About 30 years ago, my wife and I moved with our first-born into an apartment located five minutes from my office.
At first, I loved the idea. A five-minute commute was essentially no commute at all. After years of much longer commutes, I was thrilled.
A year later, we moved, which increased my commute to a still-very-acceptable 20 minutes. I soon realized those 20 minutes were better, in one way, than my five-minute commute: those 20 minutes allowed me to achieve a separation between work and home – to decompress a bit.
That time for decompressing was often less than perfect for several reasons, including the many evenings I found myself driving home while having a work conversation via cell phone. And, once home, due to the ease of accessing work emails remotely, it became harder and harder, as the years went by, to achieve separation from work without a conscious effort.
Now, a year into the pandemic, full-time, work-from-home has created new challenges for work-life balance.
I don’t complain about working from home because it’s a privilege some haven’t had this past year. It has also been a big time-saver for me, not having to my office or into Manhattan for meetings with clients. That time savings of about nine hours during an average week has been wonderful, and I have used it for both work and personal pursuits.
However, like many people, I had to put in an effort to re-calibrate my work-life balance.
The Wall Street Journal reported some people feeling burned out after using their former commuting time to work more. In December, they published an article about separating your working hours from the rest of your day. Here are some of the useful suggestions from that piece, including ones I found very familiar based on my early experiences with differing commute times:
Whether you are working from home or commuting to a workplace, it is important to set boundaries for yourself…
- Your journey to work provides a clear transition between work time and non-work time. Use this time to listen to music or a podcast.
- If you don’t travel to work, make space for a transition period. One person quoted in the piece reported…after he finishes working for the day, he says he leaves his home office and reads or meditates for up to 15 minutes before ending his working day and rejoining his wife and their three children. If that doesn’t work for you, you could try an approach like that of a teacher…who makes coffee for himself and drives around the neighborhood each morning before returning home and logging on for work.
- Try blocking out your time. Mark off time on your calendar so you can have periods when you focus on work and periods when you are taking care of other responsibilities, such as child care or exercise.
- Have a conversation with your boss. It is important to communicate with your supervisor… If you decide to stop answering emails at 5:30 p.m. every day, but your boss expects you to respond much later in the evening, then your decision can cause some conflict. Talk with your boss about expectations during work hours and outside of work hours.
It may seem like no big deal to answer a few emails if you are using your work computer after hours, or to fire off a message while using your phone over the weekend, but these behaviors can soon become habits… There are some ways you can break these habits.
- Complete your most essential tasks first. This way, you finish the most important items on your to-do list during your workday, and aren’t doing critical tasks after hours.
- Reset expectations with your co-workers. Be honest with your colleagues. Tell them you have gotten into a bad habit of responding to emails during off hours, and let them know that you won’t be doing so in the future… This way, your team can learn to be resourceful if you aren’t available and only call you in case of emergency.
- Avoid work FOMO, or fear of missing out.You might worry about missing out or being seen as a weak link if you log off before others, but this is often an unfounded assumption… If none of your colleagues have told you there is a problem with your workload or contributions, you shouldn’t assume there is an issue.
Taking a vacation can help manage burnout… If you can’t take a full week, or even a few days of vacation, try taking an afternoon off to recharge occasionally.
I hope you will work to improve your work-balance.