Workologism #3: Use an End of Day Shutdown Routine

Fewer and fewer jobs have clear signals about when work is done for the day. For most of us, the work never really ends. For that reason I think it's really important to create some kind of routine that signals to yourself that the end of your day has happened and you can transition into non-work mode. Some ideas for inclusion in this routine include:

  • Spend a few minutes planning for tomorrow.
  • Clear off your desk and put all work materials away.
  • Spend a few minutes writing in your journal about the day.
  • Turn off your computer.
  • Do something to help you transition from work mentality to home mentality (read something unrelated to work, play a short video game, listen to some music, etc.)

The details don't matter as long as it helps you feel like you're making a transition from one part of your day (productive/work) to another part (not work/relaxing/home).

Photo by Nir.

There Are Some Things $100 Million Can't Buy

Months ago there were a spate of articles in the Wall Street Journal about Mohamed El-Erian leaving his position as CEO of Pimco, one of the world's largest financial companies. I had never heard of him and I had only recently started reading the WSJ so I didn't really know Pimco, either. I do remember being struck by how surprised everyone seemed and how there was obviously something going on behind the scenes. Most people chalked it up to a clash of personalities between El-Erian and Pimco's co-founder Bill Gross and everything seemed to go quiet for a couple months.

A couple weeks ago El-Erian surfaced again and the full picture behind his departure is a little bit clearer:

About a year ago, I asked my daughter several times to do something -- brush her teeth, I think it was -- with no success. I reminded her that it was not so long ago that she would have immediately responded, and I wouldn't have had to ask her multiple times; she would have known from my tone of voice that i was serious.

She asked me to wait a minute, went to her room and came back with a piece of paper. It was a list that she had compiled of her important events and activities that I had missed due to work commitments.

Talk about a wake-up call.

Now he works as an economic adviser with Allianz and work takes up about 50% of his time.

From my perspective, this looks a lot like why many people choose to go into independent work. Granted, El-Erian is not a typical independent worker considering he made roughly $100 million last year. It's obviously easier (if not easier, at least more financially viable) for him to scale back his work hours and spend more time with his family.

On a very simple level, this is great evidence of what deliberate decision-making about work can look like. Regardless of our level in an organization or our income we can choose to think about what matters the most in our lives and then take steps to make decisions that support those values. The beautiful part is that this looks different for everyone. The only similarity that I'm pushing is the commitment to being deliberate about the course of action taken instead of locking into a groove and plowing away, heads down, for 40 years without taking a second to look around or ask some reflective questions.

What's the smallest step you can take to make your work more meaningful?

What's the smallest step you can take to make your work more enjoyable?

We can't all make $100 million a year or be CEOs of huge financial firms but we can all make deliberate decisions - even tiny ones - that better align our work, lives, and values.

Photo by Fortune Live Media

Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Integration

Figuring out how to structure and maintain your professional and personal lives is tough. In the days of yore when most of us worked blue collar jobs with clearly delineated tasks and a regular eight hour shift it was a bit easier. That's not to say the work was easy (it usually wasn't) but at least there wasn't much of a question about what to do when you got there or much of an expectation that you'd be taking work home with you. Work has gotten decidedly more complex since that time.

If you're a typical knowledge worker you're likely faced with multiple forces that make your personal and professional lives come into conflict. The ubiquity of the smartphone and the constant stream of information, requests for your attention, and the expectation to be available can make work seem like the primary factor in our lives.

Work-Life Balance

One way to approach this conundrum is through the metaphor of balance. Like a seesaw with Your Professional Life on one end and Your Personal Life on the other, you try to make adjustments to each sector of your life in order to keep the seesaw balanced. This approach, work-life balance, places an emphasis on creating distinct lines between your life and your work and not allowing them to bleed into each other. By keeping them as separate as possible the idea is that you can spend the time away from work fully engaged with your family or hobbies and the time at work completely dialed into your job.

In practice, work-life balance often leaves a lot to be desired. For many, it's a framework for burnout because instead of removing items from both sides of the seesaw in order to keep it level they instead are constantly adding to both sides. The result is an unsustainable pace of life that ultimately leaves one side, work or personal, being overshadowed by the other. Additionally, the increase in remote work, mobile communication technology, and globalization means that work never really has to end. In a world that's constantly "on" it can be tough to keep work and personal life truly balanced.

Work-Life Integration

Another school of thought is that we shouldn't strive for balance between our work and personal lives, but for integration. Work-life integration argues that it's futile to try to separate areas of our lives into separate domains when we only get one life and can only be in one place (physically and mentally) at a time. Instead of trying to respond to others' expectations and balancing out our commitments to work and life, they argue we should start from an internal perspective and identify the values and goals that will allow us to create the type of integrated life we want to live.

In practice, work-life integration often ends up very heavy on the work component of the equation. When there are no lines between professional and personal life it can be a slippery slope toward being chained to your email during vacation, sneaking peeks at your phone during family time, and never creating a chance to rejuvenate. Doing work-life integration well requires an extremely high level of self-awareness, self-knowledge, and a willingness to reflect on how things are going and make changes if problems are beginning to emerge.

Which Is Best?

As an independent worker myself there are elements of both philosophies that I really like. In the work-life balance camp I really try to not let my work interfere with my personal life when it comes to spending time with loved ones and being present with them during non-work time. I like to do a shut down routine at the end of my work day that signifies I'm finished with work for the day, even though my office is in my house and it's easy for me to just bop over to my computer and keep working if I want to. I like creating a clear line between my work day and my free time whenever possible.

On the other hand, there are components of the work-life integration approach that really appeal to me as well. One way I fall into this camp is by keeping only one calendar that mixes personal and professional commitments. Since I can only be in one place at one time I think it makes sense to keep one calendar. If I were to maintain separate Personal and Work calendars I'd be much more likely to schedule conflicting activities. Another work-life integration idea that I fully endorse is the commitment to creating a job for myself where I'm able to utilize my strengths, apply my values, and where I can feel like what I do for a living is directly supportive of what I believe in as a person. With a work-life integration mindset I bring more of myself to my work every day than I might if I was always trying to keep distinct lines between who I am in my personal life and who I am in my professional life.

My experience leaves me with the conclusion that both a strict work-life balance and a strict work-life integration approaches are wrong. Instead, I'm doing my best to figure out which components of each philosophy I can mix together into my own life.

Every month I send out my best ideas to the Workologist Newsletter subscribers. You can sign up for it here and as a thank you you'll receive a copy of my e-book, Work Better.

Photo by takasuii