Is protecting your time and energy in the workplace an afterthought? It used to be for me. Early on in my career, I succumbed to letting my work take priority and run my life. That meant no boundaries, less time for myself, and poor health habits. But working in the corporate world for 10+ years, I now know what it means to protect your time and energy. The reality is that no one is going to be looking out for you more than you will, which is why it’s critical that you always advocate and speak up for yourself. Read on for the ways you can take control of your work versus letting your work control you.
Be Firm About Your Working Hours
I work at a global tech company with offices spanning all time zones and in a role where I work with people all over the world. That means that I’m getting Slack messages sent at every hour of every day and meetings put on my calendar before 9am and after 5pm. It would be impossible for me to have a life outside of work if I was constantly checking my phone and joining meetings outside of my working hours. It’s become such an issue recently that I had to express my concerns to my manager about it. She gave me permission to decline meetings outside of my working hours and instructed me to remind my team members of what my working hours are so I don’t feel obligated to respond to emails or messages early in the morning or late at night.
If you too are having issues such as this, I encourage you to talk about it with your manager. Express your concerns and share how it’s affecting your life outside of work. Discuss what the expectations are for you joining meetings or answering messages outside of your working hours. Once you’ve mutually agreed on what those are, confirm what your availability is with other team members. Communicate what meetings you are able to attend and what hours you will be responding to emails and messages. Setting expectations and being firm in your boundaries is key.
Maximize Your Meetings
There’s nothing worse than sitting in meetings all day only to realize it’s at the end of the work day and you haven’t even gotten to the bulk of your work. It’s even worse when you realize you’re in a meeting that you didn’t really need to be in or that easily could have been an email. In order to best maximize your time, first get a gauge for what meetings are necessary for you to attend. Decline any meetings where you won’t be contributing anything or if there’s nothing new that you are learning. If it’s unclear, reach out to the meeting host to understand the agenda and the objectives of the meeting before you accept or decline. You can also request meeting hosts to mark you as optional for future meetings if you’re not 100% needed so it’s always known when you’re needed.
On the flip side, if you are the one planning meetings, schedule the time that you believe is actually needed. Sometimes conversations warrant hour meetings, but in a lot of cases, you can be more efficient and instead schedule less time. In your meeting invite, share a clear agenda and respective owners so everyone knows their role going into the call. State your intention at the beginning, recapping the agenda and what you hope to get accomplished in the meeting. At the close of the meeting, share what the next steps are and who is responsible for what so there’s no confusion or outlying questions.
Take Control of Your Calendar
I highly recommend planning out your workweek a week or two ahead of time (before it gets full!) and putting blocks on your calendar as you see fit. Look for gaps where you can carve out time to work on projects or step away from the computer. I typically block my calendar in the early morning hours (before my actual working hours begin) to workout, as well as the 4pm hour to catch up on any last minute work from the day. I’ll then add 30 minute to 1 hour blocks periodically throughout the week to allow time for projects and ongoing enablement. I also put blocks on my calendar for my after work plans so I have all of my professional and personal activities in one place.
Tip: I color code my blocks to help me differentiate between work meetings vs. other priorities. For example, all of my work meetings are in blue but then any project/enablement time is yellow and personal time (breaks, appointments, social events, etc.) are in green.
Make Time for Productive Periods
When it comes time to work beyond answering emails and IMs, it’s important you set yourself up for success. As mentioned above, use the time you carved out on your calendar for projects and important to-do’s. Navigate to a quiet place where you can concentrate, free of distractions. I recommend closing out your email and whatever chat function you use (i.e. Slack, Teams, etc.) so you can get in flow and utilize your time most effectively.
Prioritize Your Health
In my first job post-college, I was working 60 hour weeks and living the most unhealthy lifestyle. I wasn’t provided a laptop so all my work had to be done at the office which meant little to no time for myself, especially with a long commute. I was burnt out and miserable and I vowed to myself after I left that company that I would never put myself in a situation like that again. Your health is of utmost importance and if you’re not functioning at your very best, you’re not going to perform at your very best. Here are my top recommendations to ensure you prioritize your health:
- Know when your work becomes too much and remember to advocate for yourself so your manager can help you find solutions and ensure your work doesn’t become your life. Speaking up is crucial since a lot of the time your manager won’t know the full scope of your day to day unless you’re openly sharing it.
- Say no when your bandwidth is stretched too thin. Be upfront about your priorities and explain that you simply cannot take on anymore work or that you’ll need to reprioritize your focuses.
- Make time for breaks, especially when you’re feeling stressed and anxious. You can do this by placing blocks on your calendar. Walk away from your computer and do what you feel is needed.
- On that note, make time to move your body every day! Do whatever you find joy in – dancing, running, strength training. I personally have found getting outside and going for a walk significantly boosts my mood and my energy which is a win/win in my book.
- Don’t check email or messages first thing when you wake up. I used to do this and it sent me into a spiral of anxiety. Now, I wait at least an hour so I have my mornings to myself which has made all of the difference.
- Know when to “turn off” work. Technology is a beautiful thing that allows us to be always connected but it can easily be a double-edged sword. Set a time where you close out your email and messages until the next day and stick to it!
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Success Manager at Salesforce and has over 10 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.