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Home-Job Balance: How I "End" My Job Day

Previously on Home-Job Balance . . .

In my previous post, I submitted that a big step toward improving work/life balance is to replace that phrase with "home-job balance." Doing so corrects several problems with the current phrase, and brings our attention where it often belongs: home.

I'm going to answer the questions I asked in that post and give some tips on how I "close up shop" for the day, which I can do at any time during the day.

When am I at home vs at the job?

Job
It's startlingly easier for me to identify when and where I'm on the job than at home.

  • When I'm performing tasks specifically for my company or my company's client (I work for a consulting company.)
  • When I'm reading company and client messages (Slack, email).
  • When I'm getting company/client notifications (meetings, messages, tasks).
  • At my computer with certain folders and applications open, such as client code repositories, Visual Studio, Azure DevOps.
  • Reading subject articles to complete my tasks.
  • Reading general articles/books for my career. This includes reading blog posts like the one I'm writing!
  • I feel on the job if I'm talking about my job to family and friends with my attention on solving job problems, not just describing what I do.
  • Likewise, I'm on the job if I'm dwelling on my job when I don't have to be.

Home
It'd be a mistake to decide I feel at home when I'm not doing my job.

Being home can't be "the absense of job."

Here are some ways I feel at home.

  • Working on house projects, especially when they're nice to do instead of "must do." I had to clean the garage door rails because the door kept (and, sigh, keeps) sticking. I crafted and installed a little shelf across the kitchen window for my wife's herbs. I felt at home with both, and enjoyed the second more.
  • Being in the living room with my wife and dog. It often doesn't matter what I'm doing. They're close and they matter.

The above involve being physically at home. But home doesn't have to be a place. A house isn't always a home. Some other ways I feel at home are,

  • Reading a book. The less it's related to my career, the more at home I feel. Fiction brings me home because I grew up entering the worlds of imagination.
  • Watching TV or movies. Like books, these take me out of my job and into other lives. Note that I do these on my computer.
  • Walking my neighborhood. I'm lucky to live somewhere I enjoy.
  • Exercising, especially either being instructed or leading a class.
  • Having earnest and playful conversations with family and friends.

Keeping my job separate when it uses the same place and tools

I do my job in my home office at my laptop. I also do home stuff in my home office on the same laptop. It's not productive for me to maintain two different laptops. Here's what I do to cue myself "this is the job, Dude."

Different browsers and/or profiles
I use Brave for my home browsing and Edge for my work browsing.

In Edge, I have two job profiles: my company and my client. To make switching between those two easier, I loaded my company profile and pinned that instance to my Windows task bar. Then I loaded my client profile and pinned that instance.

The result is it's faster and easier for me to open Edge with the needed bookmarks and security context in place.

Notice I put Home first?

Clearly separate job folders
I have a high-level job folder, and no personal projects go in that. Recently, I made another change I love. I have separate high-level Git repository folders for my job and personal projects.

C:\source <= ONLY client repos
|_project 1
|_project 2
C:\users\charl\source\repos <= ONLY personal repos
|_project 1
|_project 2

UPDATE 20220126: Reader Avesh Jain sent me the following nice suggestion.

One tip I'd like to mention is using virtual desktops. I keep a virtual desktop for personal apps and browsers, and one for each client/project. I pin common applications so they appear on all virtual desktops (e.g., OneNote).

Leaving the job for the day

I have a loose ritual I can do at any time to signal to myself "I'm done with my job for the day" or "done for now."

  1. Close job-specific browsers
    I close my job Edge browsers. But what if I have a couple dozen browser tabs open for a job project? I use a cool extension like Qlearly to save them all, and can reopen when I'm on the job again.

  2. Close job-specific apps
    Some apps I only use for my job, for example Slack. Slack "closes" to the notification area. I right-click that icon and Quit the app. Bam, Slack, you no longer control me!

  3. Close File Explorer showing job folders
    Not minimize. Close. I add friction to looking at my job's work.

    Confession: I actually use the terrific FreeCommander XE paid version to manage my files. My job folder tabs are in the left pane. I close those tabs, or close the app, or at least minimize it.

  4. Close any windows showing job-related documents
    For me, this can be: Visual Studio, VS Code, Word, Excel, Balsamiq, LINQPad . . . you get the point.

    I know. In your mind you're thinking, "But I just need to open them all again and pick up where I left off. It's so much easier to leave them open."

    That's true. It's easier. That's the point. You're making it easy to stay on the job. Instead, make it easy to be at home.

  5. Say, "I'm going home"
    This sounds silly. It isn't, and it takes one second. Try it.

  6. Close my laptop lid
    If I've had a really tough day.

  7. Walk away from my computer
    I was surprised how much difference it makes to physically go to another room where my computer isn't. I'll go back to it later on my own terms.

  8. Do something that makes me feel at home
    You know, from that list I made.

Maybe I'll open my computer again fifteen minutes later to shop for new bed sheets. Fine. I've given myself the end-of-job cue and a break I deserve right now.

Final Thoughts: Notifications

What and who are you putting first all the time? Have you made yourself "always available"?

By default, lots of computer and phone apps have their notification turned on. Schedule yourself some self-care time to learn your app settings, have a heart-to-heart with yourself, and turn off whatever you can.

For example: Slack/Teams/Discord users, ask yourself, "Which channels are urgent, if any?" I hope for you the initial answer isn't "all of them"! I set up Slack so I only get notified on a couple of channels and if I get a direct mention. When I quit Slack on my computer, I know I'll still get emergency notifications on my phone.

When you're on the job, put it first. When you're at home, put it first.

The difference between a self-managing team and a managed team

This won't take long, but helped bring things into focus for me.

The first one's Agile. The second one's bureaucracy.


Self-Managing Team
"We hold each other accountable."
Managed Team
"I hold you all accountable."

Change the Phrase to "Home-Job Balance"


I'm on a mission. It's a doomed mission primarily because I'm a little-known software engineer who's read by--maybe--a dozen people in the world. But that's OK. If my mission appeals to you, then that's a little bit of success in my life.

My mission is to change the phrase "work-life balance" to "HOME-JOB BALANCE"

Making my case won't take long. Here it is.

  • "Work-life balance" promotes a completely wrong mental model from the start. It's saying that there are two areas of existence: work and life. Anything outside of work is life, and life isn't part of work.
  • It's also implying "we shouldn't have to work at our lives."
  • Finally, the syntax puts "work" at the front, when our home lives are what we're routinely missing out on. Home should come first.

We all know "work vs. life" is wrong. Work is part of our lives, it's part of life. With the increase in remote work--note: work from home--we need to be clear about what we're balancing.

"Work" isn't something we just do for our jobs. We work at being good spouses, good friends, good parents, at taking care of our bodies and minds. Work isn't bad.

So, what I'm balancing isn't work and life. What I'm balancing are my home and my job. When and where am I "at home"? When and where am I "on the job"

This is hard, for sure, especially for workers who have children or are caregivers for relatives. I think it becomes easier when we stop thinking about "work" and "life," and frame our lives as "home" and "job."

This is the first article, the "what" of the mission. My next will give guidance on how, a lot of which others have already written about.

In the meantime, here are some questions to answer:

HOME

  • Where do I feel "at home"?
  • When do I feel "at home"?

JOB

  • Where do I do my job?
  • When do I do my job?

CRUCIAL DIFFERENCES

  • What separates--or can separate--being "at home" from being "on the job"?
  • What are my rewards for keeping them separate?

I'll post again soon!