7 tips for leaving work where it belongs — at work

By Melissa Gratias | 

It comes down to one word: accessibility.

In the 1970s, open-door policies were popular as a way to encourage communication between management and employees. Better relations with unions resulted from increased accessibility of managers. Thus, “my door is always open” became a popular catchphrase.

Then there was the explosion of email in the 1990s followed by the ubiquity of mobile devices in more recent years.

Once upon a time, accessibility was a simple matter of an open versus closed door. Today, workers can literally be available to their employers every hour of every day.

In an era of continual accessibility, can we ever leave work?

Here are 7 strategies to reduce the “Always On” work life:

  1. Set goals. What does a successful work/life balance look like for you? Your definition of balance will be different from others, but you must have a concrete way to determine if you are there or not.
  2. Make your calendar reflect your intentions. Choose your work hours, and be realistic. If you intend to process email in the evenings and on weekends, those appointments should be on your calendar. If you intend to spend every Saturday morning with your family, put it on your calendar. Your calendar is the shield with which you defend your balanced life.
  3. Know how to change the settings in your mobile devices. Turn off notifications of incoming email. Temporarily deactivate your work email accounts while on vacation or on weekends. Be in control of your gadgets, not the other way around.
  4. Question your assumptions. I once worked with a team of five executives who answered emails sent to them from the CEO late at night. It was driving them crazy, and one executive was on the verge of leaving the organization. I asked the CEO if he required late-night responses from his team, and his answer was a surprised, “No.” He was a night owl but didn’t expect anyone else to be. Ask, don’t assume.
  5. Work smarter, not harder. You may be working after hours because you are not efficient during the day. Sure, you can get more done with more hours invested, but can you better manage your tasks and yourself during the regular work day?
  6. Consider the (real) worst-case scenario. What is the worst thing that will happen if you unplug? How likely is this event? Be honest and real. Why are you always on?
  7. Change your situation. If all of your balance-promoting strategies have failed, you may need to consider a different work environment. The grass may indeed be greener on the other side.

Changing your level of accessibility to your work requires discipline. You are your strongest soldier and your cleverest enemy in the war for work/life balance. Remember that balance is a battle that you fight every day but win over a lifetime.

You are worth the fight.

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