Find Work Life Balance By Taking Control Of Your Time At Work

Working hard has become working long, and that’s a problem

Salaried 50-60 hour weeks and 12 hour days have become more common in offices, cutting into our lives. Many of us work with the goal to subsidize the rest of our lives, but are getting less and less time to live outside of work. We don’t want to damage our careers by eschewing work and coming across as flaky. How do you succeed at work while maintaining a healthy amount of personal time?

The key to maximizing personal time, what most refer to as Work/Life Balance, is to recognize the leverage you have as an employee. Employers and supervisors mostly cannot control the balance of your work or free-life time any more than you allow them to. Sure, you have a schedule you must adhere to, and responsibilities you need to meet. But you have far more control over your schedule than you think.

If you have set hours, respect them and demand that everyone respect them

If you work a typical schedule (8:00am to 5:00pm in US offices, or to those outside the US: 0800 to 1700)… you have every right to finish and leave work at your scheduled end time. Most people who work late do so not because they’re being forcibly kept in the office, but voluntarily: They continue working to address a workload they could not effectively address within their normal 8 hour shift.

Most reasonable supervisors would rather you be honest about your limits, than to make big promises and not deliver. Let’s say for example that you are working on a project due that day but you know you can’t finish by 5 pm. You can go to your supervisor (ideally well before 5pm) and tell them something to the effect of, “I know this project needs to be finished by 5pm, but I may not be able to finish it by 5pm and I do need to leave right on time today.”

The key is to say this regardless of your schedule after work. Treat your personal time like a doctor’s appointment. Meanwhile, in acknowledging the scope of your work and your limitations in completing it, you give your supervisor the chance to address the issue and possibly redistribute the workload to allow you to depart on time.

This is important: Be open to options that facilitate your goal to leave on time. Be willing to cede, collaborate on and possibly even take on job duties as needed to allow your timely exit from work on a given day.

Most of all, stand firm if your boss pushes you to keep that excess workload and stay late anyway. The truth, however, is that most reasonable supervisors will be amenable, especially if you’re up front about your limits in getting the current job done. Working with your boss requires a regular negotiation of give and take: Make sure your supervisor does their part and gives as needed.

Set appointments with yourself

If you need some time at work to yourself, to focus on key projects or similar work, set an appointment for that time on your calendar as if scheduling a meeting. Block the time off on your calendar like a meeting. Work around it when colleagues and clients ask to schedule meetings.

If unavoidable obligations absolutely demand that period of time, reschedule your personal block for another time during the day. But make a point to set that personal block of time aside. Treat your time to yourself with the same respect you’d give an important meeting.

If anyone demands details, tell them whatever puts them at ease. If needed you can fib a bit and say you need to attend to a conference call of some sort, or even admit that the time is necessary to focus on needed work for a deadline. But ultimately, the truth is usually none of their business. What matters is that you need this time to yourself, and you need your colleagues to respect that time.

Treat time off from work as non-negotiable commitments

If you want to take next Friday off, tell your supervisor in advance, “I plan to take Friday off.” Discuss arrangements to cover your work for Friday as needed. But start the conversation under the pretense that you’re absolutely taking Friday off. Don’t ask for the time off: treat it as a non-negotiable need.

When it comes to securing time for vacations and other multi-day absences, enter the conversation with a time period of distinct dates. For example, go to your supervisor and begin the conversation, “I am traveling to see my family the week of October 15.” If you start the conversation asking, “Can I take the week of October 15 off to see my family?” this invites your supervisor to say no, especially if they have in mind any sort of deadline within that time frame.

Establishing the tone that your time off is needed rather than desired is much more likely to command respect and frame the discussion around covering your duties in your absence, rather than making it a debate of whether or not you can have that time off in the first place.

In conclusion…

Professionals ought to treat themselves as professionally as they are expected to treat their work and colleagues.

You can still produce in the workplace while providing yourself the breathing room to live a happy life outside the workplace. The key to balancing work and life is to treat yourself as a priority, while expecting others to do the same. Respect for yourself in turn promotes respect from colleagues, and provides more freedom in your career than one may think.