I used to answer every work call, no matter when or where I was. In fact, one early evening, my boss called. I excused myself to answer it, and see what she needed. It wasn’t anything important, just a few questions she wanted answered. When I hung up and came back into the room, my mother frowned. “Put your phone away,” she said. “It’s Christmas.” It was Christmas day, and I was actually in the middle of making the holiday meal when my boss called. But I didn’t have a choice. “Mom,” I said. “If I don’t answer, she’ll keep calling,” which was true. This was actually the third time she called that evening, immediately hitting the redial button until I picked up.
A lot of people share similar stories. Personally, I’ve missed weddings, baby showers, funerals, and other major life events due to a job encompassing my every waking moment, and sometimes even my sleep schedule. I’ve worked 18 hours straight and then shown back up at work two hours later (I cannot recommend this). I’ve worked with, in no particular order, the flu, migraines, second degree burns (sustained at work), and a thrown out back. Employees have called me at 4am and seen me in my pajamas. You name it, it’s probably happened. There was no single event that caused me to start to create a better work/life balance, but once I finally started to separate the two there was an immediate, positive change. I’m not the only one’s who’s benefitted. My friends, my partner, and even my employer benefit. Here’s what I do to keep that balance intact.
Keep a Hard Stop
Sometimes, meetings and work days run past our normal end time. A client called me while I was driving home last week. I ended up in the parking lot outside my home for several minutes, sitting in the car talking with him. These calls can’t always wait. It happens enough that I have a backup dinner in the freezer at all times, so we don’t eat at 9pm (kudos to you if you can eat that late). But for those days when there’s nothing too pressing, no feeling of, this needs to be done today, I stick to my end time. When I’m done for the day, I’m done. Again, if there is an emergency, or I have to finish something, yes, I stay and take care of it. I’m not about to leave someone on a ledge with nowhere to go! But when I am finished, the computer stays off until the following morning.
Get a Hobby
I used to work in the specialty coffee industry. It took over my life. Social outings were planned around coffee shops to try. Travel was only ever work related. I had an entire kitchen cabinet, the big ones, not tiny ones for drinking glasses, devoted to brewing systems. All I ever talked about was work. Even when I went to run errands, I saw regulars, which meant I had to go back to my coffeeshop persona. Not that different, but much peppier, cheerful, and smiley. I couldn’t switch it off, ever. I feel that this is also partially because of the idea of doing something you’re passionate about and love, for a living. “Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I disagree completely, and luckily, my hobbies are completely unrelated to my job, like foraging, or photography. I need to do something that has nothing to do with my job. I’m more focused at work, because I’m not thinking solely about work. I can look at tasks with a fresh perspective.
This is not the same at having an end point. When I’m away, like on vacation, I let clients know weeks in advance, so any questions are answered before I leave. In addition, I leave communication so someone knows who they can contact, if needed. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way. When my sister got married, I took time off, as I was her maid of honor. Remember the boss I spoke about in the beginning of this article? She continued to ask me questions the morning of the wedding. I was texting back and forth, sitting in a salon chair, bobby pins digging into my scalp, telling my boss I couldn’t talk right now, seriously, I’m in the wedding, we’re about to leave, I cannot talk to you right now. Ah, well. It’s a good story.
Since that eventful day, if I’m leaving town, or recently, getting married myself, I have an outgoing message to let everyone know I’m away and unable to answer. And that goes both ways. I check time zones before I call clients, just to be sure I’m not waking someone up, or interfering in their lives. If someone is unavailable, they’re unavailable.
Out of Mind
We have a rule at home. No work talk after 7pm on weekdays, and no work talk on the weekends. It’s a little extreme, but it works for me. I tend to cling to a subject, so I need this in place. When I’m visiting family, I cling to this rule. Otherwise, it’s all anyone talks about. I don’t want to hear my teacher siblings talk about lesson planning, and they certainly don’t want to hear about plugins, or the latest API. We need to be more than our jobs.
Work in Progress
Maintaining this balance is a work in progress. I don’t always stick to my rules, and I often adjust to achieve a better balance. But even just trying to balance at all is progress, and it does make me better at my job. I can’t focus on one subject all day, everyday. Establishing better boundaries, and keeping these parts of my life separate improve my my everyday life. And they make my mother much happier at Christmas.