How setting parameters on work and social media can change your life

I’ll be the first to admit my life is often out of balance.

From time-to-time, my wife kindly informs me I’ve become addicted to my work. “You’re supposed to be helping the kids get their teeth brushed, but where are you? At your computer.”

There are 2 key problems going on in my situation, and in the situations of a large portion of the population:

  1. An imbalanced life — which not only reduces the quality of your time, but also the quality of your work.
  2. A need to “keep up” — in our global world, there are undoubtedly people working much longer hours than you. Sometimes, you may feel like you need to do the same in order to be just as successful. This is false.

Why balance is key to happiness and success

When your life is out of balance, you justify long hours working — even if those hours are low quality. You find yourself foregoing time with family and friends to do work-related activities, even if that’s just reading an article like this.

The problem is: most of your time is unfocused.

When you don’t set clear parameters for when you’re working and when you’re not working — then you’re both always working and never working. Sadly, you’re also always with those you love but never really with them.

This pattern is destructive because it robs you of being completely present to what you’re doing. On rare occasions, you may get into the zone while working. And on even rarer occasions, you may put your work out of mind and spend some meaningful time with the people in your life.

Balance is the key to fully living every moment of my life. I create balance by setting strict timelines for when I’m working and when I’m not. I have to be completely on or completely off. Anywhere in the middle is a slippery slope to distraction and backwards priorities.

In his TED talk, Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor explains the science of happiness and productivity. Most people have it backwards, thinking they must work hard and succeed in order to one day be happy. The science actually shows being happy is the catalyst for success and productivity.

Setting clear parameters

Most people are addicted to email, social media, and other information-based distractions. We’ve gotten used to never fully being present. This reality is destroying the quality of our lives, relationships, and work.

Here are the parameters I’ve set in my personal life (still a work in progress) to ensure I’m working when I say I’m working, and I’m not when I say I’m not. I get this schedule won’t work for everyone. I only use mine to provide an example.

Monday-Friday

From the hours of 6am-2pm, I’m “working,” which for me includes going to the gym, reading, writing, collaborating, and email.

After 2pm, I have zero access to my computer. A helpful strategy is literally leaving it in my backpack in my car. If it’s in my room, I’ll probably subconsciously wander to it.

From 2pm-6pm, I’m completely present with my kids, helping my wife with dinner, and eating dinner with my family.

From 7pm and on, I’m present with my wife and just before bed, I spend a few minutes in my journal recording insights from the day and mapping out the next day.

Saturday-Sunday

No work. No email. No social media. Just be with my friends and family. Actually living my life and having memorable experiences.

Social media and email

I’ve taken all social media apps off my phone. When they’re on my phone, I will automatically and unconsciously check them. I allow myself a scheduled time of 15 minutes once per day to check social media on my laptop. Social media is best as planned entertainment rather than unplanned distraction.

Checking my email more than 2x/day is wasteful. I can get away with checking my email after my morning routine and just before I complete my workday at 2pm.

Carrying my journal with me

Srinivas Rao recently explained why it’s important for all creative people to carry a notebook with them. I’m no different.

I keep my notepad with me when ideas and insights come, even when I’m not “working.” However, rather than losing myself in my thoughts as I usually do, I’m working on just writing the idea down, then letting it go and referring back to it during my working hours.

Interestingly, I’m getting more ideas because I’m living a more mindful life. Being present, after all, is the very definition of mindfulness.

The benefits of balance

Because my workday has a hard-and-fast end-time (2pm), I’ve found I use those hours much more effectively. I actually do what I planned on doing, rather than justifying loads of time distracted.

The other day, I watched an episode of Star Wars with my three kids. During the movie, my four year old boy came to the couch I was lying on and laid on top of me. I thought to myself, “These kind of moments only happen when you spend time with people. They can’t happen any other way.” I would have missed this moment and connection if I was in my normal distracted state. As Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Love is really spelled T-I-M-E, time.”

When you’re in balance, your time will be well-spent. You’ll be more focused and present on the moment, which will elevate not only your work, but in all the essential areas of your life.

You’ll be more alive in your moments. You’ll bring more energy, excitement, and life to your relationships rather than passively standing-by. Being constantly “connected” is the very thing getting in the way of deep and lasting connections with the beautiful things in your real life.

Your gratitude and appreciation for the simple things in your life will be amplified as your become more mindful of your life. This gratitude is the doorway to joy and happiness, which is the catalyst for productivity and success.

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