01 March 2016

5 Ways to Draw the Line Between Work and the Rest of Life

Published on 01 March 2016

By Florence Thum, Lecturer, College of Law and Counselling Psychotherapist, Transfigure Therapy

Smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, smart watch… this list of ‘things’ that will purportedly make us more connected and more in touch with our world continues to expand. We must not waste a minute of our time, so in a past where we might once have fantasised about a tropical holiday while commuting to work or reading a book for leisure, we are now answering those emails that require only a short response in order to save time later…? Save time for what…dare we ask?

As we increase our use of these devices for leisure and pleasure, in our work and for the sake of efficiency and responsiveness, the expectation that we ought to be contactable for ‘a quick query’ grows. Furthermore, as a natural progression, we also ought to be available and willing to respond on demand, particularly when ‘everyone is doing it’. Are they really?

Some of us continue to hold a romanticised view that technological gadgets and devices are making our life easier and simpler, yet a trawl through social media and your own inbox tells a different story. Somewhere along the way, we have become accustomed to sending emails at the crack of dawn and wondering why a reply was not immediately forthcoming. Somehow checking our social network becomes an imperative; not doing so—anxiety provoking.

Whatever the cause/s, it is clear we who live relatively busy lives as lawyers in high pressured environment need to identify our priorities. Know our limits. Assuming that we are able to create a list of priorities and rank them, how then do we go about implementing them? How do we tell our supervisors we have a dinner date with our spouse that we choose to prioritize over work? That it is already 7.30 pm, for goodness sake? How do we say ‘no’ to the work being delegated to us in the first place?

Here are 5 pointers on how to draw the line between work and the rest of life.

  1. Demonstrate self-love

    Treat ourselves well, with respect and others will too. It is true. Or at the very least, they would think twice before disrespecting our space. A request to stay back at work by the boss need not be met with resignation and resentment. Instead, inform him or her that … you have arranged a gym session for 8pm (reminding him or her that it is indeed late) or that you need to go grab dinner before your book club (thus informing that you do have other things in life besides work). Most importantly, not being able to do something now doesn’t mean you can’t offer to do it another time, say tomorrow.

  2. Be assertive, not apologetic

    We apologise when we are in the wrong. So unless you believe that you are wrong in setting boundaries that is, what is requested of you is reasonable and fitting within your job description, don’t apologize. Being assertive does not mean being aggressive, merely coming from a place of knowing we are entitled to say ‘no thanks’ calmly and confidently.

  3. Leave the line of communication open

    Seek to understand, and also be understood. Yes, as professionals, sometimes it is not easy to do as we wish. Most of us are dedicated in our careers and we strive for excellence. We also need to be flexible. Thus, leave an opening for conversation and negotiation.

    Be open to the possibility that you may have to stay back and not able to be home for dinner with the kids tonight. The thing is, it is not about the ‘thing’ itself, but rather the feeling behind it. You will know when this ‘thing’ is happening too frequently or becomes regular or when you begin to feel the fatigue or mental or emotional drain.

  4. Know what you want

    Learning to draw the line is more about internal values. What is valuable to me? Can I live with certain consequences? What am I willing to forgo or sacrifice?

    And what of the other guy in the office who’s staying back, possibly racking up the ‘goodwill’, seemingly receiving the accolades of being the ‘hard worker’? Well, it’s about loving yourself and valuing your life. Need I say more? If you had wanted to live by someone else’ values then there would be no issue.

  5. Be patient

    It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Setting boundaries is not a one-off occasion, it is living by our values. They inform the way we live our lives and need to be reinforced time and time again. 

In the meantime, keep doing work that is meaningful to you.

Happy drawing lines!

Florence is a dispute resolution lawyer, educator and trainer. Florence believes self-awareness is crucial for resilience and wellbeing. A commitment  to health and wellbeing in legal practice is vital for a thriving profession.