If you are like most information workers, you can now get work done wherever you are -- from the local coffee shop to your child’s piano recital. Most of us initially welcome this flexibility, but it isn’t long before this "freedom" begins to chafe. Work incursions into private time and space quickly become a source of frustration and friction.
Now, more than ever, it is important to define work-life borders – so that you can be productive at work, yet maintain stability and peace of mind at home. But the incursion of work into your private life (and vice versa) requires you to manage more than your time. To maintain a healthy balance, you need to manage your space, online identity, data, equipment and not least of all...your sanity. To help you create and maintain that fragile work-life balance, here are some tips for being productive while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Managing your time and space.
1. Set specific times of day for answering email, holding meetings and for doing creative work. Different people are able to focus better at different hours, so do what works and stick to it.
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2. For creative work, identify work times when there are fewer distractions and do your creative work during these periods. Research done by Victor Gonzalez and Gloria Mark at the University of California-Irvine found that it typically takes over 20 minutes to resume tasks once they are interrupted, so eliminating distractions will do wonders for productivity.
3. If you have creative work to do, turn off automated alerts. Email, Twitter and instant message popups are one of the biggest causes of interruptions.
4. When working outside the office, find a place to be “alone in the crowd.” For example, work in a café, library or public park but disconnect with music using a pair of headphones.
5. Set aside time during the day to exercise. If you are like most people, sitting still and focusing for long periods of time is difficult, even without digital distractions. Exercise is a great cure for this and it doesn’t need to be intensive or long.
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6. Internalize the idea that even when you are not “connected,” you can still do valuable work. In fact, thoughtful, contemplative work is often best done offline. So, while the 9-to-5 workday is long gone, it is still important to define times when you can disconnect. For example, take William Powers’ excellent suggestion and declare a weekly Internet Sabbath.
7. Don’t take email to bed. Studies show that keeping smartphones in the bedroom can cause insomnia, which leads to work problems.
Managing your online identity.
8. Decide how much you want your personal identity online to be associated with your business persona. One suggestion is to segment your online identities. For example, use LinkedIn for business and Facebook for friends and family.
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Managing your data.
9. Make sure your company’s smartphone “remote wipe” technology does not remove your personal data without your permission.
10. Make sure your personal data, such as contacts, pictures, music and videos are backed up in a safe place.
11. Clearly delineate where personal and professional data is stored on your device with separate apps for work and personal life.
Managing your equipment.
12. Sign up for a voice over IP (VOIP) telephone number and use it for your personal contacts. Have the number forwarded to your mobile device. That way, if you have to surrender your phone when you leave your place of employment, you can automatically reroute your forwarded number to a new device, and none will be the wiser.
Finally, as technology continues to shrink time and distance, we will continue to struggle demarcating the boundaries between work and personal life. So, my last piece of advice is to do a bit of research before exposing your personal life to your business contacts, because the ramifications can be long lasting. I still see old business contacts pop up from time to time on Facebook, because I was naïve enough to accept their invitations when I first signed up. And like I said before, who has time to manage those group lists, especially when there is so much work to do.