As our notion of the role work should play in our lives evolves, more and more the lines between the personal and the professional seem to be blurring into insignificance, with the ubiquity of smartphones and social media meaning that drawing a clear distinction between work and home has never been harder.
Many of us exist in a working culture where there’s an immense pressure to be ‘always on’, responding to emails round the clock and working late into the night – particularly if (like me) you’re self-employed or run your own business, which means that a lot of the time the buck stops with you.
I’d go so far as to say that we’ve almost begun to fetishise the idea of being ‘busy’ as a slightly perverse badge of honour, competitively proclaiming how overstretched we are to anyone who’ll listen, whilst secretly assuming being ‘busy’ means we must be doing well on the work front. Think about the friend who cancels Thursday night drinks for the third time in a row because she’s “absolutely slammed” at work, or the colleague who still hasn’t replied to your urgent email because “things are just soooo busy right now”. The Cult of Busy is here to stay.
And I say all of this without judgement because, confession: I’ve been that person (and occasionally still am). There’ve been more than a few times where I’ve over-scheduled, overcommitted, and overstretched myself – but being completely overworked is a terrible starting point from which to run a business, and over time I’ve learned to prioritise my downtime as highly as I do reaching inbox zero (overrated) or making it to yet another networking event when all I really want to do is sleep.
Here are a few habits I’ve adopted as part of my day-to-day life to help me achieve that all-important work/life balance…
Establish some boundaries
Carving out some personal space outside of the work you do is crucial, so think consciously about where you want to draw the line between the personal and the professional, and create a few rules that help you do that. They could be anything from not replying to emails in the evenings or at weekends, to keeping your Facebook friend list a work-free zone (which is where I personally draw the line). Whatever they are, once you’ve put these boundaries in place it’s up to you to respect them, thereby sending the message to other people that they’re not up for negotiation.
Know your limits
While I’m always up for a challenge on the work front, I’m very mindful of biting off more than I can chew and always consider new requests in the context of existing commitments and deadlines. Particularly for those of us who are self-employed, it’s often better to say no and maintain a good relationship with a potential client or employer as opposed to delivering work that’s rushed or half-assed, and risk damaging the relationship for good. There’s always next time.
Human beings are social creatures – we need regular social interaction to stay happy and sane, so be sure to schedule in regular down time with friends to stop yourself from getting into a funk. If you’re a freelancer who usually works solo, team up with a fellow freelance friend and pick one day a week to work together. Being self-employed can often feel like a solitary endeavour, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone.
My personal favourite: rewarding myself for a job well done! Whether that’s an afternoon with a stack of fresh magazines, a cute manicure, or a relaxing weekend away, never underestimate the power of some straight-up indulgence to boost your spirits and get you revved up to work.
Say ‘no’ more often
The word ‘no’ is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal when it comes to protecting your time and energy. Not all requests or opportunities are created equal, and stretching yourself too thin in an attempt to accommodate every request that comes your way is a sure-fire way to make everyone happy except yourself – and that’s if you manage to fulfil all of your obligations.
Whenever your inner people-pleaser gives you a hard time over saying no to someone, or you’re tempted to say yes to something because you feel too awkward about the alternative, try to remind yourself of what’s really on the line. The opportunity cost of saying ‘yes’ when you really ought to say ‘no’ is time that could be spent doing other more fruitful work (or y’know, relaxing). Weighing up what you’re sacrificing in order to make room for superfluous requests can be pretty damn motivating.