We hear a lot about people trying to find the elusive work / life balance and there are many articles, books and blogs written on this subject giving all sorts of advice that range from the too simplistic to the most complex. The reality is the work / life balance as we imagine it does not exist and is never really going to exist.
Over the last thirty or so years, technological advances in the way we work have been blurring the lines between our work and our home life. Just a generation ago it was easy to separate our work life with our home life because the tools that enabled us to do our work were only available in our place of work. This was true whether we worked in a factory as a fork-lift truck driver or worked in an office dealing with physical files that were stored in filing cabinets in our office. Today, those physical files are digitally stored in the cloud enabling us to access them from anywhere, and that fork-lift truck has been replaced by a computer controlled robot that can be controlled remotely from across the other side of the world.
Today, when we want to buy something, we order it online from our favourite online shop, then have it delivered to our office. We do our banking online from our offices and if we need to call customer services we do that from our office using our ubiquitous mobile phone. We have our dental and medical check-ups during so called 'office hours' and we book restaurants, cinema and concert tickets from our work computers. Basically, the lines that existed before mobile technology became omnipresent destroyed any notion of the traditional ideas of work / life balance.
So, rather than fighting to keep alive a lifestyle that is going to disappear over the next twenty years anyway, we should embrace these changes and let the technology work in our favour.
When we wake up in the morning and are enjoying that early morning coffee, there really is nothing wrong with checking your email to see what came in over night. Personally, I prefer this as it means I can get an idea of what is going to happen during the day before it really begins. Often, I can deal with more than 50% of my email before I step into the shower. This means as I leave my house to head out to work I have already dealt with a fair portion of the work I would need to do once I arrived at my place of work.
Once I get onto the subway, I usually send out messages to confirm my business appointments for later that day and read the news that occurred over night. Here's a great example of combining a personal task with a work task. Likewise if you are waiting to see your dentist and you have a spare ten minutes, you can quickly read a few emails whether they are work related or not.
An area I find really works well for me is processing my inbox while my dinner is cooking. It takes around 45 minutes for my dinner to cook, so while my dinner is in the oven, I process my inboxes (email and task manager) and complete the remaining routine tasks I have that need completing at the end of the day. During this time there are no distractions, my phone is not ringing and I can quietly get on with my work. That 45 minutes sees a lot of work getting done. None of this would work very well if I insisted on placing unnatural barriers between myself and what needs to get done. Finishing off that last slide in preparation for an important presentation tomorrow afternoon is going to cause me a lot of unnecessary stress if I cannot allow myself to spend twenty minutes on my laptop at home in the evening doing it.
Imagine how you would feel if you get a call from your boss and a Sunday afternoon, while you are enjoying a coffee with your friends and family, and you choose to ignore it. What thoughts will be going through your head for the rest of the day? Like most people you will be worrying what you are going to have to say to your boss tomorrow morning, what excuse you can give him or her. You will also be worrying about what the call was about. That’s no way to spend your Sunday evening. Far better to just answer the phone, find out what it is and then get on with the rest of your afternoon. Of course if your boss asks you to do something that you are unable to do, just say so. Apologise and explain that you are not at home, but out with your family and that you cannot do whatever he or she is asking you to do. The point is, you will not be suffering any stress or worries by answering the call, and you will feel on top of everything that is going on in your world.
Embracing new technology and letting it work for you can have a huge impact on reducing stress. Being aware of what is happening in your life and being comfortable dealing with issues as they arise rather than forcing yourself to follow unnatural work / home barriers is going to make your life feel smoother and less stressful.
Technology, and particularly mobile technology, is going to continue getting better and better. We can either choose to fight it and refuse to embrace how this technology can improve our lives, or we can work with it, adapt it to our needs and preferences and just get on enjoying our lives. I know which one I have chosen.