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Defining Your Work/Life Balance: 5 Key Questions to Ask Yourself

Federal Civilian Life

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6 min Category: Federal Civilian Life

1. Is Working From Home Working?

Working from home has helped many people feel better about their work/life balance, allowing them to remain closer to schools for child drop offs and pick ups, enabling them to throw in a load (or four) of laundry between conference calls, prep dinner on a lunch break, and more. But this also means that boundaries between work and home get blurred.  

It’s important to set distinctions between work time and personal time especially when it happens all in the same space. Deliberately setting a “clock out” time and routine can help draw the distinction between work and home. Consider instituting a “commute” to signal the end of the day. That commute could be picking your kids up at school, going for a walk, going to an exercise class – something that takes you out of the “office” and allows you to return “home.” The commute does not even have to be that literal. It could simply be the practice of reading a book, prepping dinner, or watching a show every day at the end of your workday.   

2. What Are Your Boundaries?

Regardless of whether you work from home or in an office, our work can now reach us 24/7 via mobile devices. It is important to define and communicate boundaries of when you can be reached and expected to do work.  

It’s tempting to answer that email that you see come in at 9:00 p.m. For the sake of your work/life balance think, is it really necessary to answer now – will anything happen as a result of my response between now and the morning? Regularly answering after-hours requests will result in people expecting that you will be online at that time every night and they may continue to contact you with increasingly more important/urgent requests since they know you’ll respond.  

Communicate your boundaries to your team by stating you do not answer emails or calls after a certain time. If someone continues to send you after-hours requests, respond during working hours letting them know you saw they sent the request last night and you are now available to address it. If you are a manager, lead by example by encouraging your team to set their own boundaries.  

Photo of a young woman sitting at her desktop computer, having some hot coffee to help her trough a late night shift

3. When Am I Most Productive?

Understanding how you work will help prioritize efforts. Are you a morning person who jumps into the day with a ton of energy and can complete all necessary tasks by lunch? Then you may want to try to hold off scheduling meetings until the afternoon so you don’t lose your most productive hours. Are you more creative in the evenings? If your workplace allows, consider taking your personal time during the traditional working hours and clocking in after 7:00 p.m. to work on projects that require creativity. Do you like to save up emails and answer them all at once? If so, let your team know when you typically respond to emails and how to reach you if there is an immediate request.  

If your productive time lies outside of traditional working hours, be aware of how your schedule may impact others. If you save up email communication for 8:00 at night ensure your messages include a note to the effect of, “I don’t expect a response this evening, I’m just getting this out while I have the time.” Also consider how your work schedule will impact the tasks of the rest of your team. If waiting until you feel productive will cause a missed deadline, you will have to alter your schedule for the interest of the team and project.  

4. When’s the Last Time You Took Time Off?

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of workers fail to use all of their allocated vacation days. Utilizing vacation and sick days are critical to work/life balance. If you are given paid time off, it is incumbent on you, not your employer, to utilize this benefit to the fullest. Prioritize planning vacations or even simply time off to engage in activities in your own home or community.  

Similarly, in every job you are granted a lunch break, take it away from your desk. Use that time to get fresh air, get your body moving on a walk, or fill your need for social interaction by lunching with co-workers, personal friends, or even calling friends you cannot meet in person. Even if you work from home – maybe especially if you work from home – set lunch dates with colleagues to get to know them outside of the office. Or use your lunch hour to meet with personal friends or family to provide a break in the day.  

Finally, take that sick day. Even if working from home is an option take the sick day completely off. Do not log on. If you do not feel healthy enough to go into an office, do not continue to work at home. Listen to your body and get rest so you can recover faster.  

Shot of a notebook and a sticky note saying “day off” stuck to it on a desk

5. Have You Talked to Your Supervisor About Your Goals for Balance?

Communication is key to achieving a balance that works for you and your workplace. Discuss the schedule you’d like to have with your manager and team to get everyone’s understanding and buy-in so there are no surprises or resentment about when and where you work.  

Consider sharing some of your personal passions with your team. If they know you enjoy writing poetry in your free time maybe they will get you involved in more writing projects at work. If they know about your love for dogs you may get looped into opportunities to work with a local animal shelter as part of the company’s community efforts.  

Breaking the Wall Between Work and Life

Perhaps the biggest question of all is, “Is my work connected to my life? Can I find personal fulfillment in my paid duties?” The old saying goes, find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Of course, finding a job you are passionate about is no easy task, but it is something to strive for.  

Harvard Business School professor Ranjay Gulati has challenged the term work/life balance saying, “it puts work in opposition to life … it assumes that work is bad and life is good.” Especially with the growth of remote work and 24/7 connectivity to the workplace, finding ways to intertwine, not always separate, work and life may prove to be the key to achieving the elusive work/life balance. 

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