One of the problems with being a web worker is that the lines between work and life have been so blurred as to be non-existent. The Internet is always on, accessible from just about anywhere, and our work and play are often both in the same browser.
As a result, we lose touch with the rest of life, and work takes over our lives.
While we’ve talked before about getting work under control, today we’ll look at 10 more ways to achieve that work-life balance.
1. Don’t always be connected. If you’ve got a Blackberry, a laptop or some other mobile device, you can’t ever get away from work. When you’re out of your office (or your home office), allow yourself to be disconnected. You don’t need to get email all the time, the instant it arrives. It can wait a few hours. When you’re away from your computer, you should allow yourself to live. Let this be your most firm boundary. Even better, unplug your Internet connection when a) you want to get some real work done or b) you are done working for the day.
2. Limit work. You need to set working hours. You can’t be working around the clock, from early morning hours to late at night, or you’ll have no life away from work. So set your hours — when you start and end, when you take lunch, even schedule other breaks. And set your limits to less than you work now. Sure, that’ll mean you’ll have less time to do your work, but that’ll force you to focus on the important tasks and eliminate the less important ones.
3. Make life a priority. What do you want to do besides work? And don’t say Twitter or Digg or YouTube. Something outside of the Internet. Exercise, reading, writing, spending time with family and friends, hobbies, sports, gardening. Whatever it is that you love to do, make it a priority. Schedule time to do it. Don’t allow work to push these priorities back.
4. Batch tasks. You have a dozen small tasks that you do throughout the day. Batch them together, like with like, and do them all at once. Email is a good example. Instead of doing email all day, have specific times when you process and respond to email. Same thing with IM: don’t be available all the time, but only once a day (for example). Same thing with phone calls, and other small tasks you do every day. It’ll save you time and stop your important tasks from being constantly interrupted.
5. Define what you want to do today. Web work is never finished. You could do 100 tasks today, and not be done. You won’t do 100 tasks. You might not even do 10. So no matter how much you do, you won’t be done. Instead of putting yourself on that never-ending treadmill, define a limited number of important things you really want to accomplish today. And focus on those.
6. Limit meetings & communication. Meetings, phone calls, IMs all waste your productive time. Which means that you have to work longer to get as much done. Instead, try to get out of every meeting possible. Most meetings can be accomplished through email. And ask people to email instead of call. Then limit email to twice a day (or once, if you’re brave). Or at most, once an hour, if you need to be connected that often.
7. Do the hard stuff first. Reward yourself after a good day’s work by putting the fun and easy tasks at the end. Start your day with the tasks you know you’ll want to put off, and get them out of the way. That way, you have good stuff at the end of the day, and the hard stuff doesn’t weigh you down all day.
8. Slow down. It may seem weird to read “slow down” as a tip when you want to get your work done so you can do stuff outside of work. But in truth, trying to cram a lot of work into a small amount of time is too stressful. I advocate doing less, but focusing on the important stuff … and doing it slower. Pay attention, enjoy yourself, relax a little. This applies to when you’re not doing work … eating, driving, doing fun stuff, showering. Slow down and pay attention, and life won’t seem a huge rush of tasks, but will become more enjoyable.
9. Block schedule. Schedule your day in blocks, so that it’s compartmentalized and there’s time for everything. A block for the important tasks (Item #5), for the smaller tasks (Item #4), for routine tasks or errands or chores, and for the non-work stuff you really want to do (Item #3).
10. Be firm. Whether it’s with a boss or co-workers or clients, you need to have clear boundaries of your time, and be firm with those boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say no. Make your boundaries clear, and don’t allow them to be violated. This may mean telling people that you’re changing how you do email, or your hours, so that they know what to expect. You may get negative reactions. But be firm, and stick to your guns.