Work / life balance has become rather like the Bigfoot – everyone has heard of it, a few people claim to have seen it, but the vast majority of us are wondering if it really exists. This is especially true for those of us who are early on in our careers and professional lives and want to get on, and get noticed.
Technology lets us all be a lot more productive (as well as providing some distractions!) but it also means that boundaries between work and life have become blurred – that is, if they even exist at all. Our emails can follow us anywhere, and the idea of working 9 – 5 suddenly seems to belong to the 1990s.
The theory was that technology would free us, and let us work from anywhere. To some extent this is true, but it also means that we can – and are expected to – work anytime.
If you’re in the first few years of your career, it’s very understandable that you want to work hard and get that promotion. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, with loads of competition, and you want to be the one who emerges on top. Being available 24/7 and always saying yes, no matter what is asked of you, shows dedication and that you’re a true team player.
It can also have a negative effect on your life through stress, and losing the ability to relax if you are ‘always on’. If you’re checking and responding to emails from dawn to midnight, when are you actually making time for family, friends, eating well, exercise and sleep?
How can you achieve that balance?
It’s okay to say no
A really important skill is learning to say no – you need to set boundaries, and you’ll be respected for it. South African labour law is on your side here – all employees are entitled to rest periods, and employers cannot demand that their staff are on call 24/7.
About those boundaries…
Have downtime or ‘disconnected’ time. You don’t need to make a scene to do this; you can achieve it in subtler ways. If you get emails late at night and you feel you want to answer them, write draft replies but only send them say after 7am the next morning. You’re still getting the job done, but you’re also quietly letting people know that you are not on call all night.
Being more organised will help you be get more done in office hours, which means fewer files to take home in the evenings.
Have other priorities
If you get really into exercise, you’ll want to spend more time on that, and less on your emails – in other words, you’ll find the time one way or another!