Sometimes it is difficult to make the transition from professional life to family life. You'll find yourself thinking about a big project while playing with your kids, or shooting emails on the weekends when you said you wouldn't. I often swear I'll dock my phone when I'm home, resisting the urge to check email around the clock. Then, as soon as I'm on the school pick-up line or sitting on a bench in the park, I'm on it, scrolling through my inbox, sending quick replies, suddenly stifling work issues on what I promised would be my "overdue." I slap on my kids while writing emails. I only half listen to my husband trying to write a new pitch. I always feel like I have one foot in both worlds.
We might say we want a balanced life, where work and home don't mix, but our actions often say otherwise. At work, we check Facebook and scroll through Instagram, our minds drifting to happy hours and weekends. On our personal time, we get to check emails or make changes to a nagging project. When we're meant to be present with our loved ones, we're only halfway there.
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Our personal lives struggle when we are constantly brought to work. It's something we're all aware of, and it's a dilemma we culturally strive to rectify:how to create a work environment that supports better family life. No one wants to get distracted by unfinished business when it's supposed to be out of time. No one should waste their free time because they're stressed out about everything on their plate at work. But there's another side to this work-life balance that we don't often deal with – that our work suffers when we don't give it 100% too.
As much as we like to pretend we're overworked and have no time for ourselves, that narrative isn't always true.
The truth is, as much as we like to pretend we're overworked and have no time for ourselves, the narrative isn't always true. How many of us start the workday by diving into our toughest projects, never losing sight of when we start until when we finish? For whole days of 8, 10 or 12 hours? Little to none.
A more likely scenario is walking into the office, checking emails, and scrolling through the news. You start working, then you run into a little problem, something you could solve with some mental toughness, but instead you decide to hit the vending machine and grab a snack, maybe catch up a colleague while you are standing. You have a meeting coming up, and the tough stuff isn't worth tackling, so bide your time with other small tasks that take less mental energy. After the meeting, you have lunch and then try to come back to it when you get back, but that's easier said than done. Maybe you check your email again or make a phone call. At this point, there isn't much time left to get into a fluid state with the project you originally planned to tackle for the day, so you fill the time with more peripheral work. And because it's late afternoon, you find yourself distracted by thoughts of what's for dinner or plans for the night. You end the day feeling like you're going non-stop, but not much has been accomplished.
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The average workday probably includes a lot less “work” than we think. We take lots of breaks, socialize, daydream, check social media. Although we have periods of concentrated work, they are fewer and farther apart than we would like to admit. The throughput state where we reach our maximum productivity? We don't spend enough time there, which is why we spend so many of our hours off the clock with our minds on work matters.
Giving 100% at work is not easy. It takes practice to overcome the discomfort of taking on a challenge instead of giving in to the lure of a “mental break” by stepping out or changing tasks. It takes discipline to dive deep into your work instead of dithering over email for hours. The payoff, however, is worth it. When you learn to commit to giving it your all at work, it suddenly becomes so much easier to do the same in your personal life.
Working mindfully and free from distractions can give us permission to enjoy our home lives more . We can leave work at the door if we've given it our all at work, because we know we can tackle any unfinished business with renewed energy and focus the next day. We don't leave our workday with feelings of guilt dragging us back, because if you haven't wasted your time, there's nothing to feel guilty about.
When it's time to work, work. When it's time for family, be there with them.
Even for those of us who don't do conventional 9-to-5 jobs, it's still easier to transition from work to staff by being mindful and focused during our designated work time. Instead of checking email every hour, I can give myself a few pre-determined hours a day to wipe everything out. When working from home, I can lock my office door, avoid the urge to "check on" everyone, and get down to business.
When it's time to work, work. When it comes time for family, be present with them. We must always go all out, no matter what the task. Giving more attention to all areas of our lives makes them more satisfying and easier to turn off when the time comes.
Related: 7 tips for a healthy work-life balance