The pandemic may have accelerated a welcome shift towards flexible and remote working but not all the changes have been so positive. The US and several other nations have seen the average workday increase by 2.5 hours. That’s pretty scary given that long hours were already killing 745,000 workers a year before the pandemic.
Whether lockdown saw you working in the living room while homeschooling the kids or nipping into the study to clear emails on a dull weekend, it’s been harder than ever to maintain our boundaries. We fantasized about switching our commutes for sleeping in and yoga but ended up squeezing in more meetings. Without chats by the coffee machine and walks between meeting venues, we’re spending more time in our chairs and at our screens. There is even evidence that all that extra screen time has led to widespread eyesight deterioration.
All around the world, people are looking at ways to improve their work-life balance. Portugal banned bosses from getting in touch with staff after hours. In the UK, 30 companies are trying out a 4 day work week in the hope that employees can get the same amount done in less time.
Other recommendations include asking for help when you need it and taking regular breaks. Technology has helped us get into this mess but maybe it can get us out of it too. Here’s our guide to the best tech solutions that could help you improve your work-life balance.
Get it done
How can you protect your personal time? One way to do it is to make your working hours as productive as possible. Luckily there are loads of apps that can help you do just that.
Todoist is an app that puts all your to-do lists in one place, helps you prioritize and delegate tasks and keeps track of your progress on different projects. It integrates with other platforms like Gmail, Amazon Alexa, and Slack. You can see work meetings alongside vet appointments and daily meditation goals.
Be Focused is an app that uses a popular time management technique called the Pomodoro Method. The technique involves focusing on a task for 25 minutes then taking a short break. The idea is that you work long enough to get stuff done but not long enough to get distracted. The app helps you manage these work intervals to maximise your productivity.
Clockify is another useful tool. The app features a time tracker. This is ideal for anyone who charges by the hour but it can also boost productivity. Knowing how long it takes you to go through your emails or type up a report means you can schedule realistically. It also tracks which websites you use so you can see just how much time you wasted scrolling through Twitter or watching cat videos on Youtube.
Cut it out
40% of workers say they check their social media intermittently throughout the day. It’s easy to get in the habit of mindlessly cycling through the apps - email, social media, news, email, social media. After all, these apps are designed to be addictive.
Forest is an app that tackles this. When you are ready to start a task you plant a seed and a tree starts to grow. If you navigate away from the app before your timer is up, the tree dies! It’s surprisingly motivating.
If you need to navigate between apps and websites while you’re working, a tool that might suit you better is Freedom. It works by blocking or rationing time on distracting websites and apps. You can choose what to block and when. Focusme has similar features. It also allows you to block sites and apps automatically when you are in certain locations, like the office or library, and it has a ‘Force Mode’ that prevents you from changing your mind.
If emails are your biggest distraction, you can try this simple fix. Set specific times of day when you check your inbox and include them in your email signature. You could say, for example, “I check my inbox between 11am and 4pm.”
Cutting out distractions during the workday is important but so is cutting out work-related notifications during your personal time. If you use Apple devices, you can set upcustomised Focus and Personal modes that allow you to block personal notifications at work and block work-related notifications on the weekend. Windows has a similar feature called Quiet Hours.
Another way to save time and energy is to automate tasks.
Grammarly is an online writing assistant that proofreads your emails and documents in real-time. It picks up grammatical errors and more complex things like poor style or tone. It’s perfect for anyone in the habit of writing overly long sentences and saves time on Googling things like whether you should use ‘affect’ or ‘effect’.
The average worker spends 2.5 hours a day dealing with emails. Boomerang features an AI tool that helps you write good emails, a tool for scheduling emails to be sent later and an inbox management tool.
If you’re tech-savvy you can explore Windows Task Scheduler which allows you to schedule custom tasks. That could be opening up all the tabs you need in your web browser every morning, sending routine emails like weekly reports or posting on Linkedin.
You can also keep an eye out for Amy and Andrew. This AI solution is still in development but the entrepreneur developing these virtual assistants say they will be able to schedule meetings automatically, without any back and forth between parties.
Take a moment
Improving your work-life balance is not all about efficiency, discipline and organization. It’s also about disconnecting mentally and keeping your mind healthy…after all, it’ll only boost your productivity in the long run. Luckily, there are several apps that can help you do this.
Mindfulness and meditation app Headspace uses science-backed techniques to help you manage stress and develop healthy habits. Moodfit is designed to help you track and manage your moods. Happyify aims to up your happiness score. And if you need more than self-help techniques, Headspace Health can connect you to a professional therapist.
The changes the pandemic brought to work culture as a whole are here to stay. The digital world looks set to envelop more and more of our lives as web3 and the metaverse hit center stage. By taking charge of your work-life balance (and respecting your personal time) now, you’ll be better prepared to protect your health, optimize your productivity and keep up with the never-ending changes in an ever more digitized world.
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