There will always be times when we need to work overtime to get something finished, or because we take on responsibilities for a colleague who’s on leave, or because we’re trying to get ahead of the game for some reason.
But even without such triggers, many of us find ourselves blurring the lines between work time and down time, which is easy enough to do when your home space is your work space.
If you’re the type of person who tends to find themselves working longer hours, or doing little bits of work when you have spare moments on the weekend, these tips might help you to keep the boundaries between work and personal time nice and clear.
1. Track your hours.
For many, setting aside eight consecutive hours a day in which to work can be a problem — virtual meetings with team members in other time zones, varying deadlines, and other pressures can see us keep some pretty irregular hours, which can be difficult to reconcile with a “typical” nine-to-five day — especially if your employer has certain expectations of your availability during the day.
Rather than setting a work day schedule, you might find it more workable to track your hours to ensure that, overall, you’re working an appropriate amount of hours, and keeping aside enough personal time for yourself.
2. Protect your personal time.
It can be a challenge to keep your down time as down time, but it’s important if you’re going to recharge the batteries and be at the top of your game when you’re at work.
Value your personal time. If you track your time, you might be equally able to block out hours for personal time around the work time. Try to pursue interests that take you away from the computer, leave your PDA and work phone at home, or simply make a rule with yourself that you won’t turn to work during your personal time (incentives and rewards, like going to the movies, or paying a visit to friends, may help you kick the habit).
3. Shut the door.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a separate room as your home office, keep your work things in it, and shut the door on it when you’re having personal time. This physical indicator that you’re not at work can make a big difference to your state of mind, and your ability to let go of work at the end of the day, without your having to leave the house.
If you don’t have a separate room for your home office, you might try to physically dislocate yourself from your work in some other way: pack your laptop and other work tools like diaries and PDAs in a drawer, or cover your desk with a drop cloth, for example.
4. Use triggers to tell yourself when it is work time.
If you want to go all-out to differentiate your work time from your personal time, dressing in certain clothes, playing certain music, or having certain objects on your desk during work time can help you form mental associations about the way things are during work hours. They can help you to define the “work you” separately from the “at home you”.
For example, my workstation doubles as a desk in my house. When I’m at work, my desk looks a certain way: it’s littered with papers, my phone, pens and reference books. The reference books, in particular, tell me it’s work time. When it’s not work time, they live in a cupboard, which frees up the desk for other, personal pursuits.
5. Get outside motivation.
I’m sure that someone close to you would love to help you delineate work from personal time. Ask those people for their help — make plans to spend some of your down time with them, or if you’re getting particularly obsessive about work, ask them to tell you when you start talking or thinking about — or doing — work in your designated personal time.
Consider taking up a new hobby, sport, or other pursuit in your non-work time. Taking your mind off work and applying it to other things might take some practice, but it’ll be worth it.
What are your tips for delineating your work time from your personal time?