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Finding Balance By Separating Work and Life

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It’s almost a certainty that you know the phrase “work/life balance.” This is a term which is meant to communicate the notion that people should not let either their personal or professional lives take complete control. But is the idea really possible or just another workplace myth?


© Flickr user Enric Martinez

To address this question, we need to wind back the clock a few years. All of us are involved in many different activities, but just one generation ago there was an extremely clear separation between “work life” and “personal life.” Here’s how almost every professional operated:

Home – Commute – Work – Commute – Home

Then, the next day, they would do it all over again. Remember those days in which the commute was a nice drive or a subway ride? Where you could listen to the radio, enjoy a cup of coffee, read a good book, and generally prepare yourself to change from being at home to being at work or vice versa? Those were the days!

Back then, when you got home you were done with the day. And when you arrived at the office, there wasn’t much you could do for your home life. It’s not like you could manage your personal finances through online banking at your desk, or use the Internet to check on your children at a daycare via video conferencing. There was no internet or texting to stay in constant contact with friends, family, and colleagues.

Fast forward to today. Work life and home life are not separated by a commute. You can be on your own time or company time, and your mobile phone might ring. You could be interacting with your boss on a Facebook conversation late at night or on a weekend. You might be eating lunch at your desk while sending emails to your friends.  The switch between work and life is instant and nearly unstoppable. We live in a 24/7 world.

To many people, the phrase “work/life balance” sounds like doubletalk. Here’s what Dilbert had to say on the topic:

workplace productivity and Dilbert

Perhaps instead of talking about trying to balance work and life, we should be thinking about how to encourage people to say no at work to increase employee satisfaction. This may be the biggest change from a generation ago. Before, you didn’t have to say “no” because the last train was leaving.  But now, you can be reached any time. We must choose not to answer and not to check email when we want to spend time with our families. We must actively select to not be working.

While you may feel like being away from work could cause you to miss something important, always being plugged in can easily cause you to feel worn down and burnt out in your job. Neglecting to take any time away from your career responsibilities means that you never have a chance to refresh. And we should all want to feel refreshed and ready to be productive when it comes to going into work.

The next time you hear a coworker say: “I’m going on vacation, but I’ll still be checking email and voicemail,” consider pushing back. Explain that it’s not really a vacation if you’re still working. A vacation should be a break from your job, not a time to stress about what you might be missing in the office. And the next time you are at work, and your mind starts to wander, decide if you are ready to be off the clock. You’ll find that the balance of work and life is one of making choices. Do what’s right for you, no matter the time of day or where you are.

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