Flexible work schedules are awesome, but they also have a dark side. As someone who works from home on occasion and can sometimes flex her schedule, I know how easy it can be to blend the boundaries between work and personal life. Different balances work well for different people. For me, I am more effective at work and happier at home if I can set up a dividing line between the two and really be “off” sometimes. Regardless of your preference, it helps to have some control and oversight of your work and personal tasks.
Here are three things I do to better maintain a work-life balance:
1. Maintain a separate email account for work and personal. This tip is important for several reasons. First, you don’t have to expose yourself to work emails in order to communicate with friends. You can be on vacation or enjoying an evening at home and still check email, without getting drawn into a work crisis. Second, it increases your focus on either work or personal life at a particular time, so you’re not distracted by correspondence from the other domain. Third, this helps protect your privacy by reducing your company’s ability to see your personal correspondence, and it protects your company’s privacy by making it more difficult for you to accidentally share proprietary information incorrectly (e.g. by forwarding something to a friend instead of a colleague when the email address incorrectly autocompletes). Finally, and I feel really strongly about this, it helps normalize a work-life separation with colleagues who will quickly realize that they shouldn’t expect an email response from you at midnight or when you’re on vacation.
2. Have a distinct work area in your home. This tip is most important for people who work from home, but is useful even if you only sometimes bring work home. Having a separate and specific location where you work helps create a mental divide between home space and work space. When you leave your “office,” you can also leave your work and devote your attention more fully to your personal life. Having a specific space for work also means leaving your work materials in that area, so you don’t find yourself leafing through paperwork in front of the television.
3. Set clear expectations with colleagues. I’ve found that I am more likely to feel the urge to work if I know somebody is waiting on me for something. So, I try to set clear expectations for when I can deliver items. If I can, I will even add a little more time than I think I need (underpromise and overdeliver). This helps keep me on track with my work but also alleviate anxiety when I’m on a break. The out-of-office email message is another great tool to help set expectations; it lets people know when you are not available and when they might expect to receive a response.
These three tips will give you more control over when you focus on work and when you focus on personal life, and I hope improve your happiness as a result.