It’s no secret email has taken over our lives. That’s especially true for many in today’s workforce.
One study found that 50 percent of workers check their email in bed and 38 percent do so at the dinner table, while forty percent still do work email after 10 p.m. What’s more, only 25 percent of the 1,000 workers polled said it caused the occasional disagreement with their partner.
But that doesn’t mean once you re-enter the workforce you have to be a slave to your device, nor feel that working after-hours is a bad thing. In this story, Laura Vanderkam, Author, I Know How She Does It, 168 Hours, and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, talks about this phenomenon and how to best manage it.
Après: How has the nature of work changed to allow for this kind of “boundary-less” work environment?
Laura Vanderkam: Technology is a big driver, but there are a few other things going on, too. More people work in information industries, and truly a lot of knowledge work can be done at any time and any place in a way that, for instance, making appliances in a factory cannot.
There is also greater demand for more flexibility in how they work. We had dumb phones long before smart phones, and I have old Fortune magazines from the 1960s and 1970s in which executives complain about their bosses calling them at home, so people ignored boundaries in the past, too! People who could have worked remotely in the past just didn’t.
Collaboration technology has also affected the working day because everyone doesn’t need to be in the same place to tackle a project. If half your team is in California and half is in New York, the idea of strict 9-to-5 boundaries isn’t going to work anyway.
But even folks who are not part of a bi-coastal team are plugging in at all hours. Is a greater acceptance of telecommuting or flexible work arrangements playing a part?
LV: Definitely. Work/life integration is the norm these days. I recently did a time diary study of 1,001 days in the lives of professional women and their families (which became my book I Know How She Does It). I found that about three-quarters of these women did something personal during work hours.
Of course, the flip side of that is also true. Roughly the same percentage did something work-related outside of work hours. The two are completely related, so I think it misses the mark to call one good and the other bad. If you want to go to a school event at 10 a.m. and make up the time at 10 p.m., that’s just making the pieces of work and life fit together. I think it’s a good thing that people are able to create arrangements that work for them.
How can workers make sure they are not neglecting their personal/family time by attending to work matters?
LV: Different people are going to have different boundaries. Few professionals can absolutely say “I will not check email outside of 9-to-5, Monday to Friday.”
Personally, I am fine with checking email at 9:30 p.m. if it means I can do personal stuff during the workday. A lot of other women are, too. Inherent in the idea that we need to keep all work out of nights and weekends is the idea that work is “bad.” It isn’t. It can be a way to profitably live out your interests. Done right, work can be a way that you help the world and support your family, too.
So the question is how do you make sure that you have a fulfilling personal life, and adequate downtime, while also having a fulfilling professional life? I encourage people to take time each week (maybe on Friday afternoons) to think through their priorities for the next week. Make a three-category list: career, relationships, self. Making a three-category list reminds us that there should be something in all three categories! Put two or three top priority items in each, and then look out at the whole of the next week and figure out where you can put these things in. If you are consciously scheduling time to support your relationships and your own health and well-being, then you don’t need to worry that you’re unbalanced because you answered your boss’s email at night.