Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Workplace Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting. It's 100% free, no registration required.

As a community manager for a large internet company, I find myself often working what most would consider too many hours a day. Indeed, several of my friends have linked me to videos such as this one, and others have encouraged me to find a better work-life balance.

However, I have trouble pulling myself away from my work. For one, I enjoy what I do. For another, our site is 24/7/365, meaning our users don't stop using our sites. In fact, a former executive at our company told me this rather directly, though in reference to a different situation.

I've taken some steps, such as creating barriers for myself. I do not log onto the sites from some of my personal devices, such as my tablet computer, or my personal laptop. I also don't take my work laptop home during the week. I worry that this isn't enough, and that my friends are finding my increasingly unable to do fun things....and are finding me boring -- I feel like I probably talk/complain about work too much.

I ask because I feel, to a degree, the demands of my position are starting to affect my personal life. How can I find a better work-life balance? Am I on the right track by setting up barriers for myself? How can my employer help me find this balance?

share|improve this question
2  
Bear in mind that what's "better" needs to be defined by you - not your friends, your partner, your family, or your peers. You have to decide how much work is reasonable. It might be more than everyone else thinks is reasonable - and that's ok. –  Scott Wilson Apr 10 '12 at 20:12
2  
Do you have kids/a partner/pets/plants that you are neglecting? Or just looking for balance? –  JBRWilkinson Apr 10 '12 at 20:54
    
Just seeking balance. And because I haven't seen some of my friends in a very long time. And because I read a lot, but I haven't found the time to do lots of other things I love(d) to do. –  Aarthi Apr 10 '12 at 21:06
3  
Eh, you mean this large internet company? I guess we could help by telling you to go away if we see you here out of hours :) –  Benjol Apr 12 '12 at 8:43
5  
It's interesting that you are a SE employee, and you ask question here. –  tactoth Jun 13 '12 at 2:29

9 Answers 9

up vote 12 down vote accepted

A good balance is one that involves you Leaving Work Problems at Work and Personal Problems at Home as much as possible per the agreed upon terms of employment.

I am single handedly responsible for 24/7 x 365 uptime on multiple web applications where I work so clearly this is not possible all the time, but the general rule of thumb for me is that if:

  1. It cannot wait until tomorrow
  2. System outage that requires your immediate intervention
  3. Required of you to address from home immediately per the terms of your employment.

then it is something you should do from home. Otherwise put your laptop away and go out to dinner with friends!

share|improve this answer
1  
I disagree that a strict division between time at work and time at home is the only solution to the life balance problem. (However, it definitely is a solution, so no downvote.) –  weronika Apr 12 '12 at 2:02
    
@weronika Certainly you can agree with the opposite of the statement to leave Personal Problems at Home? If you are going through a nasty divorce and you bring your emotional baggage with you to the office then it will certainly affect your work. –  maple_shaft Apr 12 '12 at 11:19
    
The OP's problem is that he has trouble pulling himself away from work, not that his productivity is suffering from anything, so that example isn't very relevant. In general, what I mean is that I don't think there's anything wrong with mixing home and work somewhat (leaving early to spend time with friends and then working from home at random hours, etc), as long as the total hours devoted to work/home stay reasonable - so I suppose I meant more work/personal issues than large problems per se. Perhaps I misinterpreted your answer. –  weronika Apr 12 '12 at 16:23
    
@weronika - I think there is a difference with doing some work "after" being with friends and checking email that could wait while you're with them. –  JeffO Jan 2 '13 at 21:22

There are probably many good (and possibly correct) answers for this, but I'll suggest an answer in one particular area — productivity.

Why

I have found that I am able to "disconnect" from work while at home when I feel that I've been very productive during the day.

Productivity is not just about whether you worked hard or not — you are obviously working very hard. It's also about feeling that you accomplished all the right things.

I believe that the inability to disconnect comes from the friction of feeling like something is not done, or needs attention. You will feel stress until you find a way to reduce that friction.

How

A system like Getting Things Done would help this. There are other similar systems that center around one principle: Make sure every input you have is accounted for so that you reduce all friction when you need to work (and free up your brain to relax when you aren't working!)

In short, any time an input comes in (something you have to do), write it down in an "inbox" Keep a master list of all the projects you have going, and review them regularly to make sure it's all there. At the beginning of a day, go through all of the things that need doing and pick the ones you can do. Then, do them.

In order to help you disconnect, make it a habit to clear your inboxes at the end of the day:

  • Never leave email inboxes with items that you still need to think about.
  • Never leave post-its or "read later" items that haven't been filed or dealt with.
  • Check all your important sources of inputs once more before you go.

You can find a lot more help on this topic at Productivity SE

If that doesn't work...

If you have done all the right things during a day, and you've organized all the inputs into future to-dos, your only responsibility listening for a call or email that there is an emergency.

If you are responsible for more than just emergencies outside of work hours, or you still just can't disconnect? You probably need an assistant or a new job. There's only so much you can do!

share|improve this answer

You need to find things that replace the satisfaction and stimulation you get from whatever you are doing at work.

From my point of view, as someone who used to spend a lot of weekends programming, it was mostly because I didn't have anything else I liked doing more than I enjoyed programming... and as a result I would burn myself out severely on it, and yes, even become unbearable to other people.

If doing your work is highest on your activity chart then I think it could suggest that you need to keep hunting for other activities until you find one that really strikes a chord with you. And it sounds like that might be something you haven't tried yet.

I would recommend something that involves being inconvenient to an electrical socket or cell phone tower.

share|improve this answer

I'd offer it would help to be aware of the tradeoffs between home and work.

I've noticed myself, that I'll stay at work doing something work-related and interesting, because I'm not happy about some facet of my home life - maybe my house isn't clean, maybe I'm fighting with the significant other, maybe I just don't want to deal with some other fear, concern, frustration or something.

Also - look for the difference between work that must be done right now vs. what can be delayed. Chances are you're understaffed, but that won't change if you are catching all the dropped balls - you're going to have to leave some things undone before you can get help. As a manger, it'll always be your job to find the less important stuff that you can ignore. WARNING = the less important stuff may be the most fun stuff.

Lastly - it's also time to get in consultation with your management. They probably love the work you are doing, but don't realize that you might be on the cusp of burning out. As you start to consider changes to your work life, you probably need to keep them in the loop. "Yo, FYI, I'm going to start slacking off" is probably not the right tone. But "hey, we need to talk, I've been working mega overtime, and I will burn out soon if I don't make some changes - can we figure out a clear priority system so I don't loose track of anything critical to the business" is a much more useful tone...

share|improve this answer

However, I have trouble pulling myself away from my work.

I know exactly what you mean.

As others have suggested already, the goal is to achieve a life balance which suits your needs and objectives. This can be hard to do, particularly when things need fixing right now this instant.

Having worked on maintaining a web service whos customers were online during the middle of the night, I deduced the following as simple rules:

  • Talk to your employer about flexible hours. If you are required to work support over a weekend unexpectedly, rather than claiming overtime, ask for time off in lieu.
  • If your employer agrees to the above, excellent, but if not, decide what you feel a reasonable commitment is out of hours.
  • Stick to those rules. Barriers are a good idea and many people have suggested work/home issue separation, but I'd go one further: if you can, only do work at work and only do home at home. Obviously, this is not always a practical arrangement, but if you're breaking it, that's the time to say "I am crossing a boundary: am I ok with this?"
  • Realise that in some jurisdictions, you are entitled to reasonable and necessary time off for things like medical appointments etc. Take it.
  • Take holiday. All of it. Even if you have no plans.

Luckily, my employer was quite flexible about my working varied hours, on the understanding that when they needed me, I would endeavour to be there, but then when I needed to do something, I also could.

If your employer is putting pressure on you to work long hours without overtime or time off in lieu, this may be a breach of your contract and may also be illegal. I would suggest getting advice over the internet on such matters is not the best idea! Usually, if you feel you cannot talk to HR, for example in the UK we provide something called the Citizens Advice Burea which provide impartial advice and contacts.

share|improve this answer
1  
I couldn't agree more about taking all your holiday entitlement. If you don't take it, you are unlikely to be able to carry it over to the next year. –  ChrisF Apr 10 '12 at 20:34

First you have to become aware that working more than 40 hours a week is not productive over the long term. First, you get physically exhausted and it will take longer to get work accomplished than if you refreshed yourself. Further, it will affect your health and probably fairly soon.

Also, it disguises the need for more people to carry the load to higher management. The only way to get more people is to not be able to handle the load.

Working too much voluntarily is also a great way to hide from yourself when other parts of your life are not working. It is an excuse not to try. (Not to try to have a boyfriend, not to try to write a novel, not to try to make new friends, not to try to fix your marriage, not to try to improve your child rearing, etc.) It means you need to look at your own priorities and find out what is really bothering you about your life and fix that.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for overwork affecting your health. On top of my full time job committment, off hours support, working on a small side business and not getting enough sleep, I came down with a bad case of shingles. It certainly can have an effect on your health. –  maple_shaft Apr 12 '12 at 11:24

You have already identified the need to achieve some level of balance in you life, which is an essential first step in the process.

I found that being a workaholic was creating significant issues for my relationships and health as I moved through my thirties; what is sustainable when you are at the start of your career with little or no consequence becomes more challenging.

Workaholics can easily get trapped in a "stress cycle" - not working causes them "stress spikes", which when addressed by working builds up the background stress. Their stress levels impact on their communication and productivity, which leads to a new crisis, and another "stress spike."

Based on what I went through to resolve this issue I would suggest:

Develop an understanding of why you work like this.

You are driven to work hard in order to satisfy some psychological need that you have; its not a bad thing, but you need to understand it more to be able to control it. I found the PCM (Process Commuication Model) ugely helpful in understanding my own "workaholic" nature, what the negative impacts could be and how to manage it. Other instruments like MBTI can also be helpful to understand what drives you, as well as the kinds of things that can help you relax and address the same need.

Go Cold Turkey

Thinking of your work habits as an addiction is useful, as it makes you realise that change will be difficult. In my case, I created a work-home separation first of all - with a 100% cut-off between work and home activities. This can be hard in a mobile age - seperate phones, decoupling e-mail addresses and keeping "work" and "life" social media seperate is not always easy, but without doing this you will be sucked back into the "work vortex", especially at first.

Fill The Gap

If work has been filling up your life, then when it stops, you'll have a big gap to be filled. One of the things I was advised to do to reduce stress was to schedule 20 minutes a day of time to be wasted doing something fun, which helped. I also ended up putting on weight, because in the evenings I would get restless, and eat snacks instead of working. So - you will need to find something constructive to do instead of work.

Something that involves physical activity is great as this is the only way of really dealing with stress, and going "cold turkey" is stressful!

Things like scheduled classes or clubs (gym, dance, martial arts, tennis, bowling, group cycle, sailing) set for an hour or so after work officially ends can be very effective, especially with friends. A regular commitment where you let people down if you don't go can be a good motivator.

However - you can't do this all the time, so you need a few other things. I ended up making a list of the things I used to like doing, and the things I wanted to learn and never did.

This lead me to some interesting evening classes, and to take up the guitar, tennis, running, swimming and salsa dancing. I also read again, like I used to.

When you are better...

I have been "clean" of my workaholic nature for about five years; my career and workplace satisfaction have sky rocketed and frankly, I'm a much better person to know. I do let work into "my" time occasionaly now, but it has to be when it is critical to the team in a strategic sense, not a tactical win. I always ensure I "timebox" the work, and don't intermingle the work activity with other "home" actvities, to maintain the separation.

share|improve this answer

How can I find a better work-life balance?

You may have to take some time to schedule/structure your personal life until you get in the habit of doing non-work related things. Go to a movie with a friend to have something to talk about. Join some type of club that has regular meetings (You may like a book club.). The key is to improve the other facets of your life. There is no magic number of hours per day you should work. Sometimes answering an email of a friend can be more stressful than work.

Am I on the right track by setting up barriers for myself?

Barriers are a good thing because you need down time. I think you should also insert some time at work as well. Force yourself to leave your desk for lunch. Start to pay more attention to your friends and be aware of you topics of conversation. Some will let you fall in the trap of talking about work all the time; encourage them to stop you. Focus on the other subjects you have in common. Or maybe you should get involved with some of their likes, hobbies, etc.

How can my employer help me find this balance?

I've appreciated the simple gesture from a supervisor to just tell you to go home. Deadlines and putting out fires that require over-time should not be the norm. Good bosses make sure their people don't get burned-out, but some companies create a culture of sticking around after hours where everyone is afraid to be the first to leave.

share|improve this answer

How can I find a better work-life balance?

You may want to consider what kind of structure do you want under you in terms of managing this community. Perhaps it may be better to assign people to monitor specific hours to get coverage rather than spread yourself so thin that you may wind up with burn out or other situations that could be really bad for both your employer and yourself. Seth Godin's book "Linchpin" discusses some of this if you want a book reference.

Am I on the right track by setting up barriers for myself?

While this is a start, I'd be tempted to consider the question of how well could you take someone new and get them up to speed on what you do if your company wanted to promote you into a new position? That is what I'd see as a way to know that you are moving up the chain rather than merely surviving.

How can my employer help me find this balance?

I'd probably consider a few different ideas here:

  1. Service Level Agreements - How fast are responses expected? If you are on-call, how responsive are you expected to be? These are worth nailing down both as performance metrics for your position as well as to help give you an idea of what is the company really expecting compared to what you do.

  2. Succession planning - The idea here is how hard would it be to bring up someone new to be the community manager on a night shift or if you wanted to take a 2 week vacation? There is something to be said for if you take a vacation, have an illness or something else that makes it difficult for you to work for a period of time and the company has to figure out what to do.

  3. While these are ideas now, when can these be reviewed and next steps be addressed? The key here is that while this is an issue now, it is likely going to remain an issue and so it is worth reviewing periodically to see what was done, how well did that work, what are new things to try and keep things progressing.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.