Work-life balance has become a trending topic, particularly during covid. I understand that it’s in our best interest to try to manage our work and lives in a reasonable way, but it’s hard! I also find that many articles on the benefits of disconnecting from work stress why we should do it, but don’t give as much information on how to do it!
Below are some very specific suggestions for things that I’m doing right now. With three young kids at home, and a job that often requires some juggling to be able to accomplish my work (meaning I’m back at my laptop sometimes after bedtime), I have tried to be very thoughtful about how I can communicate with my boss and colleagues about my workload and expectations for reviewing and responding to emails outside of the typical workday.
Specific Strategies to Disconnect from Work
Remove email notifications from your phone!
For years, my phone was set up so I'd see a little envelope icon and get notifications with incoming emails. Although I knew I wasn’t obligated to look at the incoming emails, it took a lot of self-restraint not to open my email once I saw that little icon. I once removed it for a vacation and decided to not set it up again. This way, I'm not "enticed" to go check my email. I also don't have my work email icon on my main screen on my phone. I have my email icon buried in my Apps, and then in a subfolder. Just making my email harder to get to on my phone cuts down on the frequency in which I check my work email outside of work hours.
If your schedule permits, block time for emails each day.
I create some "safe time" at the beginning and end of each day. I have 30 min blocked when I start my day, and one hour blocked at the end of the day. The intent is to use time to catch up on and respond to emails so that I don't feel I need to stay working late in order to respond to my emails throughout the day. And having the 30 min scheduled right away in the morning means I feel less obligated to respond to an email that comes in after hours, since I know I can respond to it in the morning. If this feels impossible for you right now, consider setting this up one or two months from now, so the time is more protected on your calendar.
Be clear with others on how to contact you outside of the typical workday.
I try to be intentional in sharing how to contact me outside of the typical workday. I’ve let my colleagues know that I typically need to end each workday at 5pm, and if I need to do a meeting from 5-6 that is fine, but I'd ideally like 3 days’ notice to arrange other childcare. I also let them know that I don't always check my email in the evenings, and if anything comes up that needs a response after 5pm that can't wait until the next morning, they should call or text my cell phone. This way, I don't feel obligated to continue to check my email just in case something urgent has come up. What’s great is that I’ve never received pushback on this, and some colleagues have mentioned that it’s such a good idea to be explicit with this.
If you are asked to do additional tasks and it's impossible with your workload, negotiate!
When I’m given additional work to do, and I can’t just fit it in during a typical workweek, I’ll often use a phrase like, "Yes, I can do x, but if I do that, I won't have a chance to work on y until next week. Is that okay?" I'm constantly prioritizing with my boss based on the most urgent business needs. He knows that I'll be honest with him about my capacity. There are times where business needs mean I’ll need to work in the evenings or over a weekend, and I try to be upfront with my boss that I can accommodate that when needed (but ideally not all the time). In situations like that, if I'm overloaded, I’ll check with my boss to see if I can ask other people on the team to help me with some things that I would typically do (e.g. exit interviews with an employee, or responding to a question from a manager).
Use your Out of Office to manage expectations for responses.
Here is an example – I recently took a week off and while I was off, I knew I would still be the best person to respond on specific questions on some employee bonus changes made the prior week. This issue was time sensitive since managers needed to communicate the changes to employees. In my out of office email, I was specific that I would still respond to those questions, but for all other things, I was clear that they could email the general HR mailbox, or they could wait for my return.
I hope some of these are helpful! If you have your own examples, I’d love to see them in the comments below!
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