What Do I Do When Work Takes Over My Life?

Posted March 20, 2020 in Career Management, Communication, Latest News & Insights, Leadership, Resilience

Over the past few days, life has unfolded in a way that I think few could’ve predicted when the ball dropped to mark the start of 2020. Who would have predicted that by March, instead of packing for a beach vacation, many of us would be scrambling to change travel plans, set up home offices and find ourselves navigating a rapidly moving global health pandemic?

We are living in a time of major uncertainty, which of course undermines focus and productivity for all. Many social media posts have hailed this as a ‘wake-up call’ to force us all to slow down, but in my conversations with friends and clients over this past week, I’m struck by how incredibly SLAMMED people are at work.

Suddenly there is no white space in the calendars. No time for reflection or strategic thought. What once was a quick breeze-by the desk conversation or chat near the office kitchen microwave is now a scheduled half-hour block in the calendar. The consistent theme that I’m hearing from the early days is that this is not tenable. Something has to give, and I can guess what will give first: our mental health.

Candidly this is a recipe for burnout.

So how do you create boundaries when work and life have become intertwined? When your routine has been fully upended? We’ve all rapidly shifted to becoming integrators, where work and life has been blurred. It’s quickly become difficult to know where work ends and life begins as many of us find ourselves living down the hall from our offices. I’d suggest this is the time to become a “segmentor”. To look at what boundaries we can set in place to protect our mental energy and retain our resilience.

A few quick suggestions…

  • Take time to review at your calendar for the week ahead (I like Sunday nights myself)
  • Block off white space in your calendar in the day for reflection or call it “strategic thinking”.
  • At the start of the day, reflect on your top three priorities for that day and the success of the day before.
  • Lastly, build in time for you. Wake up early before the work-day or kid-day starts to clear your brain. Try an app like Headspace or get in a walk or workout. Don’t use the time to clear your inbox or ‘get a jump’ on your day.

A Special Note about Virtual Teams

All the great advice on leading virtual teams seems to be some version of “you need to increase your communications!” Yes, this is true, but you also need to be intentional and purposeful or as my colleague said, “It’ll be like throwing spaghetti at a wall.” Some meetings will be useful and stick while others will just make a big old mess of distraction. Here are a few thoughts on streamlining your communication:

  • If you don’t already consider daily 15-minute huddles with your team to ensure focus on priorities and connection. Keep the agenda simple: what’s one thing that’s working and what are your top priorities for today? This shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds per person. Pro tip: don’t skip the ‘what’s working’ part. It’s important to create positive energy when times are tough.
  • Become ruthless with declining meetings that have no clear purpose or objective. No agenda, no attend-a.
  • Evaluate your existing meetings. Revisit the purpose and outcomes that each meeting should deliver. If you can’t articulate a clear outcome, don’t have the meeting.

This is admittedly a time that is challenging many of us both personally and professionally, but it also holds an opportunity. An opportunity to look at the way you work and to rethink your approach.

Leah Parkhill Reilly is the Program Director at The Roundtable, an organization that helps leaders navigate disruption, change and growth through group coaching and mentoring programs.

Additional Reading & Resources:

WorkLife with Adam Grant “When work takes over your life” April 2018

“Segmentors vs Integrators: Google’s work-life-balance research” DECEMBER 14, 2016

BEYOND NINE TO FIVE: IS WORKING TO EXCESS BAD FOR HEALTH? Academy of Management Discoveries 2017, Vol. 3, No. 3, 262–283.


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