How many times has your weekend, evening or even vacation been interrupted by a work question, a “must reply now” email, or an urgent customer issue?
For most busy professionals it happens far too often. Even if you can manage to unplug when you leave the office, chances are you have outside interests—consulting gigs, networking events, yoga classes, volunteer work…All of these things require scheduling, brain power and focus.
When we’re actually able to disconnect and focus on the activity at hand, it’s hard to relax or fully involve ourselves because we’re running through all the things we still have to do or may have forgotten. The lines blur, and suddenly your home time, work time and probably even your sleep are blending together and none of them are going so well.
If you’re having a hard time disconnecting, it’s time to achieve a work-life balance. Leave work at work, and enjoy home at home.
Sound too good to be true? Here are some steps you can take to get there.
1. Prioritize at the office
When you walk in your office, check your task list and calendar for the day and take a few minutes on the front end to organize it and set your routine. Chances are, you try to tackle many little tasks first, and they eat up your schedule, leaving big scary tasks lingering in the procrastination pool.
Take a new approach and get the big job done first. Make it priority number one, and before you start doing the little time-eaters, wrestle with the biggest ugliest thing on your plate. How good will it feel when it 11:00 am on a Monday and you’ve just crossed off something you’ve put off for weeks?
2. Create scheduled email times
This one’s hard for many of us. We like to be quick on the draw with our emails, and ignoring them for a few hours feels like impending doom. Emails multiply like rabbits when they’re ignored for even a little while--we’ve all returned from a vacation to find our inbox overflowing and spent days catching up.
Let go of your email guilt. Those little bunnies will be just fine for a few hours on their own. If there were anything dire, you would have received a phone call. Create a few blocks of email time on your schedule—half an hour or so. Then set a limit. If it requires more than three sentences (seriously) to get your message across clearly, pick up the phone. The call will often take less time than a back and forth.
Keep your emails to the point, and when using professional emails, be pleasant, but there’s no reason to wax on about how you hope they’re having a lovely Monday (spoiler alert—it’s Monday). Even consider writing the message in the subject line and EOM, or end of message in the body.
3. Schedule “me time” on your calendar
One of the best ways to keep yourself training for a 5K, being on time for your haircuts and making sure you don’t forget your kid’s first little league game, is to get those things on your calendar. So often we reserve our calendars for our work life and then when we get home we’re a disorganized mess.
If you want to achieve something, put it on the calendar. If it’s a date with your spouse, something you need to remember to order, or just watching the next episode of your favorite show, scheduling is the key to getting it all accomplished. Don’t forget to block out a little free time to just fill with whatever you feel like at the time.
4. Organize your workflow
Keep your documents, notes, schedule and materials organized and handy. There’s nothing worse than trying to find information and sorting through spreadsheets, emails and files looking for the right piece of information. With organized workflow, you can search and find exactly what you need right away.
5. Use automation when you can
Just like opting for pre-cut vegetables when you’re cooking, going through the self-checkout line, or visiting an ATM—use automation when you can get it to streamline your activities. Automation tools like Zapier, FlowXO, IFTTT, and Podbox help create “if/then” bridges between your applications.
The possibilities for automation are endless—imagine updating your payments from Square right to your QuickBooks, or sending out a Tweet or Facebook post each time you publish your newsletter or a new blog post. You can set up automated emails to welcome new customers or new social media users, and automatically update their contact information.
6. Divide and conquer your “to do” lists
Like tackling your most difficult project first—organizing and dividing up your to do list, and blocking it to your calendar can really help you keep up with your deadlines and due dates. For frequent tasks, you can create an activity set to automatically schedule and add reminders each time something occurs.
Breaking up your to do list helps you keep work moving. How many times have you been stymied on a task because you’re waiting on a response, approval or information? Move on to the next item, and then come back once you’ve received what you need.
Don’t forget to take a break from your to do list as well. If you can knock out 45-90 minutes of dedicated, focused work, then get up, get a drink, stretch your legs or get some fresh air. Breaking up your day keeps you from getting blocked, stressed or frustrated.
7. Consider a technology break occasionally
It seems counter-intuitive to get more done by using technology less, but try stepping away from the computer and putting your smartphone down once in a while. There’s a growing trend among business people to take a weekly day off from technology—there are even technology-free camps for adults.
If you aren’t ready to go totally dark for a week (or even a day), try leaving your cell phone in your bag or pocket for the duration of a meal, or a few hours of activity with your friends or family. You might be surprised at the renewed conversation and deepening of your relationships.
You need time away from your task list and your work in order to reconnect with your loved ones, manage your health and recharge your batteries. Maintaining balance means you have times when you work as hard as possible and on the other side of the coin, times when you relax as hard as possible. Both are essential to your success, well-being and concentration.