4 Tips to Prevent Your Job from Taking Over Your Life

Courtney C.W. Guerra (Chicago) has been writing her Dear Businesslady column since 2014, first on The Toast and now on the financial advice site The Billfold. She is the author of Is This Working?: The Businesslady's Guide to Getting What You Want from Your Career. Starting out with experience in food service, retail, and data entry—plus a joint BA in English and visual arts—she proceeded to build her resume through a series of administrative positions, both corporate and nonprofit. She’s spent most of her career as a writer and editor supporting humanities research at the University of Chicago.

job balanceUn-bust your ass. Work-life balance has become a major priority in our contemporary job space. People are more than willing to fully dedicate themselves to a company or a job position, as long as they are confident that time outside of work is theirs to spend. Here’s Courtney C.W. Guerra on how to achieve that balance.

It’s great to be a motivated, “above-and-beyond” type employee. But you don’t want to develop that persona at the expense of your own best interests. Here’s some advice on setting boundaries—and preventing burnout.

1. Be Your Own Advocate

No one will ever tell you that you’re working too much, too hard, or too well. Ever.

Is This Working?

Is This Working?

by Courtney C.W. Guerra

  • Get Is This Working?
  • Get Is This Working?
  • Get Is This Working?

I mean, sure, there might be moments when your boss stops by your desk at 6:30 and asks, “You’re heading home eventually, right?” in a friendly and concerned tone. But in the grand scheme of things, you won’t hear anyone say that you need to be easier on yourself. No one. Never.

That’s a message that can only come from within, and you’ll never be able to say no to other people if you can’t even say it to your own reflection.

2. Show Your Work

If your coworkers are genuinely imposing on you, you can make them aware of that in a polite way. Before you automatically cancel your dinner plans, blow a competing deadline, or resign yourself to working all weekend, make sure the task at hand actually warrants that level of effort.

Unless your entire office is staffed by draconian jerks who actively want to spite you, most people are going to be sympathetic if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Save the “no problem”s for when it really is no problem.

Otherwise, try responses like “I can [do that thing] by the end of the day, but I’m supposed to get together with a friend after work—can it wait until tomorrow?” Even if your boss is the one doing the asking, you can explain that you’ll have to reshuffle your priorities to accommodate them and see if it’s really worth it from their perspective.

3. Free Your Mind

When you finally do leave the office for the day, don’t ruin your downtime by cluttering your mental airspace with job-related thoughts. Seeing a work e-mail alters your night, even if there’s no urgency whatsoever. As you try to wrench yourself back into relaxation mode, a voice in your brain is whispering , “you’re gonna have to e-mail those drafts to Dana tomorrow” and it’ll be a while before you stop hearing it.

To prevent this kind of absent-minded re-immersion, actually close your e-mail program so it’s not the first thing you see when you grab your phone—or at least hide your work inbox. Mute office-related text threads, turn off Slack notifications, and otherwise do whatever you can to forget about job obligations for a while.

In some roles, some industries, and in some particularly busy periods, there might be an expectation that you’ll be reachable at a moment’s notice—but in the vast majority of cases, ignoring evening and overnight e-mails will, at worst, just give you some stuff to do first thing the next day.

4. Make ’Em Wait

Of course, emails can still be a problematic distraction even when you’re on the clock. It can be tempting to reply ASAP, and sometimes that’s the right call. If you want to quickly type up a “sounds great” as an easy way of keeping your inbox clear, I’m not going to stop you.

Not every response is as simple as “sounds great,” though. Often your “let me send this real quick” turns into a much longer endeavor that interrupts whatever you were supposed to be doing—whether you’re at your desk and not-working on an important presentation or hunched over your phone in a grocery store aisle. But if you start training yourself to let things sit, you’ll be able to keep your priorities in order.

Get in the habit of figuring out a reasonable turnaround for every e-mail you receive, and allow yourself to reply at your convenience. Once you’ve learned that immediate responsiveness isn’t actually necessary, you’ll be able to stay focused on work during work time—and fun during your free time—without getting sidetracked every time your inbox pings.

Now that you’ve developed the ideal working persona, check out some tips on how to make your job space better suited to you.

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