How to Keep Your Work Life in Check

I'm in the doghouse.

You see, I committed the ultimate sin for a guy. I forgot Valentine's Day yesterday.

I've been so wrapped up in a copywriting project, I simply forgot.

The fact is, when you work at home, maintaining a balance between your work life and your home life is a fine line. And I crossed it in the wrong direction.

Bad move.

So, to get back on track, I'm revisiting some ground rules that I set for myself a few years back. Overall, they've helped me work hard and achieve my goals, but keep my priorities straight and focus on what's most important.

At the time, I was working 55 hours a week, trying to squeeze in finishing the Accelerated Program wherever I could, and writing very mediocre copy in my spare minutes. Oh, and I had four young kids, two in school and two at home.

The schedule has changed since, but the ideas I still follow may help you maintain that delicate balance, too.

There seem to be three main areas of distractions that can pull you out of whack:

  1. The phone and email. The simple solution: don't answer the phone during your "office hours" (see # 2 below), and only check email twice a day (maybe at noon and 5 PM). The exception for the phone is client calls you're expecting. Everybody else gets a voice mail message that says, "I'm currently working on a project with a tight deadline, but your call is very important to me … "
  2. Family. Don't get me wrong – my wife and kids are the most wonderful "distractions" in the world. But in order to give them my all when I'm not working, I have to give my work 100% when I'm in my office.

    To accomplish this, I post "Office Hours" on my door, so they know when I'm available and when I'm not. To make it even more clear for my kids, a baseball hat on the door means it's okay to come inside and play, and a black fedora (my "work" hat!) hanging on the door means "do not disturb".

    Oh, and one other crucial tool – earplugs! Seriously. I can block out the world, lock my office door, and crank on the writing without interruptions.

  3. Housework and errands. Again, designate certain times for this, and stick to it. But, things will always come up (they always do). With four kids involved in a lot of activities, I do a lot of running around. I carry my iPad, a notebook and a pen with me at all times. I've learned to write in 15-minute chunks, or I wouldn't get anything done.

Bottom line: whether you're working, or spending time with family: Be there. Do you have any advice for keeping your work life in check? Share it with me and your fellow readers by adding a comment below.

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Published: February 15, 2011

14 Responses to “How to Keep Your Work Life in Check”

  1. Wow! A forum, a soapbox! This is great. Didn't know I was permitted to voice an opinion. Good blog. My form of balance is to disappear by taking a walk, or simply closing the door. As for my "work" life, I work in the medical language editing field, and also write a few blogs. For balance, I paint. And since I love music, I devise appropriate musical names for my paintings. It's an interesting life, covering almost all the bases - except sports! Would love to see some expansion there.

    Guest (Yael Eylat-Tanaka)

  2. Steve, One thing that helps me stay on track is keeping a list of things or projects that I am working on and the status of that job. I keep it on my calender so I know which days I work on each project and how long.

    Guest (Jackie Madison)

  3. I so needed to read this today. I have been very distracted by many things.

    One thing that I have found to help me is to use a buzzer. That way I can take a break when my kids get home from school and not get distracted for hours on end.

    Now, if I would only use the buzzer more diligently during the day!


  4. Thanks for the guidelines. These are some that I need to institute in my own life. For instance, it's 8:35 p.m. now, and I am responding to emails instead of being with my family.

    I'm turning the computer off now.

    Leslie Marsh Digital Ink Studio

    Leslie of Digital Ink Studio

  5. I need more articles like this one! I have ADD and have side effects with the medicine, so I'm on my own. Exploring yoga and exercise as ways to deal with it.
    I have recently gotten a writing accountability partner which really helped.

    Beth Carson

  6. I seem to like your advise on keeping my work on check.
    Cheers Steve!

    Guest (Vysus)

  7. I agree with your solution to finding time for family and finding time for work. My solution is to make a list of everything. This means work and my leisure activities. And I put limits of time by each one. When the list says "walk dog", I grab the leash and off we go. My list has kept me in touch with every task that I have to do daily. I revise the list as the day goes on. As time permits, I can add or cross off items. Thank you for your article. Have a productive day!!

    Guest (Karen)

  8. If you are working for someone they come first.
    If you are getting paid for that job( and I hope you are) That is your #1 priority Your family is also important, but they are #2 Never feel guilty about your decisions Because it can be very troubling and therefore how do you expect to do that job well.

    Guest (Beverleebjb)

  9. I've been working from home since 1998 and I have found that when my business day ends, it is helpful to shut the office door and walk away - just like I would if I was working outside the home. From that point on, my time and attention are focused on my family and not my work.

    Guest (Lynne)

  10. Steve, thanks for the suggestions.

    Dividing work time and family time is always a tradeoff.

    I no longer have young kids, but I wish I had spent more quality time with them than on my work. I have many useless files from decades of work related time, but few files on my kids and family.

    Pictures are great, but they only remind you of how that child or family member looked and not what was the most important person or thing on their mind or in that person’s life at the time of the shot.

    Here are some ideas that others might benefit from:

    1. Keep all of your appointments (family and work) in the same place. Treat them with the same reverence.

    2. At the back or front of your appointment book add notes on what you did with your kids over the weekend or special trip, birthday, etc. To make it very special, ask your child why he or she liked the activity and record it in your file.

    Guest (Geoff Wood)

  11. Steve,

    What a terrific article. Thanks for sharing it. We appreciate your point of view; you have an interesting angle.

    Me, I can't work with distractions. I need peace and quiet when I am at work.

    So, it is a good idea to book a room in your local library. Some may even provide the service free of cost to members of the community.

    There are also reading rooms there. Sit inside the enclosed space of a cubicle.

    Privacy is key to getting things done.


    Archan Mehta

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