For many, the ability to be connected to work 24 hours a day is both a blessing and a curse. And for ambitious employees in particular, constantly being tethered to the office can make it hard to set aside work at the end of the workday. According to a survey by the U.S. Department of Labor, on days employees worked, 23% did some or all of their work at home, further blurring the lines between the office and home.
"Those who are driven to succeed find it harder to stop work than to get started," says Jan Yager, PhD, a time management and relationship coach and author of Put More Time on Your Side: How to Manage Life in a Digital World. "Once they are in their work mode, it’s hard to avoid the next phone call or put off looking at emails that come in 24/7."
Employees often forget that the technology that keeps us connected to work exists for our convenience, says Maura Thomas, founder of Regain Your Time and author of Personal Productivity Secrets. No one bought a smartphone so they could be interrupted all the time, she says, yet many of us are reluctant to turn off our phones, alerts, and push notifications, making it harder for us to ignore work.
We asked five time-management experts for their best tips on taking advantage of being tied to the workplace 24/7 without letting it interfere with your personal life.
Get in the habit of turning off your email when you aren’t working by either silencing alerts or, says Thomas, changing your settings so that email doesn’t show up when you click on your phone’s icon. Your email account is still there, she says, but not having access to email on your phone is a good reminder not to look at email outside of work hours.
If you must look at email, only respond to true emergencies. "Getting into the habit of immediately responding to all emails not only sets expectations regarding your response time, but also encourages more late-night emails from others," says Leila Hock, JD, founder of Alignment Coaching. Colleagues are more apt to ping the person who is likely to respond within five minutes, says Ann Gomez, president and productivity consultant at Clear Concept Inc. Don’t be that person.
Challenge your assumptions about whether it’s necessary to respond to email on weekends and in the evenings, Thomas says. If you believe that you must respond immediately, stop for a minute and think about what would happen if you waited until the morning to respond. Chances are you can wait and there would be no negative consequence, Thomas says.
If you’re worried that you will miss something by not checking email when you’re not at work, set up an auto-responder that outlines the hours you won’t be online, and invite people to call or text you for emergencies, says life-balance consultant Marie Levey-Pabst.
Set firm guidelines that you will follow on evenings and weekends so you can make a conscious decision about when and how much you will work outside office hours, Yager says. For instance, she says, limit yourself to an hour or two each weekend, and then turn off your phone and unplug your computer.
When we’re at home, we’re often tempted to retreat into work, especially if we have nothing else planned. Make evening and weekend plans that force you to do something other than 24/7 work that you can easily find yourself consumed with, Yager says.
Use the ability to work from anywhere to your advantage. For instance, if your energy is low between 4 and 5 p.m., use that time to commute home, and then put in another hour after dinner or when your kids go to bed, says Renée Cullinan, cofounder of Stop Meeting Like This, a firm that helps Fortune 500 companies to improve productivity. "Ubiquitous Wi-Fi means that almost any destination can be an office," Cullinan says, "so if you are heading out on a weekend getaway, leave a day early or stay a day late, and work from your destination."