Yesterday, my tennis coach shared with me that she has no ‘me time’ left for herself because she finds it difficult to say ‘no’ to coaching clients. She loves coaching but finds it has taken over her life, leaving little time for anything else. The typical work-life balance dilemma.
Wherever we look, there are also stories of how our working from home culture is seeping into our lives and we find ourselves working extended hours, muddling work and life without clear demarcation.
So how do we stop the creep? How do we draw a line between work and life when a lot of our work is our life?
Having worked for myself for many years now, it was always important to me to ensure I do not suffer from burn-out; I wanted to ensure that I don’t resent the work I love because it has taken over my entire life. So I have learned to come to my own defence and allow myself the time I need for family, household and myself. Let me share with you 3 things I do in case they might inspire similar action.
- Set a starting and finishing time for your day. My day starts early – 5am. That suits me well as I have become a morning person. I do a lot of my thinking in the early part of the day, then take a break to wake the kids and get them ready for school. I then go back to my desk and work until about 5pm, at which point I switch off my computer, leave my home office and close the door. If I’m honest, I do glance at my emails throughout the evening, but only to prioritise which emails need to be addressed first thing the next day or very occasionally, that very evening. That doesn’t stop me from making plans for the evening and fulfilling them.
- Be honest in your OOO. Inspired by an automatic reply I once received from a client, I decided to be more open and honest about why I’m away from my desk in my ‘Out-of-Office’ replies. You see them a lot these days. “Hello. I’m currently spending time with the family and will respond to you tomorrow.” Or “Thanks for reaching out. I’m taking leave to re-plenish my energy supply and will come back refreshed and ready to go on…” or, a more corporate one “Thanks for your email. I’m away for a few days and won’t be checking my emails. For any urgent queries, please contact… I’ll come back to you with my reply on…”
People like that kind of honestly and respect the fact that you’ve taken time for yourself. Also, by sharing what you’re taking the time for, you’re also starting to manage expectations. Even in corporate settings. When I was young, I thought clients didn’t want me to do anything other than be there for them. Now I understand that tends to be the exception. So I encourage you to be honest in your OOO and allow yourself the freedom not to work when you’re ‘off work’.
- Diarising non-work activities. Avoiding time conflicts makes it necessary for me to diarise everything that’s going on in my life – from work appointments (colour-coded in purple) to my workouts and personal meetings (colour-coded in red) to anything I need to share in the family diary (colour-coded yellow). This helps me see where my free time is and ensure that I don’t book work-related items over personal meetings. I treat these equally as important and endeavour to book work calls and commitments around them. Not only does this make scheduling easier, it also helps me draw those boundaries more clearly in my head. I’m not inflexible and do move things around, but only if absolutely necessary!
Setting boundaries for yourself is important for so many reasons. If you’re struggling with time, do allow yourself to shift the balance and create space for yourself. After all, people depend on you, and you ought to honour that by looking after yourself.