Work-life balance is a false idea popularized by the type of people who identify as thought leaders on LinkedIn.
There isn’t a special button that you press at the start of the workday, which pauses the inevitable march toward death. Your cells continue aging as you labor in exchange for money. Your hair doesn’t wait until your lunch break to gray a little more.
It is important to remember that work and life are not two separate variables on opposite sides of an equation. Manipulating one will not shift the other. Work is a proportion of life, one slice of the pie.
You cannot eliminate your fiscal need to work. However, you can change your outlook.
Boundaries are a gift you give yourself
At the end of the day, turn off your work computer. Close the company Slack. Turn off e-mail notifications on your personal phone. Unless someone will die if you cannot be contacted digitally, it probably isn’t urgent.
You don’t need to read the company newsletter at 21:00. Who cares what meme was posted in #random. You need time to rest your eyes and enliven your soul. You need to eat a healthy meal and communicate with someone who cares about you. Read a book. Indulge in your hobbies. Live a little.
If there really is an emergency at work that only you can solve, they can call you on the phone. Let the person on the other end hear the clinking of dishes in the background and the sounds of muffled conversation. Allow them to listen to the sound of your footsteps as you physically remove yourself from the dinner table and the click of the door as you walk into the hallway. Let the sense of intrusion on your life be felt, then accept the apology for that intrusion. It can’t be helped, after all, there is an emergency at work that only you can solve.
A notification lacks a sense of embarrassment over its interruption. It is a bunch of zeroes and ones without regret. A phone call has weight and nuance. It begrudgingly acknowledges your undeniable humanity.
While working from home, the mental transition from the beginning and end of work is difficult to distinguish. The physical act of opening and closing the door to the office used to mark that boundary. If you are lucky enough to have a separate office in your home for work, you can maintain that ritual. However, if you live in a small space, it is necessary to be creative.
What was once my kitchen table has become my work desk. At the end of the workday, I drape the tablecloth that used to cover it over the monitors and keyboard. A three-dimensional, DIY Magritte. Then I engage all of my senses as I start to cook dinner.
I turn on music as I wash and chop the vegetables. I feel the temperature rise as the pan heats and the oil sizzles, turning the chicken to brown evenly. I taste the sauce simmering on the other burner and add more salt. This is my delicious meal. This is my wonderful life.
At the start of the workday, I dismantle my Magritte and turn on the computer, coffee mug in hand.
I may not have all the answers to successfully working at home. Like you, everyday I am learning what works and what to change.
However, one thing is certain: You have one precious life.
You are likely to have many jobs. Enjoy your life.