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The end of the workday! What’s the modern way to draw the line between your work life and private life?

Beispiele für gelungene Work-Life-Balance

Katja Mayer 19.04.2013
The boundaries between work and leisure are increasingly vanishing: 88 percent of employees are available for their bosses at home and almost a third are available around the clock, according to the German Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (Bundesverband Informationswirtschaft, Telekommunikation und neue Medien (Bitkom)

This increasingly leads to a clash of interests, as found by another study: Professional and private activities overlap for one-third of all employees – and a full two-thirds of all executives. This can result in physical and psychological consequences, even though the affected employees may have plenty of freedoms.

52 percent of Germans feel stressed because their work puts a strain on their leisure time – this was a finding of the “Good jobs” study by the German Trade Union Association (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund [DGB]). And in their latest health report, company health insurance funds (Betriebskrankenkassen [BKK]) warn that psychological problems are on the rise due to the elimination of work boundaries – with the key word being burn-out.

Meanwhile, improving the situation is easier than you might think, if you just follow these rules:

Set limits

Nina Schwenke mit Fahrrad

Certainly, the increase in project work in international teams makes it necessary to be available in the mornings and evenings in order to conference with colleagues on the other side of the world. And when things kick into high gear as the deadline for a job approaches, it’s probably best not to insist on promptly calling it a day at the usual time. 

It’s just important that these moments represent an exception and not the rule. When your private life begins to suffer and you are taking the stress home with you, it’s time to set some clear limits and explain to your boss that accomplishing everything overnight and then being present in a meeting the very next morning cannot be considered the norm.

Setting limits also means dividing up your work time in clearly separated phases – and not letting yourself be disturbed during a phase of concentrated effort. After all, you are more productive when you are not constantly being interrupted. This means not answering incoming calls, not opening e-mail and placing a “Please do not disturb” sign on the door to prevent visitors from trying to converse with you. 

Incidentally, this applies to the home office as well. Get housemates, partners and children accustomed to the idea that your presence does not automatically mean you are available and that you do not want to be disturbed during clearly defined time periods, but that you are happy to spend time with them when these time periods are over.

This also means that you place limitations on yourself, i.e. you will only exceed the specified work times in exceptional cases with good reason and then compensate for it – and actually use the allotted time for work, without letting yourself be distracted. When you have completed your workload, kick back and relax. Permanent accessibility is often driven by the fear of missing something important. 

What actually happens if you are not constantly online? You won’t miss anything, but you will gain the moment here and now through your absence!

Establish some free time

Philipp Weis spielt Kicker

It is precisely when you find it difficult to take time for yourself because you think you need to fulfill other people’s expectations that you need to make plans for just such time alone. That sounds banal but it actually does help – primarily you, initially. In this way you create an obligation that you seemingly cannot avoid. 

Once you have successfully established a bit of free time, you can expand your program and plan activities in which you do something exclusively for yourself. This could be a visit to a fitness studio, a walk in the woods or attending an evening lecture. It’s best if you enter these time-outs in your calendar in order to make a firm commitment. 

Although you might not believe it at first, most people will actually respect your needs.  Much more important, though, is for you to take your need for recreation seriously. The prerequisite for this is that you leave your work behind you when are doing something else and don’t waste time thinking about it. As long as your mind is on your work, you will not truly be able to relax. 

It is also extremely disrespectful to your friends and partners if they get the impression you are not actually present – such as when you are constantly checking your smartphone. 

Distribute resources

Improper planning of resources results in a lot of overtime. The deadline pressure it creates not only causes additional stress but also fuels dissatisfaction, because better results would have been possible with more time. Such situations are avoidable with better self-management.

It is often enough to ask how urgent the deadline is – especially when you have one deadline after another. If it’s not really a case of a limitation period expiring or a deadline for a customer presentation, a lot of final dates are not as mandatory as they appear, but instead serve to increase pressure because nobody starts working if there are no deadlines. 

Then it is usually enough to begin the work in good time – and deliver a couple of days later. This not only helps to avoid stress and private night shifts, the significantly better quality of the results also justifies the extra time spent.

Editor: Katja Mayer with Karrierebibel