It's more crucial than ever to separate our personal life from our work existence — here's how to do it.
Today, the division between our work and private lives has blurred to the point where there is very little delineation. This was happening even before the pandemic, but in a different way. Back then (try to remember!) our co-workers may have been our wingmen and wingwomen on Saturday nights and we may have occasionally taken our work home at night... but for a lot of people, at least there was a physical separation between work and home. Now, we rarely get to see our colleagues outside of our computer monitors and those virtual meetings take place from our couches, dining tables, beds. (And yes, Zoom fatigue is real!). For those who can't WFH, the commute and staffing situation no doubt means the days are longer and the responsibility pile is higher.
So no matter what you do for a living, you're probably feeling the pressure of always being "on" these days — checking and answering emails at all hours of the day, weekends included. Or not taking advantage of allotted (and earned) vacation time. It takes real awareness and conscious choices to set boundaries for yourself — especially at a time when we need to be grateful that we're employed. Still, establishing healthy boundaries will set you on the path toward achieving your larger, longer-term goals —when the weirdness of our current environment has passed.
These are the practices that work for me; you may want to adopt them for yourself, or modify them to fit your needs and your schedule. Start with just one change — like no phone or email after a certain time at night — and stick with it, and you will find that it has an amazing ripple effect in your life, sparking other new, healthy habits. Then build on this one change as you go.
"Establishing healthy boundaries will set you on the path toward achieving your larger goals."
Cultivate a hobby to restore balance
Rather than stressing about work in your supposed “free time,” or living in a way that makes you feel like you are constantly plugged in and half working, carve out designed non-work time to cultivate a new hobby.
Knitting is a hobby that is fun, relaxing, and productive. It is also meditative, so it’s a great fit for my interests. It’s important to find a hobby that you are actually interested in and that is fun for you. There is no need to stress out about finding a hobby. Keep your eyes and ears open as you go through your day and see where your attention is pulled.
Have meaningful conversations that are not about work
There is so much more to new people you meet, and to longtime friends and family, than what they do at work! Make it a point to engage the people you encounter in conversations that have nothing to do with what they do for a living. Talk about your favorite travel destinations, books you’ve read, movies you’ve seen, causes you are interested in, etc. This is incredibly important for cultivating balance.
Schedule your meditation and movement time
Decide on a time and schedule that is reasonable for your life, whether that is first thing in the morning, before bed, or to break up your work time, and prioritize getting in your daily movement and mediation. You need this time to listen and check in with yourself.
Hang with friends who are different than you
It’s so easy to spend time with the same friends, doing the same things. This is great for comfort and our feeling of chosen family, but it’s also important to spend time with friends who are different than you. Expand your comfort zone by joining groups hosted by people you admire, who are a different race, have different backgrounds and different life experience than you. If everyone you hang around looks like you, thinks like you and does the same things you do, that’s a good clue to expand your circle.
Read books that don’t directly relate to your work
It’s so easy to exclusively consume reading materials about your field of expertise, especially if you enjoy what you do for work. It’s hard not to spend all your reading time adding to your knowledge base. Allow yourself to wander into a new section in your local bookstore and see what pulls you in. Ask people who you respect and are different than you, either by their race, or background, or life experience, what they are reading, and give yourself the pleasure of escaping into and being inspired by a great book.
"Give yourself the pleasure of escaping into and being inspired by a great book."
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Take vacations... or staycations... or daycations
No matter how much you love what you do, taking real time away from your work is essential for your well-being. Whether you can plan a week at the beach, a few days at home or one day to yourself, schedule time away regularly. (Holidays visiting family are wonderful but don’t count in this category.)
Schedule special family and friend dates
Meet a friend for a walk and head in a direction you wouldn’t normally go. Gather your family all together and cook something you’ve never prepared before. Take your family and friends to a local park you haven’t explored. Go to a group dance class, a poetry reading or a town hall with a friend. There is great value in discovering and learning new things with those you love.
Allow yourself a goof-off day or afternoon
We are so good at being productive, but it’s important to remember that giving yourself some time to be unproductive is also useful. Follow your instinct and take a half day, an afternoon or a full day to relax and goof off a bit when you need to. Everything you’ve built won’t disappear if you step away for a while and have some fun. Sneak out for a movie, or take a nap or a nice long midday bath. Hitting the refresh button occasionally is necessary for well-being.
Exercise with friends or family
Exercising with those you care about can be fun and motivating, and keeps you focused on the activity instead of worrying about work. Go for a brisk walk, jog or side-by-side yoga session, or head to a group class. When your workout buddy is your close friend or family member, you both get healthy in the process. (Check out our schedule of live Mindful Movement classes here.)
Regularly revisit your life goals
It’s important to revisit the big reasons you are doing all this in the first place. Do you love what you do for work, or is it a means to an end? Get real with yourself and your life goals, and stay connected to the reason you spend so much time working in the first place. Without this reflection, it’s easy to stay on the hamster wheel and never be satisfied.