Maintaining a healthy work-life balance throughout the year requires diligence. You can’t just set it and forget it. Just like so many of us forget to go to the gym we joined (with good intentions in the new year), it’s easy to let our work schedule overwhelm our own time management goals. That is why you need to employ a few tricks to keep your work-life balance on track. Make it a habit by using your shared work calendar to remind you to manage your time better.
Do you have an online work calendar that is shared internally with employees? In the past I have used Microsoft Office (Exchange Server) and more recently Google Calendar (as part of Google Suite of apps for business – ideal solution for a home business) to allow my business availability calendar to be seen by my co-workers, my project team, and my manager. It’s probably how you schedule meetings at the office and inform people who’s going and when you are free or booked solid.
Here are 3 simple tricks (let’s call them techniques) to leverage your office calendar to your work-life-vacation balance advantage. I bet you’ve already used one of these to break free from the overwork cycle by becoming a time management expert.
I don’t know about you, but I need a proper lunch break each day. My breakfast is usually a bowl of cereal or oatmeal and a strong coffee. When I start my workday early, like at 8 or 8:30am, I’m usually feeling hungry around noon. However I also know that in past jobs I’ve gotten caught up staring at my computer – stuck in an intensive task without realizing the time. That’s where scheduling your lunch break comes in handy.
Unless you are working a non-traditional office schedule (something other than 9 to 5 or more like 8:30 til 6:30) you need to take a break. No I’m not talking about a “break” where you scarf an energy bar or yogurt at your desk. Even if you don’t need to eat a big lunch, the key to tipping the scales in favor of balance is to take the time off you deserve. This is why it’s so helpful to schedule a lunch period on most weekdays. Plus when you leave your calendar open during the lunch “hour” you risk having it taken over by meetings and impromptu discussions.
Your lunch doesn’t need to be scheduled for the same time every day. I do recommend that you schedule an entire week of lunch breaks at least one week in advance. That way meetings are being planned when you and your co-workers are available, they’ll stay clear of your all-important lunchtime. Set the calendar reminder to pop up on your computer and smart phone so you don’t miss hearing the lunch bell ring.
Yes, it’s OK to occasionally cancel your lunch break when critical work comes up. Just don’t make it a habit to give up your work-life balance for another long and stressful day at the office. Your body needs a midday break and your mind needs it just as much.
Did you happen to read my earlier post on how you can take a vacation during your lunch break? Well that advice definitely applies here. Use your lunch time to explore your office or work site vicinity. Plan a mini-vacation to a new cafe, gallery opening, quiet bookshop, neighborhood park, or hidden historic site just to list a few ideas.
Do you often fail to get your work done and miss deadlines due to meetings taking over your day? My wife with her demanding tech job has this problem all the time. Her solution is to schedule a meeting with herself. We’ll it’s not quite a meeting but a block of time she allocates for an urgent deliverable without the risk of a last-minute meeting or distraction getting in the way. This popular technique called time blocking can help you take control of your schedule.
To use this trick block out your calendar for an hour or more. Do this every time you need a solid chunk of time to finish your work and go home on time with a sense of accomplishment. It’s not goofing off – it’s being productive! I’m easily distracted by what’s in front of me as opposed to what’s important. A calendar event gives me motivation to tackle a big or difficult (or even mind-numbing) task that needs a few dedicated hours of mindful focus.
To use this trick you only need to add a meeting to your calendar and invite yourself (that part happens automatically). Consider marking the event as private if you need to hide the fact that it isn’t quite a real meeting. You should turn on notifications so that you force yourself to step away from what you’re doing to focus on a specific, urgent task.
My wife also likes to grab her computer and lock herself in an open meeting room or taking over a quiet public space to plow through her “To Do” list. That helps her avoid people coming by her desk or cubicle, removing yet another source of distraction in what is a noisy work space.
My third work-life balance calendar trick is about helping you to leave the office at a “reasonable” time. During crunch time we all have to put in a bit of extra effort which means working overtime hours (unpaid for me). However it shouldn’t be an everyday hazard of your job. If you are like me you want to get home to your wife (or husband or partner) and have more free time with your family and friends and hobbies, schedule it.
Like the other work-life balance scheduling tricks, you’ll need to time block your calendar for when you are not available for meetings or work assignments. Determine your preferred end-of-day goal and add an event which starts at that time. Set the end time for late in the evening or even the next morning when you plan to arrive at the office. Unless you are required to check email at home (if you live in France you legally can’t), use this technique to make it more likely you’ll be home in time for dinner.
Whether you name the event as personal time, family obligation, or personal appointment, be honest with yourself and your colleagues about when you are working and when you are off the clock. Mark the event as private since your home life is personal and not your employer’s concern. My advice is not to feel guilty about making a concerted effort to call it a day at a scheduled time. You may be arriving earlier to the office than most of your colleagues. For those of you who get paid for 8 hours (read why working 40 hours a week means more vacation time), what’s wrong with keeping accurate track of working versus non-working hours on your calendar?
This trick is especially important if you work on a team that spans multiple time zones or is globally spread out. For example if you work in Boston with team members in San Diego, there is a 3 hour time difference. You don’t want your West Coast team member to invite you to a meeting that is at 5pm their time but 8pm your time. It won’t happen by accident or on purpose if you block off your after-hours time on your shared office calendar. Of course if an urgent meeting comes up you can release the hold or accept the invitation in just a few clicks. Work-life balance flexibility goes both ways.
Hopefully you haven’t forgotten the key reason for using these calendar management strategies. They are all designed to increase your productivity at work so that you can enjoy more free time each day. Freeing up hours in your workday is so critical if you want to benefit from true balance in your life. Whether you take a full lunch break to refresh your mind and body, use time blocking to meet your deadlines without working overtime, or schedule your end of day appointments so that you can take back your evenings, these work-life balance hacks can do the trick.
If you are like my me and my wife, you want to free up your evenings, weekends, and vacation days so that you never have to think about work, talk about work, or be in the work mindset when you are not at the office or on the job. That’s what getting into the vacation mindset is all about!
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