5 Boundary-Setting Tips for the Work Obsessed


[Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Anne Zelenka, who serves as Editor at Large for Web Worker Daily.]

If you are so passionate about your work that you border on obsessed, you might find it near impossible to turn work off.

This is especially so in the web age, when you can stay connected no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you’re doing. What do you do when suggestions like “work only during certain hours” and “don’t check email on evenings and weekends” just don’t seem to be enough?

Here are five more powerful tricks for keeping work in its place…

1. Choose flow-inducing hobbies that really engage you and pull your mind away from work.

Flow is a sense of effortless engagement in what you’re doing. You’ll find it in activities that have clear objectives and challenge you just a bit beyond your current level of skill. What kind of hobbies can produce flow? Sports like skiing or martial arts, art like painting or pottery, games like poker or bridge, and puzzles like crosswords or sudoku are a few examples. Such activities will lure you away from work because, unlike passive activities like watching TV, they can provide the same sense of engagement and challenge that your work life offers.

2. Set goals in your personal life just like you do in your professional life.

Working towards goals is a sure way of getting yourself excited enough about non-work activities that you can pull yourself away work. This tip works in tandem with the first, because goal-oriented activities are more likely to provide a sense of flow than activities taken on for simple recreation and relaxation. Tim Ferriss describes a process he calls “dreamlining” [sample worksheets and excel tools here] for applying timelines to your life goals and dreams — that’s a great way to make your personal goals just as actionable as your work projects.

3. Schedule dates with other people for non-work activities.

For example, schedule a workout session with a personal trainer, arrange to meet a friend for happy hour after work, or make weekend plans with your friends or family to go hiking. Solo plans are easier to break in favor of work; if you have a commitment to another person you’ll be more likely to shut the laptop and mobile phone off.

4. Use tech boundaries to separate your work and your life.

Think about whether you need to create different computer, email, and instant messaging accounts for personal versus professional activities. If you have access to all your work tools when you log in to upload vacation photos or video chat with a friend, you’re likely to get drawn into work email and work tasks even when you intend otherwise. If you show up as available on your work instant messaging account on a Saturday, a colleague might ask you a quick question that leads to a long discussion that consumes your weekend.

5. Decide your “no”s in advance.

Follow Tim’s advice and use the 80/20 rule to figure out which types of activities in your work life just aren’t worth the time you put in. This might be meeting people for lunch, attending conferences requiring plane travel and overnight stays, or taking extra projects on weekends. Whatever your low-value activities are, make a rule up front to say “no” instead of deciding on a case-by-case basis. If you can rule out entire classes of relatively unproductive business activities like this, you’ll leave more room for your personal life and boost your professional effectiveness at the same time.

Anne’s new book, Connect! A Guide to a New Way of Working from GigaOM’s Web Worker Daily, with Judi Sohn, offers practical tips and inspiration for anyone who wants to use the web for work success and satisfaction.

Related links:

The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (Plus: Weapons of Mass Distraction)

E-mail-Free Fridays and How to Save Your Weekend

Chapter 5 – The End of Time Management: Illusions and Italians

Posted on: January 16, 2008.

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54 comments on “5 Boundary-Setting Tips for the Work Obsessed

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