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Easy Steps to Work-Life Balance By Debra A. Dinnocenzo

Knowing when to disconnect, shut it off, unplug, or walk away from work is one of the essential keys to work/life balance for harried and overworked people.

When was the last time you completely left work behind? How frequently do you take work home, check e-mail or voice mail from home, or take your work with you on vacation? Do you feel you can’t afford to not do these things? What’s the real impact on your personal sense of balance when you are consistently making work your top priority?

The work many of us do is extremely demanding of both our time and energy. In many cases, you may allow the intrusion and justify the cost on a personal level for real or anticipated gains on the career level. But way too often, we’re sacrificing family time, exercise, or much-needed personal time without making conscious choices about the implications and trade-offs.

Many of us feel stressed and overworked because we are overconnected. As a result of the onslaught of information, along with the never-ending ways that people can access us anytime of the day or night, we feel perpetually connected to our work. Think about the number of technology resources you now use that were not commonplace just a few years ago. Cell phones, pagers, e-mail, instant messaging, online chats, voice mail, call forwarding, wireless Internet pagers…. the list just keeps growing. How much is enough of these technology tools and the obsessive connection to our work?! And how do we begin to reestablish those important boundaries between our work and our personal lives?

In our book, "Dot Calm: The Search for Sanity in a Wired World," we provide a wealth of “how to” tips for managing the work-life challenge:

The first step: JUST SAY NO!—and draw clear boundaries. This takes on multiple forms:

  • Turn off your cell phone when you shouldn’t be interrupted.

  • Don’t take a cell phone to an appointment or when you are focusing on someone else.

  • Don’t give out your cell phone number. Use it only for outgoing calls.

  • Screen calls using caller ID.

  • Block out time when you will not be interrupted.

  • Hold certain times “sacred.” If you make a commitment for a social or family event, honor that commitment without interruptions.

  • Use the “delete” option early and often.

  • Arrange for calls from the office only in cases of emergency.

  • Maintain your commitment to “work-free” vacations.

  • Make sure you are clear about what you value and what is important to you.

  • Let voice mail or the answering machine take your calls.

  • On your voice mail greeting, be clear about when you will and will not be available. Update that message regularly.

  • Exercise to burn off stress—and don’t talk on your cell phone or into your dictation machine while exercising!

Obviously, some intrusions of work into personal life are unavoidable, depending upon the nature of your work. If you manage a nuclear power plant, are a member of an organ transplant team, or have on-call responsibilities as part of your job, then some intrusions go with the territory. However, more often than not, we let work seep into our personal lives even when there’s not a bonafide emergency or time-urgent crisis. We’ve become so accustomed to the ever-presence of our work that we’ve unconsciously allowed further intrusions that have, in many cases, become unreasonable.

Our research involved hundreds of interviews and surveys to learn how busy people are achieving balance and integrating overwork solutions into the lives. There are five key solutions that are working for these people, some of whom work long hours, receive over 300 e-mail each day, travel extensively, and have families they treasure. Here are a few specific steps you can take for each of these solutions:

1. PRIORITIZE AND ORGANIZE

  • Know what you need to accomplish and focus on that.

  • Maintain a firm commitment to being organized and used systems that support that.

  • Ignore those e-mails and voice mails that are not really important.

2. TAKE DAILY “TIME-OUTS”

  • Take a nap, a walk, or a mini-meditation break with a few minutes of silence.

  • Maintain daily rituals, such as teatime, meditation, prayer, exercise.

  • Leave the office—and leave your work there.

3. TAKE MINI SABBATICALS.

  • Enjoy a weekend trip with family or friends.

  • Schedule game night (or movie night or pizza night) with your family.

  • Plan a work-free family day at least one weekend each month.

4. NURTURE THE SOUL AND MIND.

  • Read a good book (unrelated to your work).

  • Participate in community service activity with your family.

  • Go to a movie, the theater, the opera, or the museum.

5. NOURISH THE BODY.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Eat and sleep well.

  • Get a massage.

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