Mobile technology is a nothing short of game-changer. You can escape the confines of your office and work virtually from anywhere. With one single device, you access files remotely, check in with the office, create your own hotspot, join that 2 p.m. video-conference call, and the list goes on.
This everywhere, all-the-time connectivity comes at a hefty price: It can cost us our ability to escape into the privacy of our family lives. It makes it hard to enjoy the simple pleasure of being away from the office and unable to respond, and to experience that little bit of downtime before being thrown back into the fray.
With modern technology firmly anchored to our hip pockets, it’s easy for work life to bleed into family life. It starts with small intrusions—just one last call while making dinner, a quick text while the kids play soccer, a fast “yes” to a meeting request via e-mail—and before you know it, work follows you everywhere.
Allowing work to intrude on family time is a slippery slope. What started as a little catch-up during the holidays turned into "productive" time without day-to-day interruptions mingled with family fun. For me, the last straw came when clients started expecting me to respond to e-mails sent at 1 a.m. or over the weekend.
How dare they expect me to be on-duty 24/7? How dare they ask me to give up my family time to come into the office, if only in a virtual sense? Their intrusion into my personal time infuriated me. That is, until I realized that I was doing the same thing to myself.
My actions spoke louder than my words. I realized that by being responsive and available 24/7, I set the expectation that I was responsive and available 24/7. Not only was I not respecting my own boundaries but, by allowing work to invade my personal time, I was training my clients not to respect them either.
How to mark good business boundaries
Designate office hours – Set daily office hours when you are available for telephone calls, meetings and responding to correspondence. That doesn’t need to include all the hours you plan on being in your office, just the hours you plan on checking in.
Establish rules upfront – Let business partners, clients and employees know where you draw the line between work time and personal family time. Let them know how you would like requests handled during your downtime and when you will follow-up with requests.
Go silent – Turn off all the bleeps and blings and other annoying distractions that tell you when there’s a new something waiting for you. Because, let’s face it, the temptation to check is difficult to resist. I even switched my office telephone to permanent silent mode so I am only able to answer when I am sitting at my desk and see it flashing.
Be consistent – Don’t say, “I never work during evenings or on weekends” only to send a flurry of responses at 10 o’clock at night. Consistently matching your behavior to the rules signals others that you mean it, even if that means saving your catch-up responses in your draft folder and hitting Send during your official office hours.
Don’t give them a choice – Don’t give your mobile number to anyone and everyone. That puts them in charge of deciding how to use it. Instead, use it as it suits your needs: for quick check-ins, to make calls between meetings or when you're working away from the office.
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