The upshot to the changing office rules? You can compose a memo while standing in line at the grocery store. The downside? You can still be composing that memo at 11pm after the dinner dishes have been washed. Being able to work any and everywhere has freed many of us up to work billable hours in our pajamas and dictate letters from the drive-thru, but how and where do you draw the line to keep work from overrunning the rest of your life?
Size up the landscape
Look at your life right now and the roles that work, family, me-time, and recreation are all playing. What needs to change in order for you to feel more balanced? You might be craving more time with your better half or more time for yoga. Take a step back and think about whether you can meet your priorities by cutting out evening email or getting more help from your spouse at home. You might also consider whether a bigger change is in order, like a career with more flexibility. It never hurts to take a timeout in life to think about your values and see how the current state of things are helping (or hindering) you to honor those priorities. The gold standard is alignment between what we value and what we do on a daily basis, at work as well as in the rest of our lives.
Set the tone
A friend once told me that there are two kinds of bosses: the one with kids and the one without. But even managers who have tots don't always set the example you crave. Resolve as the boss to demonstrate that things like sick days, family obligations, and dentist appointments are all well within bounds. If you're not the top dog at the office, think about the example you set at home when you answer the phone during dinner or compose emails while your spouse is telling you about that funny thing that happened at the post office.
Interval training at work
Though the structure of the workday might make you think otherwise, we're not built to work in one consistent 8-hour slog. Just as you get the most benefits from a workout by adding in short, strong bursts of intensity, the same is true at your desk. Structure your day into 90-minute or two-hour chunks. Then take breaks at the water cooler to catch up on last night's episode of Parks and Recreation before sitting down for another burst of productivity.
Plan the day
You've got the day divided up into chunks--great. Now work with your natural rhythms to determine when to do what work. David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, calls it levels one-, two-, and three- thinking. "Level one is the surface stuff (deleting e-mails, for instance). Level two requires a little more focus. But level three, the deeper thinking, is what we need more of. It involves writing, creating, planning, and strategizing," he told Whole Living. We do our best deep thinking in the morning, so that means sitting down at your desk and opening a Word doc rather than your email. As your energy waxes and wanes throughout the day, alternate among tasks that draw from the different levels of thinking to give your brain plenty of novelty.
Set boundaries and honor them
The reason to set up boundaries isn't because you don't think work is important--it's because our bodies and minds need recovery periods to recharge. Without periods of rest, both work and home suffer. It's safe to say that when you check email at the dinner table, neither your dining companion nor your inbox is getting top-quality attention. You might employ the obvious standards, like no Blackberry while you're eating or no laptop at bedtime. But also create more positive-toned boundaries, like implementing a walk after lunch, a daily YouTube appointment, or a 10-minute break in the afternoon for a little cat-cow with your office door closed.
Ask for help
We get an "A" for effort for even trying, but we can't be everything to everyone, all the time. If you're in a position at work to delegate, do. Underlings will love the opportunity to prove themselves with more responsibility. At home, get others to pitch in. As the captain of the ship, you can keep your eyes on the horizon. Shipmates can take on tasks like taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, and packing their own lunches to keep the boat pointed toward its destination.
How about some real-life experts? What do you guys do to keep work and life in balance and in check?
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