THERE’S A REASON WHY “WORK HOURS” ARE A THING
Nowadays, just about everything is a competition, including the necessary and unnecessary. The world becomes increasingly global by the day, with peoples and cultures becoming more connected. In the business world, entire industries become redundant overnight, due to the power of digitalization and technological innovations. Everything has become unbelievably fast, and everyone wants to do their absolute best to stay relevant and maintain a source of living. We get that. But what happens when you never stop working?
Rapid Changes and Long Hours
Due to the rapid changes continuously occurring, it is obvious why many people will spend more hours of their lives working, forgetting to take much needed breaks between work and maintain a balance with their personal lives. Professionals such as lawyers and doctors (who are almost always in need) go as far as spending up to 12-13 hours working in a single day; a fact that sounds unhealthy as well as scary. Many governments have been forced to create policies that reduce the weekly working hours of professions like Medicine, due to the multiple incidents of fatigue in doctors, which in turn affected the patients they were treating.
In tech and other heavily remote-based industries, the imbalance is even clearer. Since most professionals in these industries already work from home, they have basically taken their work home, and find even less reason to take any significant breaks between work. It will be understandably difficult to leave work at work, when work is at home, and literally staring you right in the face.
But important work or not, your physical and mental health remains top priorities, because you simply cannot function properly without them. There is a need to unplug once a while and experience life as best as we can. Understandably, work may be demanding at times, and achieving this may be difficult. Here, we provide four important steps to successfully maintain relative balance between work and other aspects of our lives.
Define Your ‘After Hours’
Defining “after hours” really depends on the mode of work adopted by a person in the first place. With most “9-5” jobs, the working period is pretty much defined already. If you have flexible working hours with your employer, you will have to think and decide when you will get on and get off work, every single day. Without such intentional effort, it is very possible to get carried away while working, losing track of time.
When it comes to jobs without any definitive “work hours”, like the software developers, entertainers, and fashion designers, deciding on your after hours will have to be more intentional. Many of the persons in these fields work based on contracts, rather than fixed, traditional “9-5” employment. The lines between working hours and personal time are always blurry because the rates at which the professionals get contracted are highly irregular and unpredictable. For professionals in this category, one approach is to think about the number of hours you want to spend on personal activities like family, friends, sleep, laundry, exercise, etc. Determine the least number of hours you want to spend on them every week and try your possible best to stick to them. These will be your “off hours”, rather than “after hours”.
Have Clarity in Your Work
Sometimes, defining your on and off hours will not be enough in successfully leaving your work at work. It is important that you have mental clarity as regards the scope of your work, whenever you’re working. Be specific about what needs to be done and when you intend to complete it. It’s not just about organization but more about easing your mind. One way to achieve this is having a written down list of tasks to be performed within a day, a week, or a more extended period. A simple notebook, a task management software, or a project management system can help with noting down tasks and assigning the time within which they should be completed. This saves us the time we always spend mentally separating our tasks and determining what activity comes next.
The list should be as planned out as possible. Set aside time to go through pending tasks, time to prepare reports for completed tasks, time to take on new projects, time to attend important meetings, and assign a specific – or at least estimated – period of time for each activity, and your day as a whole. This planning makes you worry less about the enormity of the volume of your work, or the possibility of missing a deadline.
Finally, have a wrap-up at the end of the workday, to go through your activities so far, and the pending ones at the end of the day (if any). Ensure that you have covered the activities in your planner for that day, and take a quick look through your emails to ensure that you are not missing out on any last-minute information.
Clearly Communicate With Your Colleagues
Depending on the job situation, you can definitely set boundaries with your colleagues with regards to your time on and off work. For example, a note saying “from 7pm, do not contact me for work-related matters, unless it’s an emergency” is a clear communication of your after hours at work, and gives your colleagues a clear message of when you need your time to yourself. You will therefore be justified in missing or ignoring messages received by your email after 7pm. Sometimes, you really don’t have to clearly state it out in words; your actions can set the tone and send the message. When your colleagues realize that they never hear back from you between 7pm and 8am the next morning, they stop expecting replies within that period.
Complete Your Work At ‘Work’
Failing to stick to this particular step is what truly destroys any plans you have to leave work at work. It also renders the previous steps redundant. Sadly, this is the step that most people find themselves failing to comply with, from time to time.
While at the office, many people decide that the later hours of the day will be when they can focus properly on work. They stay around till late into the night for the quiet and isolation because it works better for them. This is usually a bad idea, unless your own “off hours” are earlier in the day, where you tend to your personal affairs. Otherwise, spending up to 12 hours at work will in the long run become counterproductive. Taking some of your tasks home and completing them right before bed is no different. In fact, it may be worse if done constantly, as your mind will continue to see your home as a place to work, which may be the ultimate imbalance. You are also not being fair to your family or your private life. Shouldn’t they get your equal or at least a quarter of your attention? Showing that your partner, children, friends, or family matter just as much as that report you need to have done by Friday is vital to keeping healthy levels of trust and appreciation in your relationships.
It is a great facade that we have been made to believe over time, that the more time you spend at work, the more productive you are. But productivity is more about precision than length. We need sufficient mental breaks to do our best work, allowing our minds to refresh and re-energise before a new phase of work begins. While we may never eliminate work-related thoughts from crossing our minds even while taking personal time, sticking to the steps discussed will go a long way in giving us the necessary balance we need.