Last week I set the scene for why #rebalancing work and life is so important. This week we start looking at how to achieve that by considering why we need better boundaries.
When work life balance researchers talk about boundaries they are talking about the interplay between work and other aspects of life. Understanding and managing these boundaries is the linchpin to finding the balance that suits us, so I wanted to tackle the subject early on in our year of #rebalancing work and life.
Fifty years ago work and non-work lives were typically kept separate; and it was generally easy for us to do so. Work was carried out in the workplace and left behind when the working day was finished. Some people still prefer this approach; they are known as Separators.
For the majority of us, however, developments in technology and working practices have resulted in work becoming increasingly integrated with other aspects of our lives. Some people prefer to work this way (unsurprisingly they are known as Integrators).
Our reasons for integrating may be personal: we want to accommodate client needs; or to carve out time in the middle of our work to deal with aspects of our personal life. Alternatively our reasons may be driven by the expectations of others. For example, the long hours culture in our workplace may drive us to continue working once we get home.
As I explain in my book, integration at its extreme is bad for us since:
- We find we can never switch off from work pressures;
- Our attention is constantly pulled in several directions. We’re never fully present to the people we’re with or the tasks we’re doing;
- Research evidence is confirming that ‘multitasking’ is both a myth and an inefficient way of working.
Professor Anna Cox studies human-computer interaction and its impact on work-life balance. She recommends the use of microboundaries.
Microboundaries are strategies we can put in place to limit the negative effects of boundary cross-overs – such as receiving a work email at the weekend – so that we feel more in control.
Professor Cox suggests a range of actions such as separating work and personal emails/apps; consciously deciding when not to carry a smartphone; disabling notifications when socialising or turning on night mode at bedtime.
This week I urge you to spend a few minutes thinking about where you can carve out better boundaries for yourself. It might be resolving to switch your mobile off for the hour you have dinner with your family; or taking time on your commute home to divest yourself of work pressures and prepare to be mentally present at home.
Life will always present us with emergencies but these are – thankfully – rare. For the rest of the time setting and maintaining our boundaries will both make us more effective and enable us to lead a richer life.
If you take no other actions to #rebalance your work and life this year; resolve to set better boundaries and to maintain them.