they need to check their phones every minute. Rather, it is a habit they cannot break and it can negatively impact their ability stay focused in conversations.
You have to be able to put your phone away for periods of time every day so that you can learn to recondition your brain to not be in constant distraction. If this is a struggle for you, you have to figure out why. Are you really that busy or is it that you have an addiction to the constant communication? Or are you just avoiding the connection and intimacy with the person you are with? These are all important questions to ponder.
By making time for breaks at the right times and staying in the moment, you’ll gain more enjoyment from your time away from work. This in turn will help you be more focused and energetic when you’re back at it.
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