How to Achieve Work-Life Balance in a Digital World
According to Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important”.
It is too easy to forget that there is a difference.
Just because we (or our bosses) perceive something as being urgent, does not mean that is important to our well-being, or that we need to prioritize it over other, seemingly less urgent things in our lives.
To live a happy and fulfilling life we need to achieve a work-life balance, particularly in this modern digital world.
Some people describe themselves as workaholics and wear that title as a badge of honor.
Yet, is there really any great prestige from being a workaholic? There are many former workaholics who woke up one day, alone, unhappy, unhealthy, and still feeling dissatisfied with their work performance.
There are nearly as many who simply didn’t wake up from the heart attacks and strokes that were their reward for their relentless hour after hour of service to their work, and who were not around to see themselves replaced by another drone lacking a true work-life balance.
This digital age we now live in has made the situation worse. Once upon a time, you finished work at 5 p.m., came home, spent time with your family and friends, slept, and didn’t think about work again until 8 a.m. the next morning.
Now most of us carry mobile devices where we can be contacted at any time of the day or night. We relentlessly check for “just one more email” and we exacerbate the situation by actively spending too much time on social media. The 8-hour workday has stretched to 24-hour availability for many workers, and they don’t even realize it.
Nigel Marsh makes some interesting reflections on our lack of work-life balance in his TED talk on How to Make Work-Life Balance Work.
One of his most interesting observations is that he puts the onus squarely on us to solve our work-life balance. “We have to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries we want in our life”, he tells us. We can’t blame our employers for interrupting our evenings if we instantly reply to their texts or emails.
Ways to Regain Your Work-Life Balance
If you believe that your work-life balance is going out of sync, what can you do about it?
As Nigel Marsh says in his TED talk, you probably won’t want to go to the extreme situation of walking out on your job. Spending all of your time on “life” is no more balanced than spending too much of it on work.
You would probably love it for a while…until the money ran out. Also, if you are a workaholic now you would probably find going cold turkey to be an incredibly frustrating, unstimulating experience.
For most people, all that you need to do to regain your work-life balance is to create a few personal rules to follow and make a few tweaks to your daily routines.
Do you feel like you’re always working, missing out on friends and family? How Do You Know if Your Work-Life Balance is Out of Sync?
Here are a few practical suggestions of things you can do help you achieve your work-life balance.
1. Treat Email Like Real Letters – Don’t React Immediately
Remember that email was never created to be an instant messaging system.
The term “email” is short for electronic mail, like those good old fashioned pieces of paper that come via snail mail, but which are delivered via the internet.
You don’t go out to your letterbox multiple times every hour. Even if you did during the day, you wouldn’t do so at night. So why should you check your email inbox all day long and into the evening?
People waste an incredible amount of time checking and responding to emails. You will actually be more productive at work if you limit checking your email to certain times of the day.
2. Sort Your Email So Only High Priority Ones Are Visible in Your Inbox
Different email programs treat things differently, but you are generally able to set rules that will filter your incoming emails.
Do you really need to see all of those promotional emails or joke emails from your workmates? Even if you subscribe to newsletters that you enjoy, there is no reason why they need to clog up your inbox.
Set some rules to shift emails to particular folders as they arrive.
Gmail makes this particularly easy thanks to their tabbed categories. They make a good job at deciding the category when they first sort incoming emails, but over time you can tweak the placement to make things work better for you.
It’s a pity, though, that you are stuck with simply having the category names Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums (the latter two are additional options in the settings).
To truly filter out the noise, try creating Gmail filters. Have it do a search for keywords like “unsubscribe,” then shuttle all those to an “optional” folder. It should take a 10th of the time to scan through this folder – as opposed to your regular inbox – and decide what can simply get deleted, and what needs answering.
3. Use Out of Office Settings on Communications Apps That Allow it
You need to establish firm boundaries with your workplace, making it clear you are unavailable out of hours except for emergencies.
This can be challenging for some employers – however, they need to understand that you are human, and not at their beck and call all of the time. Make it clear that if there is a real emergency they need to make the effort to contact you by phone.
Modern instant messaging systems and online calling systems make it too easy to keep in constant communication.
Many of these do have options to help, though, offering a setting where you can show yourself as being out of the office. Skype gives you the chance to set your online status, with Do Not Disturbed being one of the options.
Slack also gives you the chance to show a status of your choice (and for whole companies to be put into Do Not Disturb mode at particular times).
4. Set Times When You Don’t Accept Work Calls
It may take some time for people to adapt, but your home life would benefit from you setting “no call” times for work-related calls. You might have to modify this rule to permit emergency calls, but make it very clear what you consider constitutes an emergency.
If you have an Android or Apple iPhone with a recent operating system, you have the opportunity to set your phone to show a Do Not Disturb status that will block calls and notifications interrupting you. You can relatively easily set a schedule for the time period in which you don’t want to be disturbed. You can exclude particular numbers for anybody who you think is an important caller and you want to exclude from Do Not Disturbed rule.
5. Make Certain You Allow Time For Your Friends and Family
This is probably the most important rule of all. You can not possibly achieve a work-life balance if you are not around to be a proper mom, dad, or friend.
If you think about it, the whole reason that we work is to provide the funds to be able to buy the things that we want to share with our friends and family. Even if you are single, you still need to spend time with friends, or even just to socialize and “chill out”.
If you follow the rest of these practices, you should be able to find time for this naturally. If you are still struggling then schedule quality Friend and Family Time.
This is a fundamental human need and you can’t happily survive without it for long.
How Do You Know if Your Work-Life Balance is Out of Sync?
6. Limit Your Social Media Usage
There is no point in finding yourself extra time to spend with your friends and family if you spend all of that time looking at cat pictures on Facebook. Yes, social media can be great for catching up with loved ones who are not physically with you but don’t do this at the expense of those nearby.
This applies as much, if not more so, when you are supposed to be working or studying. What is the point of spending your work time looking at cat pictures and then having to take work home because you ran out of time to finish it?
7. Take Care of Your Health
Long work hours can lead to stress, poor eating, and very little time spent exercising. Our bodies do not respond well to this, and ultimately break down. There have been too many busy executives who have simply dropped dead at their desks, without having received the rewards for all of those hours of extra work.
Website, Healthy Lifestyles Living, provides you with a Healthy Lifestyle Quiz, based on your answers to 15 lifestyle questions, and gives you a final health score. Clearly, somebody living an unbalanced life is unlikely to end up with a good health score.
In that situation, you really need to improve your lifestyle before it’s too late. A good place to begin would be by improving your diet, which needs to be as balanced as the rest of your life. You could increase your vegetable intake and reduce the quantity of meat you eat. You might consider following an organic lifestyle. You definitely should avoid all those quickly-eaten junk food items, that may save you time but definitely won’t fuel your energy. A healthy diet helps make you more productive and is vital for a balanced life.
Then, of course, there is the other half of the healthy living equation – fitness and exercise. Consider taking up a sport, or something like yoga or meditation. Yes, these take time, but the extra energy they give you makes your remaining time more productive. Finding your inner balance is the first step to finding balance on the outside. Feeling healthy is essential for a good work-life balance.
Look after yourself. Make a real effort to ensure that you keep your life balanced. That way you can truly enjoy life, and be more productive at your work as well.