4 ways to unplug and create a better work/life balance

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By UB therapist Michael Maloney, LCPC

I had a client recently recounted that they missed the days when you could put the phone off the receiver.  They were obviously talking about what it was like not to be accessible all the time now that we have come from a time of landlines and corded phones to a time when we not only carry our phones all the time, but are constantly looking at them.  This has many impacts but how does this impact our work/life balance?  

What happens for many people is that we have problems leaving work at work.  For many people we are constantly connected at work. Some people are constantly expected to perform, respond, engage, and/or give input even when they are at home.  But not just at home. Our phones and technology follow us everywhere. If we go on vacation for the soul purpose of relaxing and getting away from work, many people see the emails being sent from work or are being asked to respond to a quick question.  Our new emersion to technology in our lives are now making it easier for work to have access to us outside of work.  

Many people are now getting the option to work from home.  For many people this is a blessing since it offers many benefits in being able to manage child care, pet care, less stress with commute, and introverts may prefer their quieter spaces then a busy loud office. With the many perks, also comes the down side. When does work actually end? If you do go to that doctor’s appointment do you need to make up the hours in what would have been your personal time? How do you start your work day?  How do you manage from the distractions that is your home?

How does this all impact us?  Simply put, the lines between work and home are now very blurry. It might seem reasonable to respond to that quick email that only needs a quick response. That co-worker needs support on a project that is underwater and needs to talk to you ASAP. This blurry time makes a 9 to 5, 40 hours work week into a 9-5 plus some side work you do at home.  Maybe we can give ourselves permission to do some personal stuff during “work time” but when do we actually get time to relax?  When do we get to stop thinking about work?

I want to put an emphasis that technology is not a bad thing.  It is a tool. All tools can be useful, but can also be destructive.  Also there is an element of design that needs to be important in our use of technology.  What I mean by design, is how do we choose to use our technology in a way that is useful to us and not let it go to a place that we lose our choice.  I give Netflix as an example: It is really easy to binge watch a series on Netflix, all you have to do is not press a button to keep watching. Netflix is designed for you to keep watching.  What this means is our technology is designed to grab our attention, but how do we want to choose how to use it so we reclaim our intentions?

Below are a couple of options:

Reclaim Your Mornings

I know many people are not morning people.  But how do you start your day? Do you look at work emails?  Do you wait until the last minute until you have to rush to work?  

I once had a client who world start the day looking at work emails because she wanted to know what kind of day she was going to have.  She would then see the emails, respond to a few and start dreading what her day was going to look like. When we talked about Reclaiming Your Mornings she reflected what she wanted her mornings to look like instead.  She chose not to look at the emails and instead make herself coffee, read, enjoy breakfast, and talk to her partner. When she implemented this she reported that her drive to work was much more pleasant. She wasn’t already anxious or tense about the work day before it even started.  She also reflected that she was actually working before she got into work and editing this process didn’t stop her from getting what she needed to during the day.  

What are aspects that you would like to do in Reclaiming Your Morning?  I know people that feel more energized from working out before they go into work.  Others before a slow leisurely pace before getting into work. They would want to putz around a bit and just enjoy some downtime.  

Transition from Work to Home

I have seen many people who have issues leaving work at work. Work can be stressful, both good and bad. We come home feeling that stress on our bodies and sometimes think about all the problems we need to still need to fix or all the things we didn’t get done during the day. Often we fixate or ruminate on how we need to do things at work when we are home. Or we cannot let ourselves relax when we are at home.  

How do you transition coming home from work?  What is the mindset you want to have when you get home?  How do you get yourself to relax? There are multiple ways we can do this.  Sometimes we need down time or ways to get the stress out. Some of my clients go to the gym to burn off the stress.  Some people find reading or listening to a podcast are nice distractions in not thinking about work. Others still need to check in with a partner/friend or be welcomed by a pet to help focus on the mindset of being at home.  We need to learn to build these rituals into the end of our days at work. This transition allows us to be able to focus on the life part of the work/life balance and work on our goals that we might have at home. Sometimes those goals are just to relax and recharge and others might be finding a new job or learning how to bake.  Where do you want your goals at home to be?    

For those working from home, how do you end the day?  What are the hours that you say that you are done for the day?  Consider building a ritual when you are done. Some clients walk their dog or just go for a walk.  Others start making dinner or play a video game to signify that they are done for the day.  

Also consider adding grattitute in how you change your mindset at the end of the day.  Many of us can get in a mindset that we didn’t “do enough” during the day and concentrate on everything we didn’t get done.  Practicing gratitude might look like what you appreciated that you did accomplish during the day and mentally feel like you have done enough.

Setting Boundaries at Home

Many couples I work with are now implementing “no screen times.”  These are times where they put away all forms of screens and don’t feel like they need to compete with the phone/laptop/internet in getting their partner’s attention.  Many parents have a “no device” rule at the dinner table. What are some of the boundaries you want to set up with how you use technology and make yourself accessible at home?

In general, what are the things that need to be considered sacred time.  We need to be able to rest, connect, play and enjoy our lives. We know when we need to be at work, but when do we need to have all the other things we need to get done.  Setting aside time lets us know when we want to accomplish these goals instead of just trying to fit them in when we can. Actually put them in your schedule and set reminders for yourself to help keep yourself accountable.  

Boundaries with email and electronic communication

I often tell clients we are the guinea pigs with this new technology and learning how to use it in the social space.  We are also making up rules on etiquette as we go along. What is okay for one person is unacceptable for another person.  

What is the social etiquette of emails, text, slack, or whatever platform you are using?  Can you email someone at 3:00 in the morning? When is too late? If you were calling someone there might be times you wouldn’t call but there are also times you wouldn’t pick up the phone.  We have the social etiquette for the phone sometimes, but we are still trying to find what those boundaries are for all these other platforms. We know not to call someone at 3:00am or around dinner time in our personal lives, but sending an email at those times seems fair since they can read it whenever.  Do you expect a response back right away? I had a boss once who would send emails at 3:00am and told him that I would respond to those emails when I arrived to work. He was fine with that. It turned out 3:00am was the best time for him to think about projects and not have to worry about all the other things he needed to do during the day.  We set boundaries and expectations with each other.  

What are the expectations you want to put out to others on how you use the technology at work?  Are you accessible at night/weekend? How fast do people need a response? What is the best way to communicate?   What are your limits in being able to provide the most productive work self? We do need rest to be able to recharge so make sure you are setting  realistic goals and expectations with how you use this technology. Often we don’t even think about how we use it but by talking about it we can make sure everyone is on the same page.

Similar to my client that misses opportunities to take the phone off the receiver, we all need to disconnect from all of life’s responsibilities from time to time.  These are examples in setting some times where we can figuratively take the receiver off from work and dedicate our time to where else we would like to focus on in our lives.