Living…. And Dying By My Outlook Calendar

Work-life balance

“If it’s not on my Outlook Calendar, it won’t get done.”

I have said this phrase far more often than I am comfortable admitting. Personal appointments; work appointments; lunches; my child’s dance recital; etc: it all lives on this technical repository. Yet my fear would be that at the end of my life someone might say, “Do you want to know who Donna was? Just look at her Outlook calendar.”

No one wants to be defined in death by our work calendar, but we define our lives with it…

I have nothing against my Outlook calendar. Honestly, I am not sure how I really ever lived without it sending me pleasant reminders about upcoming events in wonderful pre-programmed spring tones. However, I have a problem utilizing a work tool to manage my entire life. To me, this would indicate that my life revolves around work, and that is not something I want.

As a young professional, we have it drilled into our heads, if you work hard you will get ahead and life will get easier, but is that true? Does more work now create an easier life later, or does it just create a habit of late hours that will haunt us through our retirement? I am not saying you don’t need to work hard, but working hard and pulling 80-hour weeks and logging onto our virtual desktops to work a little after our kids and spouses go to sleep, is a bit much.

Work-life balance is incredibly hard for our generation, but maybe it is not hard because we can’t balance the two equally, but because we can’t tell the two apart. When our entire lives are scheduled by the same application that tells us about our board meetings, how can we be expected to mentally separate the two?

In a generation that finds it normal to work from home occasionally and have our work email toggled to our personal phones, making a conscious effort to be present in our social and family worlds is incredibly difficult. So, how do we find not just a balance but a separation of work and life?

The first step is always admitting you have a problem. Here are a few signs, that your work and personal lives are not separate:

  • Do you check your work email at social events or during family time?
  • Have you found yourself working at night after everyone has gone to bed at your home?
  • Do you have vacation time built up that you never take?
  • Do you use your job title or industry when introducing yourself to someone new?

If you are like me, you probably answered yes to a couple of those questions. The only option is to consciously uncouple yourself from your work when you leave for the day or on vacation. Just like any habit, it takes practice and can make you feel selfish, anxious, and even stressed at first.

I suggest a 30-day detox, and don’t forget to document your progress. Here are a few guidelines to help you along the way, but each of our work life separation journeys will be different and go at different paces.

  • Turn off your phone during family and social time or disconnect it from your work email.
  • Do not work on work projects outside of office time.
  • If you work from home, have a designated office space to offer a little separation, and make a rule that work can only occur in the workspace.
  • When you are in a social situation make an effort to focus conversations on non-work topics.

Unfortunately, consciously uncoupling ourselves from our work lives is hard, but how do you want people to define you? I do not want to live and die by my Outlook calendar.

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