It’s funny how a small question can draw attention to a big problem. Last week, our CEO, Milena, asked me point blank, “How is your work-life balance?” I stammered, then blurted out a list of things I do on the regular to tilt the scales heavily toward the work side.
PowerToFly was founded to help women achieve their desired work-life balance. Even though it is a fast-paced startup, and though I am a responsibility-hoarding Product Manager, and though I have chided myself for not leaving my apartment building for days at a stretch, I never realized I was the one who had to take ownership of enforcing the boundaries. Even more so because I work remotely.
Make no mistake: I love what I do, which is why I tend to rack up the hours. But I also love my friends, family, hobbies, and well-being. It’s not a Harry Potter/Voldemort situation here though. I feel most fulfilled when everything is in sync.
Here are the ten actions I’m taking to recalibrate.
1. Enforce working hours
Working remotely allows the flexibility to squeeze in personal time during the workday, but I’ve also let work permeate every crevasse of my personal space. When I was in school, I always felt homework looming over my head. I couldn’t be anywhere in my home without feeling the guilt of not tending to it, even if it was already done! I often procrastinate or work less efficiently because I feel like I have unlimited work time. Most days, this lack of boundaries has me replying to JIRA tickets right before bed! Not good.
If you’re having work-life balance problems like I am, sometimes you have to pull back and put yourself on a stricter schedule with your business hours. My day starts with an 8am standup, so I’m going to call it quits no later than 6pm, ideally by 5:30. This will force me to prioritize harder and work smarter during the contiguous hours I have available. And by making post-work hours a safe time at home, I can relax once I stop for the day.
2. Put away work stuff after work
Out of sight, out of mind. I’m more likely to get sucked back into work if I spot my Moleskine lying in plain view on the dining table. And when I open my computer, even just to go onto Facebook, any open Google Doc tabs will beckon me to pick up where I left off.
So I’m going to close up shop for the day (or weekend), physically and digitally. I’ll pack up my work stuff and put it neatly in a corner. I’ll close all work-related tabs in Chrome. I’ll also turn off notifications: I’ll sign out of Skype and put Slack on snooze (which can always be overridden by colleagues in an emergency) before closing it, too.
3. Timebox weekend toil
Sometimes urgent matters come up, so there has to be a way of differentiating between a legitimate need for extra hours and a needless encroachment on my weekend. Therefore, I’ve resolved to work on the weekend only if the following criteria are met:
- It can’t be delegated
- Other people depend on it to be done by Monday
- It can’t wait until next week
If I do decide to work on the weekend, I’ll set an upper limit on the number of hours I’m willing to put in, and stop when I’ve reached it. And if I find myself working more than one weekend day a month, I’ll raise a flag with my manager.
4. Separate commingled work and personal applications
The boundary between work and your personal life can start to blur if you manage both with the same technology. Luckily I’ve avoided combining my work and personal gmail and Google Apps, but I do have one big culprit: my to-do list. I am a huge believer in TeuxDeux and had been using it long before I joined PowerToFly. But when I joined the team, I just added all my work tasks, separated from personal by a heading called Work. Here’s an example (except add 15 more tasks for a typical day):
What this means is when I’m in work mode, I’m looking at personal to-dos, and when I’m on my own time, my work to-dos are still staring me in the face! So I’m going to untangle my commingled accounts pronto, and never look back.
5. Get *more* dressed
I don’t stay in pajamas all day, but I do love to work in yoga crops and sweatshirts I only wear around the house. Problem is, if I don’t feel like I’m presentable enough to leave the house, I probably won’t. But on days I dress to go out, I feel better and more in work mode.
Comfy leggings be damned — every day, I’ll get dressed to the point where I’d be willing to leave the house in my present state. I’ll save the track pants for quitting time.
6. Get out of the house (duh!)
This is an obvious one. But I live in a building with a gym and cook my meals at home, so it can be easy to come up with an excuse not to go out, especially on an overcast winter day. But not leaving the house can drive you nuts; just look at Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
I’m setting a rule to leave the house for at least an hour a day on weekdays (and as much as I can on weekends).
7. Work *away* from home
Despite what the Fifth Harmony song says, there’s a lot of ways to work from home without working in your home. I used to cowork, but recently canceled my membership. I lauded myself for saving money, but in exchange, I need to care more about my mental health, and for me that means not freaking out about spending money to work from coffee shops, even if a soy latte costs $5.
I’ll schedule transit times in my schedule to go to and from a coffee shop on days when I don’t have a lot of meetings. I can get out of the house and work at the same time, even if it’s only for a few hours.
8. Schedule lunch breaks–including a walk
On days I don’t power through lunch, I just make a quick meal, eat it, and get immediately back to the grind. But I’m literally wasting my federally mandated paid half-hour off!
I’m going to schedule a proper lunch break every day, and after I eat, go for a postprandial stroll. It’ll clear my head and help me come up with even better ideas.
9. Look for opportunities to do walking meetings
Usually the computer is required for meetings, but even if one in ten can be taken via phone (every app we use can handle this — GoToMeeting, Skype, or Slack), I can kill two birds with one stone and get some fresh air while I walk. I’d be in good company: walking meetings have been an asset to history’s greatest minds, from Socrates to Steve Jobs.
I’ll look in my schedule for meetings for which I’m just listening in, don’t need to take notes, or won’t need to reference visual aides — and use those as opportunities to take a walk instead of staying put.
10. Stand up every hour
The last one is super simple: stand up more — every hour — and stretttttttttch! This is especially important toward the end of the day. I can’t say how many times I glance up at the clock to realize I’ve been glued to my chair for hours! There’s even an app to help establish this habit: Time Out. You can set the frequency and duration of the breaks, the opacity of the screen, and even what song you’d like to hear. If you’re in a meeting, you can always snooze or skip it.
While I’m taking my stretch, I’m also going to drink water! It’s hard to stay hydrated when you’re hyperfocused on a screen, but dehydration can be as bad for your efficiency (and health) as lack of sleep.
And there you have it! Ten steps I’m taking over the next few months to keep my work time efficient and my personal time personal. I’ll check in come spring to let you know how I’ve done, and you can keep score for yourself, too. By the next time I write, I hope to be flipping like Simone Biles along the work-life balance beam!