Fences

It’s been nearly a decade since I had a traditional job, but I remember well the boundaries (then) between work and the rest of my life.

Work began (mentally) when I got in the car, drove toward the office, walked through the office door.  Work ended when I walked to the car and drove toward home. My schedule stayed consistent, 8 to 4, Monday to Friday, with little variation.

Typically, I shared about my work day with my husband, talking through one crisis or another. I thought about my clients, deadlines, and coworkers at home, but not much. Occasionally, I took phone calls during evening hours or on the weekends from clients or their frantic family members.

Generally, my work was contained, fenced off, from the rest of my life. At least, I think it was.

I didn’t have work email to check at home. Although it seems impossible, I don’t think I had work email at all. I left full time employment in 2001, and our organization was just beginning to use email; I didn’t have a cell phone.

I had my work life, which I immersed myself in for 40 hours a week with energy, dedication, and focus. And I had my home life, which I pursued with equal enthusiasm: hours spent on church work with my husband, running, managing my home, reading, relaxing.

Mostly, my life then divided cleanly: work and life, life and work.

I am not sure that many people live such cleanly divided lives anymore.

My husband, after spending nearly 60 hours a week at the office, comes home to phone calls and emails. His cell phone alerts are a ceaseless intrusion to our quiet evenings at home.  He does a good job of shifting his focus from work to home (and back again.) And… his work is always with him.

I just wrapped up a very busy season of my new work life.

For about six weeks, I worked full-time. When I say full-time, I mean full-time hours but I mean more than that.

I immersed myself fully in the work; I let it consume my thoughts, energy, and focus. Since I work at home, I had a difficult time breaking away from it. If I wasn’t working, I was thinking about work: from very early in the morning until the end of the day, seven days a week.

As a work at home mom, I struggle with boundaries. I always want to check my email one more time, send one more tweet, and finish just one more project.

I don’t know to contain my work; I have trouble shutting it off.

And… I must.

Over the next few weeks and months, I will be exploring these areas of boundaries and work. I will experiment with what it means to be a work at home mom who is fully immersed in work and who maintains proper boundaries in order to be fully present, also, with my husband and daughters.

Can you help?

Tell me something. How do you contain your work? What boundaries do you keep between work and your home/family life?

Filed As:  life, boundaries

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • I am wrestling with this very same question, Becky. When I get into a good groove with work I have trouble wresting myself away to be completely with my family. I am half-listening to the kids and half-thinking “…if I pipe that output to COMBO then the new file would…” I am grateful for my job’s flexibility but this part of it is hard.

    I’ve never been very good at work/home boundaries, though. Even before I had kids, when I was working clinically I brought my patients home in my head.

  • Hi, I am sure you have tried it already, but a good way would be to make a schedule a week at a time and then make you utmost to stick to it. Which is the hardest. But it is useful to know that building a habit is always difficult.
    Get to cellphones, one for work one for private. Turn work-phone off after workhours, let them leave messages. And when it comes to emails, trust in you own ability to make do with your work-time. If you don’t stop in time – make sure you take of your working time the same amount at a later date.

    Decide how many hours you need to work, or want to work and then trust in you ability to do the things you need to or have to do.

    Regards,
    Annette

  • Sweet Becky – You are addressing the challenge of today. At 66, I have had the blessings of being at multiple places in my work/career/family life/balance. I did not work outside the home until our kids were in college. And then, it was not outside the home- my hubby had a heart attack and moved his law office home. I had been a full time wife and mom, and an active volunteer and fund-raiser for many organizations until then. I even did fund raising for the kids private high school and served on that board after they graduated and were in college.
    Gulf War I was the beginning of cell phone addiction for me. Our son was on active duty and was on the front line of that action.
    Cell phones enabled us to be in very frequent conversation with him, and then became a very effective tool for my husband as he recovered at home and figured out how to change his business style.
    Fast forward, his career changed, our kids are married with children of their own living at opposite ends of the country and hubby and I are truly “empty nester’s”.
    I decided to leap into the business world on my own. YIKES!
    I can be an active volunteer on multiple non profits, communicate with our kids and grandkids, and be in the business world and never leave home.
    Balance is the challenge. I make a schedule and stick to it! I have my own weekly calendar on my desk and it’s blocked out – business(KEG stuff – my own business)
    Personal ( family communications- phone and e-mail, time w/ my mom, time with my hubby,spiritual/church time, personal facebook and e-mail visits, daily walking, mundane household stuff, etc)
    Volunteer time ( I’m on the Bd of a local non profit, and a state non-profit, + my church activities)
    Life gets out of balance all the time. Turn off the computer!!
    Take a walk with one or more of your girls. Schedule lunch with a friend. Plan date nights with your hubby.
    However – Your life! YOU get to choose and set the boundaries!
    Good news – You’re in charge! Bad news – You’re in charge!
    Best Advice? Love your life! Find JOY in your day!
    in

  • My advice: If you have a home office, keep your work there. The kids and husband know that when you are in the office you are working and when you are not, then you are free to give them attention. Then it just takes discipline to stay out of the office for a certain amount of time each day.

    Portable devices are good, but our family lives are suffering from constant interruption and our minds are split in a many different directions.

  • Keeping the Sabbath is a good way to establish boudaries in your week as well. Dedicate one day to “rest”. Free your mind to be consumed with thoughts of God, love and re-creation. You’ll find your weeks more spiritually fruitful, have renewed focus and energy for your long days. It may take a bit of getting used to, but eventually you’ll find yourself looking foward to that time.

    • Great advice Lisa! We recently made a commitment to this idea. We try not to cook, clean, go grocery shopping, etc on our dedicated Sabbath day.

  • When my position was unexpectedly eliminated over a year ago, after 10 years with the agency, I wallowed in unemployment grief for a long time. Even though I was self-employed through leadership presentations & client engagements, I couldn’t get past the word “unemployed.”

    With my school-aged kids, I always thought I’d be bored working from home, something I’m doing everyday now — managing social media for clients; marketing, developing and delivering leadership workshops; contacting potential clients; and other duties related to my “business.” In fact, it’s getting harder to fit in time to take care of household duties, something that I feel is important and part of my job at home.

    My plan is to schedule my priorities, i.e. “work” from 7:30-9 a.m., “homework” from 9-10 a.m., “work” from 10-noon, etc. Naturally there’ll be exceptions, and I’ll have to discipline myself to stick to the timeframes – even if that means setting a timer. We know how easy it is to get sucked into cyberspace and not want to leave.

    If I don’t hold myself accountable to priorities at home and work, as a natural multi-tasker, I’ll spend 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there — depleting energy yet leaving me with a feeling that everything’s started but never finished.

    Not sure how helpful I’ve been, other than to empathize with you. Perhaps we all need a support / accountability group??

  • To me it has become more about flow than separation. I understand you perfectly since I am a mom of three and have been an entrepreneur for 20 years. Being your own boss sounds so sexy, but probably is more tyrannical than it seems. Usually, I push myself to do more, do it better. I get ideas in the middle of the night and want to act on them. I am crazy that way. Yet, balance is about being in the moment for me. I no longer try to fence out the work or the rest-of-life activities. I focus on being fully into where I am. So, when I am on my computer, I don’t pretend to be paying attention to my kid’s conversation and vice-versa. I do have an office, though and that sometimes helps. But it only shields me from doing the dishes or organizing my closet instead of finishing that proposal! I still carry my laptop home and keep tweeting or writing or answering email, like now, early morning with my tea, sitting in the living room. Or sometimes late night while the family is into other activities. Yes, I squeeze in a lot of work and get loads done. And I have also learned to fully enjoy picking up the guys, going to Starbucks with them, having that one-on-one talk or that family get together. Life turns slightly imbalanced, and I gently self-correct. Beating myself up less and less about it. I schedule time with my friends, which is what gets left out more easily. I put it in my calendar and treat it like a meeting with my biggest client. Stategies vary, but shifting from trying to work it out mathematically to making the flow seamless has really helped.

  • Thanks for starting this discussion, Becky! I think we all need it. After reading the other comments, now i might just be glad i work at work instead of at home! I am completely incapable of multi-tasking, so i would be a terrible work-from-home mom. I think it makes it a lot easier to separate the two when they are in different geographic locations.

    I’m slowly coming to the realization that the internet is ruining my family. Our condo used to be organized so that the computer was separate from the living room. That meant that when we were spending time together hanging out, the computer was somewhere else. We recently had to rearrange everything, and now the computer is in the living room with us. It made a noticeable difference in the quality of our conversations. For example: my husband and i are sitting on the couch talking. I run to the kitchen for a drink of water. In the 25 seconds while i’m gone, my husband jumps on the computer to check his email real fast. He then gets on an internet tangent and is completely absorbed in reading a random website when i return. The conversation we were in the middle of is now dead, and we have to start over.

    We have to impose “technology curfews” for ourselves, such as we’re not allowed on the internet for X amount of time in the evening. If we don’t make rules about it, then it’s too much of a distraction, and we lose human contact.

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