You Don't Need A Clone To Do It All
Five recommendations on when and how to leave work at work.
“Dad, did you hear me?”
This wasn’t the first time Jon’s son noticed his father’s distraction at the table.
For the past few weeks, they’d be sitting as a family over supper and he’d try to tell his dad a funny story about his day.
Then Jon’s phone would ping and he’d miss the punchline. Again.
On the outside, Jon was on autopilot — thoughtfully nodding along to his son. But on the inside, his mind kept lingering on that unanswered email.
As the line between Jon’s work and home life became more blurred, he struggled to be present during these smaller intimate moments with his kids. It was obvious he was missing out, but how could he fix it?
While he was passionate about his new venture, he didn’t know how to be available to everyone without cloning himself (an idea that crossed his mind on more than one occasion). As a result, his performance started going downhill and his relationships at home became strained. He simply couldn’t do it all.
But what Jon failed to grasp, was that duplicating himself wasn’t the answer.
What he needed was to leave work at work.
The importance of setting better boundaries
“You should not confuse your career with your life” — Dave Barry, American author
Many of us have experienced Jon’s situation. Feeling frustrated that we can’t juggle all of our responsibilities and maintain a fulfilling personal life at the same time.
In a story for Harvard Business Review, author and time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders, illustrates how a lack of boundaries can often creep into our after hours.
“Some jobs have very clear lines between when you’re “on” and when you’re “off,” while in others the lines are blurred — or potentially nonexistent. That makes not being distracted by work, especially mentally, a major challenge.”
For busy founders, it’s easy to have your work take over almost all of your waking thoughts.
I can speak to this. When I began building my company, JotForm 13 years ago, I personally felt that I had to be everywhere at once. Especially in those early days — I gave into the pressure of answering emails long into the night and even on weekends.
But stretching myself thin began affecting my relationships outside of work, too. I was veering toward work addiction — carrying around a full cup of concerns that threatened to overflow at any moment.
Then one day it dawned on me that if I didn’t make it a point to shift mental gears, I’d risk passing on my work-related stress onto family and friends. Or worse, miss out on being present and engaged when it matters most.
Over the years, it’s been a constant and dynamic struggle to find the perfect balance between my work as an entrepreneur and my home life. Here are five principles I’ve learned along the way for managing both.
1. Create rituals
Marking the transition between your work and home life — like tidying up your desk before leaving the office — can help you find the closure needed to be more present later. Instead of rehashing the day’s events, allow your daily commute back home to be a time for listening to a relaxing podcast or noticing the environment around you with curiosity. Having an end-of-workday wrap-up, as Saunders suggests, where you look over your calendar and to-do list for the next day can also offer more mental clarity.
2. Establish your parameters
Defining when you’ll be “on” and “off” the clock is an important first step in setting boundaries. Saunders puts it this way: “Think through how many hours you want for activities like sleep, exercise, family, friends, cleaning, finances, etc. Then see how much time you need to reserve on a daily and weekly basis to fit in those personal priorities. That then defines the parameters of when you want to be “off hours.”
3. Limit distractions
Turning off notifications when I get home has been an important facet in being more present. In a revealing survey carried out by Wakefield Research for Comcast, researchers found that more than half of parents have been told by their children to put their cell phones away during meals. Staying unplugged during key moments at home allows you to shift your focus to other things and the people that matter.
For CEO, Arianna Huffington, another key to setting work boundaries involves making it a point of charging her phone outside her bedroom as a regular part of her bedtime routine.
4. Set the tone
Create clear expectations with colleagues. For example, I set up guidelines for when I’m available to people by encouraging them to reach me at a specific time and letting them know when I won’t be able to respond. But I’ve also taken this one step further in making it one of our core company values. At Jotform, our commitment to work-life boundaries is a form of prioritizing balance.
5. Guard your time
Of course, nothing will create change as effectively as giving yourself permission to actually leave work at work. When I first started my business, I was still working at another software company, and I suddenly had more on my plate than I could handle. This meant that I was finishing projects during my lunch hour and even after I got home.
Fast forward to over a decade of entrepreneurship later, and I’ve found that assigning myself regular “work hours” has given me more freedom and peace of mind. When I leave work, I make it a point to switch off and mentally wipe away the day’s concerns.
The bottom line is that by guarding your time and spending it on what matters most, you can re-align yourself with your sense of purpose. An added perk? You’ll never miss another punchline.
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