It seems like an easy answer problem to answer, no?
I've had coworkers simply say that they will never answer a message after work hours. Others turn off their phones. Some leave on the dot of a specific time, and work is done for the day. Others talk about how to maximize their usage of vacation time. Others mention that they work a lot of overtime, because they can, and want to get that big promotion. Others come in early because they believe that is the magic ticket.
What I get from these is the age ol' answer to everything. 'It Depends'.
Review the below list yourself. And answer each of these honestly. If you can, compare with someone else, and see the disparity of answers.
- Should we work late on that thing cause we are almost done?
- Should we get to work at a specific time each morning?
- Should we leave at a specific time each day?
- Should we eat at our desks for lunch?
- Should we leave for a lunch break?
- Should we get exercise in the morning before work? During work? After work?
- Should we check mail and work apps first thing in the morning?
- Should we check mail and work apps after you have left for the day?
- Should we never check mail and work apps when we are not truly 'working'?
- Should we get showered and dressed each day, and still work from home?
- Should we shower once a week and dress poorly since we work from home?
- Should we use a scheduling technique to keep us on track during the workday?
- Should we stretch the workday out, adding breaks within for personal stuff?
- Should we never take personal breaks during work hours, because work is a priority during 9-5 hours?
- Should we work late today because we started late this morning?
- Should we leave early today because we started earlier this morning?
- Should we leave home before starting work, to get a morning beverage, and delineate our days with normal tasks?
- Should we check mail and work apps on the weekend?
- Should we check mail and work apps on PTO?
- Should we stay at the gym for one more game on Friday, since it's Friday, and we work from home anyway?
I find that some of these ring more true to me than others. And I will tend to dig into these individually more than others. Some really force the answer 'It Depends'. Because it does. It depends on a lot of things. Where I am in my career, what my goals are, and so on.
Since the answer can often be 'It Depends' to these and many of life's questions, it behooves us to individually dig into these, and other similar questions, and form our own answers. Individual answers. And realize that these may work for a time, and cease to work after a time.
For example, when I had younger children at home, it was much more important to me and my family that I was home at a certain time. Dinner was a planned event, and we enjoyed it together. But as my kids have grown, and moved on, this is not so important anymore. So I can stay later now than I used to. However, maybe at this time in my life, I don't want to. But maybe I do. So its changes with time. One answer works for a while, then stops being the right answer, because reasons. So I urge you to constantly evaluate your answers and make sure that they still fit for you now. As now will forever change.
So, what works for you may not work for me. But we can definitely learn from each other and see examples. We can review our activities and moods and responses, and adjust as needed.
What's worked for me?
Several years ago I got an app called Daylio. It has a daily reminder I set for 10:45pm to input daily data. It wants to know the overall mood for the day. It also lets me tag specific activities performed within the day, presumably that support this overall mood for the day. These are Rad, Good, Meh, and 2 lower moods I've never actually selected.
This becomes an interesting exercise. I get to evaluate the entire day and pick a single mood. So it must be an average for the day, not a high or low mood, in my interpretation. I could have had a terrible morning, but a better afternoon, so would that be average ok for the day? Can you have a Rad day while you are at work? It feels like a Rad day would be a weekend. But why cant a workday be Rad? and why can't a weekend be Meh?
In any event, it makes me think. And forces me to evaluate the day. Over the years I've used this app, I've been able to refine the activities to things that really seem to matter to me at the time. For example, I used to have activities for TV and Movies separated. But I realized that these were not core activities, and stopped using them to measure against my overall mood. I might watch TV or see a Movie, but it rarely weighs in to make a day Rad as compared to Good. So I have stopped including them in the overall activity exercise. I have since added different items in an effort to measure and weigh what makes me happy. I have separate entries for Outside and Desert and Mountains. Desert and Mountains are outside, but Outside also means in my yard, or playing pickleball at lunchtime, or simply being outside. This is also different from Garage Time, which usually entails some activity of creating or building.
The point being is that for me, I have fine-tuned this data gathering to fit me. It will probably not fit you. But I highly recommend you do something similar. I have been tracking my data for over 900 days now, and have learned a lot. Annually, I review the data and use it to change activities or priorities as I see patterns.
For me, spending time doing an activity of exercise daily has elevated my mood and work/life balance. Sprinkling in a couple other days of other activities has definitely helped, and this is usually after work. Spending time outside has become a positive point in my life, as well as spending time in my garage. So I try to do these things as often as I can in the week and notice when I have not, it affects me. So I've been known to say 'It's been too many days since I've been in the mountains, I need to return'. Or fill in the activity I've not done, and then I need to make sure I do that more.
Some things are seasonal, but still bring me joy. I ride dirtbikes, but not in the winter or the summer. More spring and fall. I also don't hike in the winter but do switch to snowshoeing. So seasonal things also happen when necessary. And on repeat, enough that I feel satisfied. If I do not feel satisfied, often it's because something like this is missing.
Now, switching gears, if I concentrated on the outside and fun activities only, I could find myself ignoring work. Why not do the same thing at work? What items should I track while at work that brings me joy or subtracts joy? If you can narrow those down and track them, you'll be better poised to make changes to them, possibly, and make yourself feel better about your work/life balance.
I have added 2 entries in my activities that let me track when I work on my tasks, vs when I work on other people's tasks. As I have noticed that being pulled into other people's issues to solve them or assist in solving them subtracts from my joy, I am not poised to respond better to these requests. When I can pour myself into my tasks, I am happier. It may not be that easy, but at least now I have identified the problem and can act towards a fix. It may require a new job or an acceptance of the job I already have. It may require out-of-the-box thinking or even conversations with bosses or other team members. But you are on the path to solving it, rather than allowing the activity to control you and your mood and your balance.
So that was a lot of words. And if you made it this far, I'll reward you with a shorter version.
- Find what makes you happy.
- How do you find this? I measure daily activities and moods. But you do you. But find it!
- Once you find 'your happy', repeat 'your happy' as often as possible.
- How do I find 'my happy'? Using various tools and data collection and retrospectives.
- Work towards repeating 'your happy' more often than not.
- How do I do this? Make a plan to repeat when time allows, and schedule it and make it happen.