By Roxanne Donovan - Wellness
Welcome to the second post in my four-part series on ways to improve an out-of-sync professional-personal dance—that interplay between the oftentimes competing demands of work and life. The first step involved identifying the problem. This second step involves differentiating the professional from the personal.
When dancing with a partner, the roles of each person must be clearly differentiated, including who leads and when. Without this differentiation, a tug-of-war between partners is inevitable, resulting in clumsiness, missteps, and injured toes. The same principle of differentiation applies to the professional-personal dance.
Unfortunately, for many of us, the professional is an aggressive partner who leads without permission and constantly invades the space of the personal. Improving the partnership necessitates reigning in the professional. For this step, that means challenging those thoughts and behaviors that weaken the boundaries around the professional’s role in the dance. Four such strategies are outlined below.
Accept your to-do list, like the universe, is ever-expanding
In our society, there is always work to be done…the next project to start, the next deadline to meet, the next meeting to attend. This is a sad truth, but one that must be told over and over. So instead of fighting this truth, accept it—breathe this truth in and slowly exhale the lie that an end will appear if you just work harder or longer. Repeat as needed until you are able to leave work at work.
Prioritize what is important; let go of what is not
All work activities are not created equal. Some are more important than others and, thus, require more time and energy. Identify what those important activities are and do them first thing in the morning when you are more alert. Also identify those activities you do that take time but are not valued by you or your employer—e.g., including hard-to-find graphics in your presentations. Let go of those activities and use the newfound time on the activities that matter.
Promoting perfection prevents progress (try saying that three times fast)
Academics are notorious perfectionists. We spend inordinate amounts of time trying to make our work flawless, whether that work is a manuscript, lecture, email, or (cough) blog. This perfectionism means our work is never truly done, causing it to ooze into our personal life. Regrettably, perfection, by its very nature, is unattainable and seeking it is folly. Instead of perfection, strive for good enough. You can practice doing good enough work by letting things go before you are ready and setting pre-determined limits on how much time you will devote to any one task.
Technology is your frenemy and must be treated as such
As with all frenemies, it is best to interact with technology cautiously, holding close the knowledge that underneath the alluring façade lurks a cesspool of dangers. So feel free to hang out with technology and use it to make your life easier. But also create clear boundaries around technology’s influence on you. If you are truly interested in differentiating professional time from personal time, then you must do the hard work of disconnecting from the things that keep you electronically tethered to your job after hours—like obsessively checking your work email while at home.
As promised in my last post, below are differentiation strategies for the four vulnerabilities I outlined.
Toxic workspaces have a tendency to creep into personal time by hijacking your thoughts and feelings. For example, you might find yourself ruminating on an interaction that happened at work or feeling anxious when you think about the workplace, which is likely often. Strong professional boundaries then require having outlets for those thoughts and feelings, including a supportive social network, therapy, coaching, or creative practice (journaling, art, dancing, etc.). Careful here not to just vent about the issue but also problem-solve around how to change your environment, even if it means having an exit plan.
As I mentioned in my last post, this is my vulnerability. So I use lots of aids to keep me focused on the time. I have a ridiculous number of clocks in my office and use a therapist trick of having one that I can see without turning my head when meeting with someone. Additionally, I always wear a watch, use my calendar’s audible appointment reminder, and set timers when I am working on a task that gently inform me when my time is up. For the latter, I am partial to this timer but also use my iPhone timer in a pinch.
ORGANIZATION AND PLANNING
Not to punt on this topic, but it is a huge area that most of us can benefit from improving. So I will tackle it in my upcoming post.
See the perfectionism strategy above.
What to do next?
Practice, practice, practice. Differentiation strategies will only work if you incorporate them in your daily life. Start by choosing one strategy you don't already use and practice it throughout the week. Note any changes you experience as a result of the practice. Add another strategy the next week and note any changes, and so on and so on.
Choreographing a professional-personal dance that promotes optimal health and wellness requires focus and intentionality. The good news is you are now half-way toward learning this dance’s four steps. Next month’s post focuses on step three—seeking efficiencies at home and at work. Stay tuned…
In peace and solidarity,