I read recently that successful business women manage their lives and time by working “split shifts”. They divide their day into segments, with work holding their attention earlier in the day, a break for dinner, kids, personal appointments, and then back to work later in the day. It sounds like a reasonable strategy, but not all of us can return to work at 8 or 9 at night.
Regardless of whether you start work early, late or both, the challenge remains the same:
When do you start and when do you stop?
In the “old days”, email was snail mail and cell phones were landlines. There was a natural and slower flow to business. But nowadays, technology never turns off and flexible work hours are becoming the norm. We live in an age where the boundary between our personal and professional lives is no longer externally imposed. We need the personal discipline, awareness and courage to impose our own boundaries.
Here are some tips on how to manage your “business hours” when the environment or technology threaten to keep you “in the virtual office” 24/7:
If you work from home, set business hours. Make a commitment to yourself and to others when you are “in” and when you are “gone for the day”. Then stick to it.
If you work in an office, try to leave by the same time every day. Others will get used to you being out of pocket after a set time. If getting away from the office is especially hard for you, schedule an external commitment to get you out of the office. It could be tennis at 6:00 PM or dinner at 7:00 PM.
Do not disturb. Once you’ve decided to quit for the day, set your phone to “do not disturb” or turn it off if necessary. There are very few things that truly need your immediate attention. I’ve always believed that if there really is an emergency, they’ll find you.
Stop when your to-do list is done. Set a list of your goals for the day and work not to add more as the day goes on.
Be fully present. That means no texting clients or colleagues at dinner, or in the evening while with your friends or family. If you need to do more work at home, create a set period of time and go to a separate room. Failing to focus on where you are limits your ability to be present with those you love, which leaves them feeling not valued by you. A quick response to a client or colleague while you’re mentally somewhere else risks giving a less than thoughtful reply.
In today’s world, we need to be stronger advocates for ourselves and our time than ever before. No one else is going to do it for us. So gather up your courage and your personal discipline and find your own boundaries.
Question of the day: What do you do to establish boundaries around your business hours?