How to Protect Your Right to Personal Time

Our personal time is becoming an endangered species! Technology enablement and increased demands at work are the obvious killers, but we can’t ignore our own inability to draw boundaries. Our failure to say ‘no’ might just be our personal time’s worst enemy.

I recently read that in France, the French government is supporting their citizens by passing a “right to disconnect” law. In summary, the law requires companies with more than 50 employees to negotiate a new protocol to ensure that work does not spill into days off or after-work hours.

This doesn’t mean the end of work emails on weekends. Nor does it mean that employees are not required to be responsive or miss deadlines. Companies are simply required to relook at their modus de operandi and ensure, where they can, that they are enabling their employees to make smarter decisions around responsiveness, urgency, and work/non-work priorities.

Empowering the employee to exercise their basic right to drawing their ‘life boundary lines’.

I find myself sad that we would need such a law, even sadder that only one country in the world has been so bold to create and enact a law like this (one can always rely on the French to keep life balance in focus!). But I am happy that we are publicly acknowledging the fact that it is indeed beneficial for people NOT to work all the time!

But I also worry that enacting a law allows us to fall quickly into a victim mentality with regards to our own personal time. Laws enable us to blame others, reinforcing the thinking that we are a reactive and weak member of the relationship, not a proactive force in taking charge of our priorities, time and schedules.

To that end, and for all of us who don’t have a law to protect our rights to personal time, I’d like to give you a few suggestions on how to proactively protect YOUR personal time.

  1. Schedule your personal time into your calendar and don’t let anyone schedule over it without your consent. Years ago, while at Accenture, I would block my calendar out on Thursday mornings from 7–9am so I could attend my favorite spin class at the gym (insert your own situation here — gym, family time, date night, etc.). If someone tried to schedule something over that time, I would politely decline their meeting invitation because I had another commitment at that time, and suggest an alternative time that I would be available (and make every effort to say yes to their next meeting invitation). If it is your boss asking for the meeting, well….
  2. Let him/her know during objective setting, performance discussions, or other times when your task list/schedule is on the agenda that you have life priorities that need to be known. Help your boss understand that your health/family/downtime is a priority (a message that is becoming much more acceptable in the professional world right now), and you have one day a week where you will not be to your desk until 9am because John does such an awesome spin class (or other personal scenario near and dear to your heart). Of course if there is something truly urgent that requires cancelling out of class, you will — but hope that those instances are the exceptions, not the rule. Most of us expect the worst from our bosses when it comes to conversations like this. Trust that you will be pleasantly surprised by the support you get and may even uncover an ally in the ongoing pursuit of life balance.
  3. Don’t send emails on weekends. We could truly start an email free weekend revolution if every single one of us tried really hard not to send a work email on a weekend. Because here’s what happens: You send an email to the team and even though it’s not urgent, the fact that you sent said email on a Saturday says to others “Look at me! I’m working today. I’m really important. And now I’ve sent you this email and even though I don’t need you to respond, I expect you might because you want me to see that you too are not a slacker and are doing emails on Saturday”. So what happens next? The team responds so that 1) others on the email see that they are responsive and great 2) they can stop thinking about the email for the weekend (even though they won’t because they’ll have to see who else responded) and 3) your team thinks they have impressed you. None of this is any good for anyone, so be the bold one, and stop the insanity. Stop sending emails on weekends, and try your hardest not to respond to emails on weekends. If you do need to respond, try not to ‘respond to all’ if ‘all’ really don’t need to hear from you. Be the change you want to see, and you will start to make it happen. If you are working and trying to clean out a long unread email list then try setting your email settings so that the emails you are sending don’t actually leave your outbox until Monday. This way you got your work done as you needed to, but didn’t impact everyone else’s weekend.

Remember, this is YOUR personal time. It belongs to YOU. Guard it with your life. Be professional, polite and flexible where you can, but be PROACTIVE about protecting those things most important to you.

If You Do Nothing Else …

Schedule your personal time/events for next week in your calendar now — having something you really want to do appear in your calendar will help you keep your priorities front and center, and more easily preserved.


Originally published at www.thehealthyleader.com on January 19, 2017.