Whether you run your own business or work as an employee with contracted hours, whether you work in an office, from home or on the road, it has become increasingly possible to find the boundaries between work and home increasingly blurring.
Here are 5 common signs of work life blur:
- You’re always multitasking. Breakfast with your laptop, tweeting while you cook, checking emails at the dinner table, mentally rehearsing your next presentation whilst trying to get to sleep.
- Every time you stop, you look at your phone. It’s the last thing you look at when you go to bed, and first thing you look at when you wake up. It goes with you everywhere – including the bathroom.
- You never really switch off, and you can’t remember the last time you felt totally recharged. When you’re not working you tend to go on standby, ready to leap back into action when the next call, email, idea or reminder arrives.
- Your holiday planning includes checking if there is WiFi available, planning when you’re going to check emails and letting colleagues know how they can get hold of you while you’re away.
- Your downtime has become an afterthought, and you’re usually too tired at the end of the day to really think about it. You know there are lots of things you’d love to do – but you never seem to have the energy, let alone the time.
Some of this is inevitable. Technology has given us the opportunity to be connected anytime, anywhere. It has given us flexibility and choice – and that choice can be our biggest opportunity or our biggest distraction. It is now possible to choose when and where we work, but it’s also possible to be constantly at work, physically, mentally or emotionally.
Some of this can also be a symptom of being in a fortunate position where work and pleasure overlap. Where you genuinely enjoy the work that you do, and you play and work in the same places or with the same people.
Like the author who finds that when she walks into a book store for pleasure, her brain goes into market research mode. Or the home-based entrepreneur who loves the fact that he can ditch the city commute and walk his kids to school, but isn’t entirely sure sometimes whether he’s working at home or living at work.
It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. The problem is, if it goes too far one way, instead of enabling us to work and live on our own terms, work can take over, leaving not much room for life.
Here are 5 ways to recover:
- Create a mental commute. Whether you have a physical commute to get to your office or not, give yourself a personal ritual that signals to your brain when you’re getting ready for work, and when you switch off afterwards. It might be a walk around the block at the beginning and end of the day, playing music or reading a book for pleasure instead of checking emails on the train, a change of clothes or coffee cup if you work from home, or touching a tree in your garden or your doorpost as a mindful reminder, to mentally leave work and arrive home.
- Announce an unplugged holiday. Whether it’s your next annual leave or simply next weekend, experiment with completely switching off, or taking yourself somewhere where you can’t be reached. Set expectations in advance with those who need to know, and if you need an reason, go hiking in the Welsh mountains or to a spa retreat where there’s no phone signal.
- Get an old fashioned alarm clock and leave your phone on charge downstairs to avoid the temptation to just check. Unless you are on call, there really is no reason you need to see that email when you’re supposed to be sleeping.
- Set boundaries with the words “I don’t” or “I won’t” instead of “I can’t”. It’s hard to say “I can’t look at that at the weekend” when we know physically we actually ‘could’. We are no longer limited by physical boundaries like office walls, dial-up connections and face to face meetings. Our boundaries are no longer enforced by circumstance. It is now up to us to define them. It’s much easier to say “I don’t work weekends” or even “I won’t be at my desk this Friday so let me know if you want me to do anything with it on Thursday morning by the latest.” rather than “I can’t”.
- Plan your recovery. Sustaining peak performance depends on taking recovery seriously. Recharging is not a luxury, it is fuel for your productivity. How you spend your downtime directly impacts on your ability to do your best work as well as the quality of your life outside of work. Be deliberate about how you recharge. Make plans ahead of time to do the things you enjoy. Book in that Salsa class, meal with friends, marathon training or massage. Don’t leave it till the end of the day when your brain is shutting down or wait for when you magically have ‘spare time’.
Finally ditch the guilt. The biggest thing that stops us from switching off is the belief that it’s more important to carry on. The truth is, we do our best work when we have a life outside of work. When we have finish lines to aim for rather than stretching work out into all hours. When we spend time recharging and come back fresh, with our best ideas, ready and raring to go.
About the author
Grace Marshall is the author of How to be REALLY productive: achieving clarity and getting results in a world where work never ends and the Amazon bestselling 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time.