With a return to regular work hours and/or school, and as recreational/extracurricular activities begin for the fall-winter season, things can be quite busy for all of us. With an increase in daily demands and activities, physical and psychological stressors can also rise. For all of us, we must find a balance between work, extra activities and recovery time.
To achieve good work-life balance it is essential for you to have the personal insight to identify where the employee ends and the family person, athlete, volunteer, and outside-work person begins. If you are not able to separate these portions of your life, it can lead to:
• Poor Health
• Family / Relationship Stress
• Reduced motivation to take on more responsibilities at work
• Feelings of resentment towards others at work
• Missed deadlines due to too many combatting obligations
• Poor work performance or outcomes due to fatigue and early signs of burnout
In many workplaces, boundary setting involves communicating your commitments and interests with others (management or colleagues.) Some items that need to be agreed upon to ensure you can maintain balance between works on outside life include:
• Hours of work
• When it is reasonable to work overtime
• If, and during what time periods, you will carry a work cell phone
• When/where you take work calls while outside of the workplace
In a healthy workplace many of these issues are addressed and healthy limits on potential stressors are maintained by management. For example, there are no evening or weekend calls with the exception of emergent circumstances and overtime is kept to a minimum. However, each individual person must also take responsibility for setting personal boundaries with respect to day-to-day tasks and workload.
Important Steps to Setting Effective Boundaries:
1. Identify your value and values: Know why it is important for you to get home on time and how important these other elements of your life are to defining you. This will give you the incentive to complete the work you have at your job, and leave those tasks at the workplace.
2. Set Healthy Structure at Work: Arrive on time to work to start the day off right. Identify the tasks and actions you must complete during the day, including follow-up work from previous days. Attempt to plan these action items and needs into your day with specific scheduling and outlined goals. Use your calendaring and organizational tools and apps to block off time.
3. Set Healthy Structure at Home: Remaining healthy for life at home is equally as important as remaining healthy for your life at work. This involves good self-care, including ensuring you get enough sleep and that you go to bed early enough and at a consistent time. For most healthy adults, this would include 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Getting good quality sleep is equally as important as getting enough sleep. One important suggestion to improve sleep quality is to stop using electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. The light emitted from electronics supresses Melatonin secretion, the hormone that controls sleep/wake cycles. Another important factor to good quality sleep and to maintain your overall health is to get enough exercise every day. That would be 2.5 hours of moderately vigorous activity a week (ie: brisk walking) in bouts of at least 10 minutes or more per session.
It is also important when setting structure and activity that you avoid overscheduling. For some, it may be inappropriate to have activities every night and still expect to have adequate energy for work the next day. It is important to understand how much downtime you need. Keep in mind that scheduling and frequency of activities is very much based on the individual.
4. Communicate your Structure: Let others know your self-defined limits. This will help with personal accountability and will set expectations with coworkers and family.
5. Avoid Distractions: consider turning off email when close deadlines loom to allow you to focus on the task at hand. Use noise cancelling headphones or music headphones to block outside noise. Consider instrumental or foreign language music to avoid being distracted by the need to ‘sing along.’
6. Respond Immediately to Boundary Violations: don’t let staying late become a habit if this is a boundary you have set. Again, communicate to others if they are involved to prevent resentment and to help with personal accountability. It is also important to communicate to others if you are feeling overwhelmed to get help to stay on track.
7. Take Regular Breaks / Vacation: breaks have been proven time and again by science to improve productivity and creativity because you are more effective and retain more information when you are fully rested, happy, and able to work. There is actually an inverse relationship between stress and productivity. Initially stress can improve outcomes, but eventually as stress increases it results in poor outcomes; therefore, regular breaks are essential and should be scheduled in the work calendar to ensure that they actually happen. This includes regular vacations, which should be planned in advance of the upcoming year, every year.
8. When declining work provide solutions and use “I” language: outline what work tasks will suffer if more work is taken on. For example. “I am unable to take an additional assignment as I have an important project for the Director due in 2 days.” Also, always offer an alternative: “I could always start that task next week.”
Remember that being happy in your personal life will translate to being more effective and productive in your work life. When the end of the day comes, check your priorities, and ensure you have been using healthy planning approaches and priority setting.