Resolving to Set Limits
In an era of instant accessibility, maintaining a work/life balance is increasingly challenging
A few of my professional colleagues e-mail me with work-related messages after midnight. During the week. Often. Sometimes I get the ping of urgent notes at 1, 2 and 3 a.m.
Even if I am awake with a bout of insomnia and checking what just beeped, I don’t answer just then. Because, really?
As my mother used to say, “There’s a time and a place.” And the middle of the night in my dark bedroom is neither the time nor the place to respond to a question about logistics of an upcoming meeting.
I have also learned that responding to an e-mail with emotion — say you are groggy or not thinking clearly — can make you come off as angry or negative, even if you are trying to be candid and funny. And as we have learned in this latest contentious political season, e-mails live forever.
And yes, I do understand that my professional life leaks beyond 5 or 6 p.m. I do start working and answering e-mails sometimes before 7 a.m. when I am on my first cup of hazelnut coffee.
But I have learned the hard way that if I start engaging on business matters far too late or far too early, others think they have access to me 24 hours a day, seven days a week, weekends and holidays included. I also can assume they see me as someone who is so out of control and disorganized that I cannot meet all my obligations in a reasonable amount of time.
That I am a mess.
If you are accessible 24/7 — and I mean those of us who are not surgeons or firefighters who are constantly on call — you are seen as the person who pulls the all-nighters. If you remember what that looked like in college, you will remember that is not a good look.
So one of my key New Year’s resolutions for 2017 is to set limits. Time limits. Build the boundaries where work does not get to interfere.
To that end, I am shutting down e-mail, text and social media access after 6 or 7 p.m., before 7 a.m. and totally off on Saturdays. If I get brave enough, I may add Sundays. But knowing the work I do is mostly deadline-driven, many of my colleagues and editors do sometimes need answers before Mondays. So I oblige.
In the New Year, I am setting up boundaries for my play side as well. I have friends who want to chat in the middle of the day via e-mail. They have a question, so I do my best to answer briefly since they consider it urgent. They send back a joke. Or more questions. And now we are talking a 20-minute exchange. Twenty minutes I don’t have.
If all they want is something that I can answer in a line or two — say the name of a restaurant or the phone number of a friend, I respond. But when it goes deeper into existential questions about the meaning of life, I respond, “I am on deadline.”
So I may come off a little terse. And I apologize for that. Some may even consider my need to compartmentalize my personal and professional lives as a diva-like approach — an indignation that someone would dare to encroach on my privacy. As if I am announcing: See my agent. Contact my assistant. Have my people call your people.
It’s not like that.
In this urgent access age when it seems anyone can reach anyone, anywhere anytime — and this month we have a new president who proves that is true every day on Twitter — I want to draw lines in the sand and stand up for myself and my right to attempt my own life balance.
All work and no play does indeed make me a dull person. But all play and no work makes me unemployable and not able to pay the mortgage. So this year I will be fierce in defense of both my work space and my life space.
I pledge to respond responsibly and promptly to all work-related communications within reasonable work hours. And I will respect the personal lives and privacy of my colleagues everywhere by not reaching out to them after hours or on weekends when I know they are with their families, on vacation or doing whatever the heck they please.
I also pledge to respond to my friends and family in a non-urgent situation when my work hours are over. And I will do so with empathy, not trying to sound like I feel as if I am more important or have bigger things to do.
And in those spaces left over that are not about work or play, I hopefully will have a small, quiet, completed unplugged cubicle just for me.Edit Module