You’re not alone if you struggle to find enjoyment inside and outside of work. It’s a problem most of us face. We want to have content and fulfilling moments in life, but we have to work to feed our families and pay bills.
How do you enjoy life outside of work? First, stop trying to chase the time that feels like it’s escaping you. Then, you create boundaries that develop contentment and foster energy. You become more efficient with your time so you can be more content, not more productive.
Enjoying life outside of work is one of the biggest things I struggle with. A good portion of my self worth is tied to my personal production… “How much do I create”, “Is it good enough”, “What will people think of what I made?”.
We can break out of the cycle of constantly feeling like work is tearing us away from joy and slow moments. We can reclaim our time by structuring it to serve us instead of the other way around.
Sidenote: you are allowed to quit your job… You don’t have to stay in a job that drains you and try mental gymnastics to reinvigorate your passion for it. You are also allowed to stay in a job you don’t love, or maybe a job that has crossed some personal boundaries. And that’s what we’re going to talk about here.
Stop allowing life-style creep by understanding this law
When we ask “how do we enjoy life outside of work”, the root problem we’re facing is that it feels like time is slipping away. All the time we mentally reserved for rest and relaxation is now becoming consumed with tasks and lists and paystubs.
The feeling like your time is always on someone else’s terms is because of a phenomenon called Parkinson’s Law.
Parkinson’s law states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
In college I had the easiest paper due. 1 page, double-spaced analysis of Apple’s current financial position. Due in 2 weeks. Piece of cake.
But, somehow, there I was at 11:29p racing to finish it before the 12:00am deadline.
This is because of Parkinson’s Law. I had 2 weeks to finish something that should have taken me an hour, and I used up the entire 2 weeks.
This is the same thing we do at work with a slight twist…
Parkinson’s Law demonstrates that time, money, and energy all have a way of filling the containers given to them… and they usually get filled with things we don’t want.
It’s kind of like a woman who makes $5,000 each month. Her life is good, but she’d like to make more money because bills keep going up. Then, she gets a raise to $7,000 each month. But as she looks at her account, there’s no increase in money. It’s the same struggle. Bills keep increase and increasing.
Some people call this lifestyle-creep. Or it could be time-creep.
All of a sudden, as the budgeted income increased, expenses found a way to increase a well. More money means a more expensive car, and more eating out, and more Amazon Prime 2-day shipped items right to the doorstep.
This doesn’t just happen to our budgets. It also happens to our time! We allow open access to all of our time for work. And what does work do? It fills up that available time!
And then we wonder, why is work taking up so much of my life.
This is why life-style creep and time-creep is so dangerous. As we open up free time, money, energy, etc, the most available thing is willing to consume it if we don’t place boundaries in our life.
Focus on efficiency to improve contentment, not productivity
As I was researching before writing this article, I came across so many other articles on finding joy in life. And so many of them revolved around increasing productivity so you could get work done faster, and THEN have time to be content.
Increased productivity does not solve our problem. If we finish work faster, we’ll just find more work to fill up our freed up time. Remember Parkinson’s Law?
Instead, we want to increase efficiency in our work so we can clear up the chaos in our schedules and tasks. The biggest drain for me in work is how complex problems can be. Challenging issues and drama suck the joy out of my life.
So, I started adding systems and lists and scripts to as much as I possibly can in my work.
It’s not a magic fix to spring life into your work, but it sure does cut down on the confusion that you, your colleagues, and your clients have.
A system can be as simple as writing out a 1, 2, 3 step plan for the work you do so you can spend less time with open loops in your mind.
For example, I work in the mortgage banking world and it’s complex to keep track of mortgages and documents and tasks in process. So, I wrote out everything that happens step by step. And all the tasks that need to be checked off. So, at a quick glance at any moment I can see the stage of a loan without spending any energy thinking about it.
I never have to think about what to do next. The check list and steps always direct me to what’s next. And I know that once the check list and steps are complete, a loan is closed.
Systems can even be as simple as having email templates so you always communicate the same thing in the same way.
The goal with adding processes and systems is to keep our emotions and high-and-low energy from getting in the way of our work. That way, we can be more clear-headed and carry less work around with us in our minds.
Ultimately, we create processes and systems so we can spend less energy on figuring out what’s next in our work. This is designed to help us find more contentment as we clear up chaos.
It can alleviate some of the burden of decisions and tasks so we can add more life into what we’re doing.
Batching is an easy system to start
Batching is simply arranging something into groups.
Primarily, this is your time and energy while working.
Email is a huge drain of most people’s energy. It’s always grabbing our attention with semi-important things. But all of those notifications a make it feel like more is at stake.
I recently started batching my emails and I’ve seen an incredible shift in the background “hum” of thoughts in my life.
Instead of always being alert and “on call” with emails, I simply turned off all email notifications.
Now, I check my email on my terms when I have available time to read and respond.
I thought that initially this would hurt my business as most of the communication in our work is done through somewhat time-sensitive email.
But, I found that batching my emails (in other words, only checking my email a few time per day when I’m free) has lowered my stress level and allowed me to be more thorough and decisive in work.
I can spend longer periods of time focusing on the task at hand rather than being swept away to another task by someone’s email. That kind of work schedule will make it feel like you’ve worked all day, but accomplished nothing.
Batching has also allowed me to set boundaries on the tasks I’m currently working on and focus on deep work. I get better work done because I’m entirely focused on that set of tasks. Then, when I’m finished, I can move on to something new, or respond to messages.
Batching will help you enjoy life outside of work because it’s an easy and practical boundary to set. That way when you’re home or with friends, you don’t even get an email notification or a work call coming in. It’s not even on your radar unless you allow it to be.
Repeatable systems help you spend less energy at work
The whole goal of systems is so you can spend less energy at work so you have more energy for what you want to do.
If your work is filled with complexity and chaos, it’s impossible to not have that suck the life and joy out of you. You’ll carry it the rest of the day and feel like it’s impossible to escape work.
Start evaluating what you do in your work day. What can you add plans and systems to? They don’t have to be elaborate at all.
If you’re a teacher, what is the 4-step plan that every class follows? Is it going to be (1) introduction to topic (2) practical examples (3) independent work (4) recap on the topic? Would this help alleviate some time and energy from your lesson planning?
For example, I have a 4 step plan that all of my clients go through when getting a home loan: (1) Apply online (2) turn in income documents (3) watch a custom presentation of loan options (4) shop for houses with a realtor.
Steps and systems always help you and the people you work with know what’s been accomplished and what’s happening next so you have less time and energy used.
You have to schedule white space
Going back to Parkinson’s Law, you have to create boundaries around your open time.
If you want to spend more time doing things you want to outside of work, you have to create boundaries for your work. You need boundaries set around your work schedule, your customers, your colleagues, and your creativity.
Otherwise, if your time is an open canvas, work is going to paint all over it.
Sundays are my zero work days. I’m not allowed to open my work email on Sundays. If a problem happens on Sunday, I’ll fix it on Monday. It’s a boundary.
If a client calls at 7:01pm, I’ll call them back the next morning. 7pm is my time boundary.
You have to do the same to reclaim your time and joy. Surprisingly, you’ll be more productive if you don’t work all of the time.
We have to create white space for ourselves to allow us to feel, re-energy, and rest. If you don’t take time to slow down and enjoy, you’ll never be of good service to anyone.
All you’ll ever be able to give is a piece of yourself. And you’ll give that reluctantly because you’ll feel like it’s the only piece of you left.
We have to cherish slow moments in our life so we can be fully present everywhere we go and with everything we do.
Create systems, then boundaries, then white space
There are so many ways to enjoy life outside of work. Ultimately, you have to be the one to experiment and try new things to reclaim your time.
Personally, I’m focusing on 3 steps:
- Developing systems in my work
- Defining boundaries
- Creating white space on the other side of my boundaries
It’s easy to get sucked into the ideas of “just doing what you’re passionate about” or “find something you love”
They’re fun thoughts, but they’re not always practical. Sometimes, a career move can cause major consequences to your family’s position. Or it might completely change your financial position.
Your job does not have to be in line with your purpose. But it certainly cannot drain you day after day.
You have the responsibility to reclaim what you want. And the most practical way to get there is by evaluating where you’re at, and how you can fine turn your systems, boundaries, and white space to add more clarity, turn down the chaos, and increase enjoyment.
How do I not make work my life? You choose how you spend your time and energy. No one else controls what you do. If you allow work to control you, then that’s something you create. You can shift that by changing jobs or setting up boundaries that give you permission to say no to work that consumes you.
Is it important to like your job? It’s important to have a job that helps you grow. It’s not important to have a job that aligns with your purpose or passion. Sometimes, your job is just a way to help you live the lifestyle you want. Purpose and passion can be found in any job.
How can I be happy in corporate life? Corporate life can be draining for many people. But, your happiness is never determined by outside circumstances unless you allow it to be. To be happy in corporate life, you need to explore what happiness really means to you and how to cultivate that in any circumstance you face. Happiness is an joyous, external expression of what we believe about ourselves and the world, not external things that make us feel differently.