The Antidote To “Always-On” Work Mode

A part-time CMO shares how she learned to be fully present at work–and at home.

The Antidote To “Always-On” Work Mode
[Photo: Flickr user Freedom II Andres]

Years ago, I had someone very near and dear to me pass away. It happened during a time in my career when things were starting to skyrocket and there was a lot of work to do at the office. I was putting in long days and going full-speed. I sat down to write the eulogy, but found myself stopping at every paragraph to deal with something work-related that would take me off-course. I wasn’t focused–I’d answer a phone call or respond to an urgent email. It was awful. In a way, I actually felt like I never got the chance to properly grieve because I didn’t separate myself during that critical time. I wasn’t there for my family and I certainly wasn’t there for myself.


This period in my life was a true tipping point for me that lead me to what I am about to share: I don’t believe in the “always on” world we live in. It just isn’t conducive to getting your best work done when it comes to life at home or at the office. You have to figure out how to maintain a balance.

To do that, I’ve tried reframing and refocusing on what is really important. For example, following that event, having the ability to work part-time became important to me. I was able to find a company that supported me–and I hope that in future, roles like mine aren’t so rare. If part-time is a priority for you, it’s about finding the right company, the right leadership and having a great team. On the flip side, if you are lucky enough to find an attractive part-time role, when you are at work, you have to be 110 percent committed and focused.

Here are a few other rules of the road I live by to help separate and balance my spheres.

Let Things Go

Perhaps many of you are type-A as I am, and to you I say, just let it go. Focus on the big picture and find the things that you need to focus on because they’re important to you. For example, if making family dinner time a regular occurrence is a priority, focus on that and make sure your family is able to attend. If you need to, shift meal time to be later in the evening to accommodate it.

Use that at-home approach and translate it to fit at the office. Think: “What are the things that will have the greatest impact on the business? Is this one of them?” If the answer is no, then I look for the thing that will make the biggest difference. The inverse of this is also true. I might see a creative material that I don’t love, but I know that making it more visually appealing to me isn’t going to impact the business, and it will prevent my team from getting other things done. The key is to know what’s important–focus on those elements and let the other stuff go.
When I became a parent for the first time, one of the biggest things I had to make peace with was that I am not perfect and neither is my life. I had to pick my battles. Dinner time as a family and eating well-balanced meals is a priority. Having every room look Pinterest-worthy was no longer an option.

Embrace Change

We all know that change is inevitable; it’s a part of today’s professional landscape and of course, children are always changing. With my balance of work and home life, I always remind myself to stay nimble, because what works today may not work tomorrow. Over the years, my husband and I have tried many variations of childcare and combinations of full-time or part-time. Different solutions work at different times for different reasons. We’ve had to adapt, and as any set of working parents knows, we know life can (and will) shift.


Separate Your Spheres

When you’re at home, be at home. When you are at work, be at work. It sounds simple but it’s surprising just how hard it can be to disconnect at night and on the weekends. I have found that knowing I will disconnect when it is family time makes me far more productive when I am working.

Make it a goal to check messages only once after-hours during the week and once or twice over the weekend. To help separate yourself, try getting into a routine once you get home – and be in the moment in everything you do once you leave. This will mentally take you away from the need to stay connected.

As for when you’re at work, be 110 percent at work, even if you work from home. When I am working remotely, I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, because it’s the fastest thing I can make and allows me to be productive and get through my priorities. Unless someone is sick, I never take personal calls while I’m at work. Have a plan for what you are going to accomplish each day and stick to it. If you want to enjoy time away from work, every second at work has to count. Setting boundaries between home and work allow me to give what I’m doing in that moment my undivided attention. If I had done this years ago during the passing of my family member, I would have been able to properly reflect and return to work once I was ready and focused.

We have to learn to separate and keep those boundaries up as often as possible–not just when there is a death, sick child or wedding. To be efficient and successful, we must be present in every moment we are given.

–Anabela Perozek is a mother of three and the chief marketing officer of ShoeBuy.