Setting boundaries: Work-life balance or work-life blend?
It’s the soloist’s dream to work from your iPad on the beach, have coffee with friends on your way to meetings, and be available to spend time with the kids.
However, I’ve found that my reality usually runs a bit more like this:
Scenario 1: School pick-up, negotiate what will be watched on TV, prepare afternoon tea, resolve sibling dispute, find missing batteries for the Wii remote… then, an hour later – after yelling at the kids twice to “Just get it yourself, because I have to work” – I sit down at my desk.
Right on cue while I’m in the midst of a call to a client (or, even better, a phone interview) someone is hammering on the door: “Mum, I’ve lost Spiderman’s head!”
At which point I mentally add ‘Invent cone of silence’ to my to-do-list.
Scenario 2: Catch up for coffee with friends. Except now those friends are clients. Which means all we talk about is business.
"By blending work with life – and especially family life – everyone misses out on the benefits. "
The problem is, by blending work with life – and especially family life – everyone misses out on the benefits. You get stressed because you’re not able to focus on one thing, and if you’re like me you end up on a short fuse with the kids. Which is hardly the stuff of great parent-child bonding and relationship building.
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That’s why I’m increasingly in favour of setting boundaries.
Work boundaries could include:
- Taking holidays without taking your laptop.
- Closing the door on work at 5pm. Seriously.
- Setting up an office away from the house.
- Creating an ‘Employee agreement’ for yourself, complete with annual leave, salary and time expectations – and reviewing it regularly.
- Asking a client if you can meet on Tuesday rather than Monday (because if it’s Monday you have to organise an extra day of childcare… but they don’t need to know that).
- Setting a project deadline for Friday rather than Wednesday (because if it’s Wednesday you have to work on your day off… and they don’t need to know that either).
It’s important to set life boundaries too – that’s where the balance lies. They may include:
- Scheduling vacation care or after school care, rather than winging it.
- Setting up school run swaps with friends so you can start work earlier or stay a bit later.
- Asking your partner to cook dinner or handle housework on set days.
- Not checking Facebook/eBay/personal banking while you’re technically on work time.
Here’s an example of what can happen when you start blending too much. A friend recently had his small business absorbed (by necessity) by a big business. As part of the process he had to add how much leave he was owed to the balance sheet.
He sat down with his wife and calculated that in the past 20 years he had only taken about eight weeks of proper holidays. Those were to remote destinations where he had to plan for being out of contact. The rest of the time he either skipped the vacation, or worked right through it.
That meant that he was owed almost 300 days vacation. Sadly, the big business wasn’t about to pay him an extra year’s salary, especially as their policy was ‘use it or lose it.’
Yet family memories are made up of those times away from everyday life. We all know how hard it is to take time off from your own business, but while he kept in touch with emails and phone calls, his family tiptoed around him – and he never fully relaxed.
Blending work and life can be as hard on your family as it is on you. And without setting boundaries your life may end up being a bit of a blur.
So what do you do – blend or set boundaries? Share your secrets below!