We are often advised to switch off work phone and work email while we are back at home. Family members have appointed themselves as the ever-alert police to remind you on holidays and vacation that work is to be kept away. Some employees find it their moral duty to remind their boss that weekends, vacations and time beyond office hours are their family time. And so on… There are a few managers who are either poor in planning or have an obsession to work beyond office hours or believe that they need to overdrive their teams to set an example and set a pace in the team. So, we see interesting patterns on both sides.
Yes, it is true that our so-called personal time and so-called work hours have got integrated into just one thing, that is ‘time’. That is the reality and we cannot run away from it. In spite of being away from our workstation, we check emails, answer phones, prepare to-do list, initiate conversations and think about things at work. Do these things affect our health? Do these impact our family? Do these interfere with the time that we spend with our loved ones? Yes! Yes! Yes! Is this a desirable state of affairs in anyone’s life?
We know that our employer cannot take care of our health, our family and our legacy. We need to assume responsibility of these. Many people find no time in their day to take care of these and hence, believe that they need to switch off once they leave the door steps of their employer. This is merely a dream because it is impossible to remain a part of the system and not follow its norms. Rather it creates more stress due to the continuous friction between what one would like to do and what is expected of one. So what does one do if one decides to stay as a member of the system?
Firstly, one has to learn to travel on a road with high traffic. If we live in a city with high density of population and it has inadequate road infrastructure, we will face traffic and delays. Current business environment involves a lot of communication – the frequency, number of channels, the content and to add to this, the anxiety levels of our stakeholders are making things worse. We tend to lose focus and become inefficient. It is not rare that five unexpeted tasks land up on the table while one is trying to prepare something for the end-customer of the business. These unexpected tasks could be something from the boss, a phone call from another anxious customer, an email ridden with emotion from one of your best performing member in your team and so on. Many of these tasks take away the focus from the first deliverable and we attend to the rest. The turnaround time goes up and it leads to another set of non-value-adding tasks. Can we stay focused on just one thing and complete it before we address another? Can we remove all distractions – emails, sms, phone calls, whatsapp messages, hangouts and various other communication devices? Work-Life-Balance will automatically get better!
Secondly, one has to plan adequately. Most people these days do not have a plan for the day and take things as they come. Hence, they create a lot of pressure on the system which they belong to. Teams must get into the habit of making daily plans and support one another to achieve the plan rather than starting the day with no plans or very generic plan items. This calls for rigour, calmness and thinking which many people seem to forget these days in our so-called busy life! When there is a goal, one subconsciously works towards it. Life gets more organized and tasks get completed in more predictable fashion than it is today. Stress reduces. One doesn’t have to swicth off the mobile phone after office hours.
Last but not the least, it is about setting expectations with the stakeholders one works with. At times, people get very worried if their call is not answered or email is not acknowledged at a speed that they desire. They get upset and throw their negative energy into the system. It is important to set the expectations mutually so that the stakeholders and you are on the same page. The speed of execution, the frequency of reporting and the norms around action need to be clearly understood and aligned. Life gets easy!
So, my formula for life is to focus, plan and set expectations. I balance a variety of tasks on my table : some of them relate to life at work and some to life at home. I cannot address all of them equally well. But, I am not worried and tense; neither do I think that switching off my work phone and emails is desirable! Come on, that’s a part of my life and I’m proud of it!