If you are like most information workers, you can now get work done wherever you are — from the local coffee shop to your child’s piano recital. Most of us initially welcome this flexibility, but it isn’t long before this “freedom” begins to chafe. Work incursions into private time and space quickly become a source of frustration and friction.
Now, more than ever, it is important to define work-life borders – so that you can be productive at work yet maintain stability and peace of mind at home. But the incursion of work into your private life (and vice versa) requires you to manage more than your time. To maintain a healthy balance, you need to manage your space, online identity, data, equipment and not least of all…your sanity. To help you create and maintain that fragile work-life balance, here are some tips for being productive while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Each day presents its own unique challenges and opportunities, but you have to find ways to make your day more efficient and productive if you want to leave work at work.
Personally, I’m a morning person. It’s when I have the most energy and my mind feels sharpest. But not everyone works that way. I was talking with one of our scientists, and she’s just the opposite.
She spends the hour before she leaves work preparing everything she needs for the next day. Calculations, spreadsheets, experiments—she puts it all in place because she’s drowsy when she comes to work in the morning. She gets everything ready so all she has to do is look at her notes from the night before when she arrives the next morning. And by the afternoon, she’s completely awake and alert. That’s her best time.
This means knowing yourself well and optimizing your day to take advantage of it.
Most of us struggle to find a balance between our jobs and our personal lives at some point in our career. Finding that balance takes time. So, remember to think about your future self and do what you can right now to ensure you have the balance you want later on.
Managing your time and space.
- Set specific times of day for answering email, holding meetings and for doing creative work. Different people are able to focus better at different hours, so do what work and stick to it.
- For creative work, identify work times when there are fewer distractions and do your creative work during these periods. Researchdone by Victor Gonzalez and Gloria Mark at the University of California-Irvine found that it typically takes over 20 minutes to resume tasks once they are interrupted, so eliminating distractions will do wonders for productivity.
- If you have creative work to do, turn off automated alerts. Email, Twitter and instant message popups are one of the biggest causes of interruptions.
- When working outside the office, find a place to be “alone in the crowd.” For example, work in a café, library or public park but disconnect with music using a pair of headphones.
- Set aside time during the day to exercise. If you are like most people, sitting still and focusing for long periods of time is difficult, even without digital distractions. Exercise is a great cure for this and it doesn’t need to be intensive or long.
- Internalize the idea that even when you are not “connected,” you can still do valuable work. In fact, thoughtful, contemplative work is often best done offline. So, while the 9-to-5 workday is long gone, it is still important to define times when you can disconnect.
- Don’t take email to bed. Studiesshow that keeping smartphones in the bedroom can cause insomnia, which leads to work problems.
- Manage your online identity! Decide how much you want your personal identity online to be associated with your business persona. One suggestion is to segment your online identities. For example, use LinkedIn for business and Facebook for friends and family.
- Clearly delineate where personal and professional data is stored on your device with separate apps for work and personal life.
Earn the balance you want
The best way to gain work-life balance? Be good at what you do.
Think of it as buying yourself flexibility by being incredible at your work. The better you are, the more control you gain over your schedule. The stronger your skills, the more leverage you have in the workplace.
Maybe you want to work from home two days a week. Is that really going to be a problem if everyone knows you’re extremely good at what you do?
So, start thinking about what you can do now to build your skills and gain more leverage. Anything you do now to increase your value in the job market will help you gain the work-life balance you want down the road.
I know it may not help you at this very moment, but it will pay off in the long run.
Think of your future self
Generally speaking, you don’t have as much flexibility when you start your career. You’re still learning the ropes. You’re given a lot of direction and supervision. You’re not yet an expert in the field, and that means you probably won’t have the work-life balance you’re dreaming of.
But as you move up the ladder, you’ll get more flexibility and autonomy.
Your 20s are a time to work very hard. You have the most energy and the fewest responsibilities, so throw yourself into your work.
Unless you started your family early, you have a lot of freedom in your 20s. Capitalize on that by giving it your all. I promise you, all that work will continue to pay off for decades. Create a vision of the balance you’re going to need in the future, and work to make that happen for your future self.
That takes care of the future, but what if you need help finding some balance right now?