It’s harder than ever before to separate work and personal life. By having 24/7 access to client emails on your smartphone and G-chatting with friends while at the office, today’s hyper-connected culture inevitably muddles the line between “on” and “off.”
An article on Forbes recently sited a study that found 70% of employees work from alternative locations — coworking spaces, cafes, or their homes — on a regular basis. That means millions of people are working in a personal setting, making the line between personal and professional nearly nonexistent.
But it’s the direction we’re headed. According to a study by the Telework Research Network, about 3 million Americans never go to an office and 54% are happier working from home than in an office. Many workers — millennials in particular — are prioritizing the ability to work remotely over a higher salary so they can draw those lines for themselves.
However, with the absence of clearly defined “working hours” (e.g. 9 to 5), the rules of “on” versus “off” time can get a little bit muddy. If you respond to an email at 9 pm from your kitchen table and your boss happens to be online, he might take that to mean you are available to handle requests. It’s for these reasons that many modern workers struggle to ever “turn off.” A study by Gyro and Forbes Insights found that 61% of employees are willing to work during vacation, and that number jumps to 98% among executives.
So how — in a world where we can access everyone around the clock and we share files live across continents — do we make sure we don’t work around the clock? How do we set boundaries in a corporate climate that is virtually boundary-less?
1. Make technology work for you, not the other way around.
Drop the image of obsessively checking emails on vacation. Work-life integration can also look like this: get your writing or spreadsheets done at 7 a.m. while you are most focused; take a mid-afternoon break to throw in a load of laundry, meditate, or go for a run; swing by your coworking desk to make a few conference calls and prep presentations before the end of the day; send email requests from the parking lot while waiting to pick your child up from school.
Being able to access your email and files anywhere gives you freedom to tailor your schedule according to when you work best, and tackle items on your personal To-Do list — whether it’s running errands or staying in shape — when you need a break. That way, when you are working, you’re working efficiently. No more wasting hours in a post-lunch slump, zoning out in front of your monitor, and then having to work late to make up for lost time. You have the freedom to make your tasks work with your time, energy, and focus.
2. Create a schedule that works for you and your team.
If you’re self-employed, schedule your work tasks *and* your free time. Establish rules for yourself to minimize the temptation to do work all the time or to do household work when you should be working, or schedule several hours at a local coworking space to give yourself a more clear divide between work and home life.
If you are not self-employed, talk with your boss and come up with a mutual agreement on when you should be accountable and when you are free to be out of contact. If there are changes to that schedule, notify one another, and make sure your team or others that work with you are on the same page.
Now, don’t get me wrong — this all takes practice. But there are great tools like Asana and Insightly to help with project management, and Google calendar alerts can be a great way to set deadlines. When you’re working with with your body and your brain’s best interest in mind, you don’t have to struggle to wrap up a day’s work and leave the office wondering what you did all day.