If it was nearly impossible to distinguish work time from personal time before the pandemic, now it truly seems like an unattainable dream. The demands of the new ways we are working, the pulls to care for family and ourselves, and our attempts to stay connected with friends can make the day and night seem like a blur of computer screens and smartphone notifications. Our body and mind begin to feel under siege and, without setting some boundaries, we can feel isolated, exhausted and overwhelmed.
In this complex, rapidly changing world, is it possible to really set some boundaries between work and non-work time? Can we find the courage to put down the demands and distractions so we can recharge and more fully inhabit our life? Before you believe that inner voice reactive answer: ‘there is no way I can change this chaos!’, try this simple experiment in mindful leadership:
1. Transitions between segments in your work schedule
Look for the natural breaks in your scheduled day and create an intentional boundary. Boundaries require intentional, disciplined choices. For example, your 10 am conference ends at 11 am. When you leave that meeting, take a few minutes to stand and stretch at your desk. Take a few deep breaths and exhale with a sigh each time. Invite your mind to let go of the interactions in that meeting and pay attention to how your body feels as you stand up and stretch. These few minutes belong to you. Use them to care for yourself and re-center your mind and body so it is ready for the next segment of your day.
A second example involves making the choice to really nourish yourself during the day. When it is time to have lunch, it is also time to transition away from work. Close the computer, put away your phone and walk mindfully to lunch. Feel your feet on the floor of the hallway and redirect your attention to those steps every time your mind begins to pull you back to work. If you are home with other family members, invite them to join you as you prepare lunch and connect with one another over a meal. If you are at work, invite a colleague to join you.
These short breaks are important ways to help you cultivate resiliency in a hectic schedule. Look for other mindful breaks that support you and make a conscious choice to integrate them into your schedule. For more ideas, see my article on Purposeful Pauses at work:
2. Transitions between tech time and no tech time
Although it may seem strange to even think about it, your smartphone and laptop have off switches. Choose to use them. At some point in your day, at least 1 hour before bed, and ideally more, turn them all off. And keep them out of your bedroom. If you have been relying on them to wake you up in the morning, consider investing in an alarm clock. Having tech right next your head while you are trying to sleep often interferes with deep, restorative sleep because a part of your brain is waiting for the technology to buzz. And a failure to get a good night’s sleep affects your physical and mental health. You are not only feeling tired, lack of high quality sleep affects, among other things, your immune system, memory and creativity.
You take great care to keep the technology recharged. Do the same for yourself by disconnecting from technology for set periods every day. This choice to create a boundary and leave tech behind for a while will allow you to connect to yourself, family, pets or friends. Trying to authentically connect with one eye on a screen is disrespectful and guaranteed to be noticed by others. Think about it, when you are speaking with someone and they keep glancing at their phones, how does it make you feel?
Create a ‘no tech zone’ for your house, and set aside ‘no tech hours’ for your entire family. You may soon find that tech connections are no substitute for human connections.