The Work-Life Balance Experiment
Published: April 29, 2016
Author: Soula Yannaras
This past week I decided to partake in a digital detox. Does that mean I purged my life of all things tech and ran to hug a tree? While I did actually hug a redwood tree during the week, I didn’t shun all digital ties to the outside world. The call of off the grid living with homemade kombucha and morning bikram yoga was strong, but I wasn’t quite ready to toss my laptop and set fire to my iPad. But I did need to unplug temporarily so that I could prioritize and find balance at work and at home.
Why? Well, over the past few weeks, I noticed that I was frequently checking emails while out to dinner or missing important moments because I was too focused on confirming my calendar appointments for the week. I was anxious if my phone was ever out of arm’s reach and I couldn’t check Asana. Was it because I couldn’t finish my work when I was in the office? On the contrary, I completed my tasks at work, but I still felt the need to find more work to keep myself plugged in. Now, I’m not advocating for less professional initiative or dedication to the job, but I am realizing that it’s okay to put the phone away and to swap the Apple Watch for an analog watch sometimes.
My goal this past week was to revamp my work life and home life so that I could find the balance my life so desperately lacked. It would be hypocritical of me to tell a team that they needed to have a work-life balance when I frequently toed the line of imbalance.
With the help of copious amounts of coffee and the dulcet tones of Bruce circa 1984, here’s what I came up with:
The Rules for the Detox:
- No technology at the dinner table—no food photos for Instagram, and no email correspondence
- No iPhone or laptop in bed—goodbye nighttime Netflix binges, hello sleep
- No Apple Watch on my morning beach runs—I made this more challenging by changing the rule to no Apple Watch unless I was in the office (it’s much more discreet to have during a meeting than a phone)
- No TV or iPad usage while simultaneously finishing a work project at home—set work time means no work seeping through the rest of my night’s plans
- The Bluetooth connection between my phone and car must be disconnected when taking a car trip with additional passengers—no temptation to check emails at a stoplight, emphasis on human interaction
In addition to the Detox Rules, here are the steps I took to create balance in the office and at home:
- Designate Home Office Hours
While I realize there will be exceptions to this, I do find that having a set time to work at home keeps me from constantly checking Gmail, Asana, GCal, etc. I know that there is a distinction between my time to be enjoying my life on the coast and my time to work outside of the office.
- Practice Mindfulness
I found it difficult to disconnect because my mind has a tendency to jump easily from task to task. Periods of meditation and guided breathing help to reduce my mental wandering and keep me focused on a task at hand. In the life of a project manager, this is exceptionally difficult because of the amount of steps involved in overseeing a project. Bonus: add a scented candle for multi-sensory relaxation.
- Take Weekend Trips
I’m blessed to work for a company that offers unlimited PTO, but that doesn’t mean I can pack up and fly to another country for two weeks every other month. Traveling is a passion of mine, and weekend trips are perfect for satiating my hunger for adventure. I made it a goal of mine to visit at least one new place over the weekend. Whether that meant a road trip to Strawberry, CA, or a visit to a new Santa Cruz Mountain winery, I had to experience one new trip every weekend.
I am not contesting the merits of a full work day, but rather I’m suggesting ways to make your work day less mentally draining. It is entirely possible to have a busy day without burning out (yes, I do understand that there are exceptions). The 3 pm midday crash is usually a sign of a poor work-life balance.
- Personalize the Desk Space
Unless I’m planning an event, I spend most days at my desk or in a conference room. I needed to create a space that helped my productivity without squashing my creativity. Staring at dual monitors without any color or any sort of personalization would cause me to lose focus because of the monotony. I love tea and hot sauce, so I added an emergency bottle of Tabasco and my own personal tea room selection of my current favorite teas. Simple, but effective.
- Appreciate Coffee & Tea breaks
At our San Mateo office, our kitchen has a small bistro table in the corner of the room. When I’m booked in meetings all day, that unsophisticated table becomes my personal oasis. A simple change in scenery while enjoying a quick cup of coffee or tea helps me mentally break up the day and keep my mind refreshed.
- Get Up and Move
I am a firm believer in taking a walk during the day. The office will not fall apart if you take a quick 10-minute jaunt around the building or around the block. It’s important for your mental and physical health to get the heart pumping and do something active, especially if you sit at a desk or around a conference table all day.
The first day was the most difficult for me. Without my Apple Watch permanently attached to my wrist, I felt lost. I was so used to the pleasant chirp my watch made when I received and email or text that I kept looking down at my wrist to see if it ran out of battery or check if I truly heard a notification, only to remember that I wasn’t wearing it. Apple had successfully turned me into the Silicon Valley version of Pavlov’s dog.
By the end of the week, I felt like I truly accomplished something. On Friday, a coworker asked me what I did the previous night and I was actually able to give a detailed response rather than a nonchalant pleasantry because I was engaged in my surroundings and not half-focused on work and the evening’s activities. At work I treated my time in the office with greater care, and I found myself working more efficiently than I could have anticipated. Without the crutch of non-stop work at home, I needed to utilize my time in the office better.
Working until you burn out does not make you a better employee. It makes you a liability that will potentially crash and burn at any point due to exhaustion, stress, etc. There’s a difference between being an effective and dedicated employee and being an overworked and overstressed time bomb.
Overall, I’d say that my digital detox was a success. Maybe it’s the new yoga studio I visited last weekend or maybe it’s because I’ve been following the digital detox rules, but my life is feeling a little more balanced.