Work Life Balance

The Erosion of Work/Life Boundaries

Those of us who have seen the classic American office culture satire Office Space can almost surely recall filling out our own version of a TPS report – some piece of bureaucratic redundancy.

Those of us who have seen the classic American office culture satire Office Space can almost surely recall filling out our own version of a TPS report – some piece of bureaucratic redundancy.  We can also probably remember a time when our boss told us that we had to come in on Sunday too, even if it wasn’t in an inhumanly monotone drawl while leaning over our cubicle clutching a coffee cup.  The trouble is, and this shocked me, is that Office Space came out in 1999.  It is as much covered in cobwebs as our fear about Y2K, and so is the concept about coming into work on Sunday.  The truth is, today, we are always at work. This is not a good thing.

I was recently in Spain for a few weeks (working, obviously) and had a very serious culture shock when I encountered the concept of siestas.  I had heard of siestas – a few hour break in the afternoon – but I did not take the idea seriously.  “No one can just shut down in the middle of the day, not in this modern, connected world we live in,” I thought to myself.  But then there I was in Pamplona, Spain trying to get an espresso at 4 p.m., and I felt like I was in a ghost town.  While I never fully adjusted to this practice while there, I took away the realization that I am always working.  Even at night and on weekends. Even while eating meals.  I am working while I am going to work.  Something is wrong.

My connectedness comes down to two main conduits: phone and email.  I realized that I had meshed the two together on my own accord.  I had voluntarily signed up for a 24-hour workday, and so I came up with two solutions:

Telephone: Divide and Conquer

Rather than giving out my cellphone on my business card, I switched to an office phone and put that number on my card instead.  If someone needed my cellphone, like a particularly important client, I would handwrite it on the card.  This also made them feel special, like I was signing an autograph for them.  Plus, I learned that office phone technology, like the Syn248 from AT&T, is actually quite advanced and gave me several other ancillary benefits that I did not anticipate.

Conference calls became much easier, and I could still have hands-free phone conversations, which I need in order to pace my office and perform the invisible air traffic controller acrobatics I do while I talk.  I began to preach this to my co-workers and, once they converted to my cause, adding their lines on to mine was easier than setting up a new email account – one system can hold up to 24 lines.  Now I receive most of my calls at the office, and while I still take a few calls at off hours, the odds of having to excuse myself from the dinner table to take a call are drastically reduced.

Email: Keep it Professional

I live at “inbox zero,” meaning I archive messages out of my inbox once they are done. It makes my inbox into a pseudo to do list.  However, when I merged my personal email and work email accounts into the same application for convenience, I gave up the ease of my to do list.  I was fighting a losing battle. The constant stream of work messages drowned out important emails from family and friends.  Not wanting to miss a friend’s email about weekend plans, I would always check my phone when a new message arrived and then get sucked into my work emails.

The solution: I cut my professional email account out of my personal one and routed it to a new application.  Now, on Friday evening, I move the icon for my work email app off of my home screen (I have an iPhone) and put it on a secondary one, that way I don’t see it piling up with emails over the weekend.  On Monday morning, I move it back.

In the end, the digitization of our world is amazing and has made our lives so much more convenient.  However, we must remember we buy technology like phones and mobile devices to work for us, not the other way around.  Keeping a greater wall between your work life and personal life has been shown by experts to reduce stress, improve sleep, and so many other ancillary benefits.  Experts aside, we all know intuitively that unplugging sometimes from work is just better.  The right technology can make stepping away easier, and less stressful when you return.

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