I generally try to avoid bringing my work home with me. I don’t want to spend the bulk of every evening complaining about my day to my partner or panicking about tomorrow’s workload while I’m trying to fall asleep.
But now we live in a hyper-connected world, and achieving that isn’t so easy. Our email is in our pockets, our bosses often have our personal cell phone numbers, and our homes act as our secondary — and sometimes primary — offices. A rickety bridge has been thrust from our work in the direction of our homes and back, and we’re stuck figuring out how to navigate that.
I’ve heard a lot of contradictory advice on how to handle this. Some of my friends have decided to completely disconnect when the clock hits 5 p.m. They pull the drawbridge up, so to speak, and sever all ties until morning. They don’t answer phone calls or texts, don’t check their email, and never do work from home. Then I have other friends who insist on always being available and never saying no. The way they do balance is by mixing work and home when duty calls on either front.
While these extreme strategies “work” for some (here’s looking at you, Ashley and Sarah), they frankly stress me out. Instead, I’ve decided to embrace the uncomfortable, grey middle ground. Sometimes I stay late, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I say yes, other times I say no. The key for me is introspection and communication.
Being available and responsive…with boundaries
I’ll admit, I like to be the one that helps. I’ve always thrived on knowing that people can rely on me at any time. Generally, that attitude has paid off. Supervisors have always complimented my responsiveness and eagerness to assist, and I’ve also been given some opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have if I wasn’t so upfront with my willingness to help out (here’s looking at you, work trip to Palo Alto).
But I still have my limits. There’s a fine line between being available and waking up to 10 missed texts and a few missed calls from my boss about something inconsequential, and I’ve seen how easily it can be crossed without the proper precautions. So now I set limits on my availability and clearly communicate them to my team… to my whole team — supervisor, peers, and direct reports.
For example, my team knows they are welcome to share an interesting article or a quick work note via text in the evening. They are also aware that I might not respond to it until the morning. Further, they know that if something is an emergency, they can call or text me and I will respond right away, unless I’m completely unavailable.
Up to this point, I’ve had a few text messages sent, none of them emergencies. And I’ve never, ever gotten a phone call after-hours from a colleague.
Rarely saying “no”…but not being afraid to say “not right now”
When it comes to working late or attending the next big conference, I’ve never liked saying no. For the most, those are positive opportunities and I don’t want to pass them up. I’ve had the chance to work one-on-one with some amazing people and learn from them, so I’ve made an effort to never turn down opportunities I can learn and grow from, even when they take me out of my cozy zone.
At the same time, I have my non-work life to live, and that life also provides me with opportunities to learn and grow from. So if I’m asked to take on something extra that requires working late when I already had plans — I’ll take the sometimes uncomfortable route and explain that today just isn’t the day. I give myself permission to make that choice.
Or when a trip pops up the coincides with a pre-planned vacation, I’ll deliberate, sometimes for days, but work doesn’t always win out. And that’s ok. But I always, always make sure it’s clear that typically, I would love to help, but unfortunately this isn’t the right time or opportunity.
Turns out my healthy balance means not having hard or fast rules for what I do or don’t do. And believe me, I can understand how for some people that might be more stressful than always being on call, or knowing that everything has to be wrapped up before the 5 pm hour strikes. But it works for me, and that’s what matters.
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By Alyssa Huntley
Alyssa Huntley lives and works in Washington, D.C. She has written about a range of topics, from technology to real estate to women’s issues. Find her on Twitter @alyssajhuntley or check out her website, .