Let it Go – Achieving a better work-life balance.

I wrote my original post about using Brandon Smit’s self-regulatory technique to improve work-life balance on 7 January 2016. I updated it at the end of February with my reflections after 6 weeks. In short, I’d really recommend giving it a go.

Last year I wrote a post, Getting the Better of Email, about my attempt to deal with email more efficiently (it’s going quite well, thanks for asking). In that post I also mentioned planning my day in 15 minute chunks so that when the unexpected occurs, it only derails what I had planned for a few of these chunks.
The problem is, what to do with the work that gets derailed? I have to reschedule it and sometimes that will have to be for another day. I often find however that it’s thoughts about this planned-but-unfinished work that intrude into my downtime or prevent me from getting to sleep.

I recently came across this research paper by Brandon W. Smit,  reported in the British Psychology Society Research Digest here that looks at the effectiveness of a simple technique for dealing with this type of difficulty in ‘detaching’ from work.

Smit asked workers to create plans of where, when and how to resolve goals they had not yet completed at work. Adapting this for teachers this could be:

“I’ll go into work tomorrow and after morning staff briefing I’ll collate the data I need so that I can complete the CPD evaluation requested for the Governors’ meeting.”

He found that for a subset of his participants, those high in job involvement (sounds like teachers to me), this simple planning technique increased their ability to detach from work when at home to a statistically significant extent.

Putting this together with my previous post, I’m going to start the New Year by using the following elements to try and make a clearer work-life boundary:

  • Segment work tasks into 15-minute blocks, or multiples of them.
  • Define clear goals for each of these work blocks.
  • At the end of the day take stock of the goals I have successfully met and any that remain incomplete.
  • Use Smit’s suggested planning technique to decide when, where and how I’ll deal with unresolved goals.

February 2016 Update

I’ve been using this idea for about six weeks now and it really does seem to make a difference. Ending my working day by reviewing what I have achieved and writing a single-sentence plan on how I’ll deal with incomplete tasks or unresolved issues does seem to allow me to detach more from work so family time can be family time. I’m also sleeping better – I no longer lie awake thinking about work issues and the number of times I wake up in the night with work thoughts has reduced to only two occasions in the six week period. It’s also helped me be better organised and more able to prioritise.

The technique doesn’t, of course, reduce the workload, so it hasn’t stopped the fatigue that comes at the end of a hard day! Nevertheless, I’ve found that using this simple exercise each day has made a real improvement in my work-life balance.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts and comments. If you decide to give this a go, it would be good to hear how it works out for you.

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