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5 practical ways to separate work from the rest of your life

Here's how to make sure the pressures that come with modern working life don't impinge on your downtime.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
Working on a train
Maskot/Getty Images

We live in an always-on world where it feels like everyone is contactable all the time. Add in the shift to hybrid and flexible working, and it can be tough to know when work ends and your social life begins.

Also: Hybrid work is in trouble. Here are 4 ways to make it work in the longer term

Here, five business leaders provide five best-practice ways to divorce work from the rest of your life.

1. Find the right balance

Sasha Jory, CIO at Hastings Direct, says success is all about finding a cadence. "Being a working mum who's worked my whole career with young children, I got into a rhythm," she says. "I'd be in the office at 7 a.m. and I'd leave at four o'clock. I would work my 9 or 10 hours solid and then I would go home."

Also: Everything you need for commuting to work

Jory, who spoke with ZDNET at the London leg of Snowflake's Data Cloud World Tour, says the train journey home was a great turning-off point.

"I could finish the last bits of work on email and, when I got off the train, I could dedicate my time to my kids." Jory said. She recognizes it's slightly harder to maintain that cadence as you move up the career ladder, particularly if you're in a C-suite role. "But I always try and be in the moment," she says. 

"So, if you're having lunch with your kids, then try and be with them in that moment. If there's a crisis or an incident, explain to them what's going on, and they'll be understanding." Jory added. 

Jory also invests time in her friends and health, including being passionate about sports.

In short, she says the key to success is finding the right balance: "I say to my team all the time, 'The good news is that this problem will still be here tomorrow.'"

2. Try and be flexible

Lily Haake, head of technology and digital executive search at recruiter Harvey Nash, says the challenge of splitting work and home life is more accurate in the post-COVID age.

"It's a question we've reflected on since work has gone hybrid," she says, recognizing that many people often use the commute to ease from work into home life. "It's not a bad way of doing it -- you can decompress. If you're on a train, there's time to unwind a little bit."

Also: Is Gen Z the freelance generation? The workforce appears to turn to self-employment

However, if you're only in the office one or two days a week, it can be hard to divorce work from life, Haake said to ZDNET. You might pop into the kitchen to make a drink and find yourself having to log on again because someone sent an email.

"I think it depends on how much you enjoy your job and how stressful you find it when work interferes with your life," she says. "Personally, I have a flexible work schedule. I don't work on a Friday, but I don't remotely resent doing the odd bit of work, because I enjoy it and I really value the flexibility that I've got more generally." Haake said. 

3. Help others to help themselves

Andy Moore, chief data officer at Bentley Motors, likes to draw on his business smarts in his downtime.

Moore blends knowledge from his doctorate in organizational transformation with in-work experiences to help younger people hone their skills. "I'm passionate about data and I'm passionate about developing future careers," he says. "I'm involved in a charity and I'm a school governor."

Also: GenAI a job threat? On the contrary, human workers have much to gain

Moore, who also spoke with ZDNET at the London leg of Snowflake's Data Cloud World Tour, says spreading the message about potential data careers is important.

That focus explains why he enjoys contributing to TeenTech, which is a charity that runs initiatives to inspire the innovators of the future. "And then the school governor role gives me the perspective of the teachers and schools," he says. "I've got a vision of the future and how we can help the next generation. Being a governor means I can see things from the school perspective and maybe guide the head teacher and the teaching staff as they help children move into a brighter future."

Moore recognizes his passion for developing data skills outside work might seem close to the day job, but he also acknowledges the importance of a clean break from work. "Success is about remembering to be present with my family and to spend quality time with my children," he says.

4. Work somewhere you love

Lisa Diehl, director of consumer care at Freshpet, says the reason she joined the company in February 2022 was because it allowed her to focus on her passions.

"When I began this job at Freshpet, the reason that I would travel across the country to do it was that my two passions collided -- my passion around consumer care and helping people, and my passion around animals."

Also: Everything you need to work from home

As Diehl chatted to ZDNET, there was a picture of her three dogs in the background -- a golden retriever called Bruno, an Irish setter called Whiskey Cider, and a spaniel and corgi mix called Holly.

"It's been such a wonderful move for me to really be able to dig in and have that passion for the animals that every single Freshpet employee has -- most of our staff are parents to pets," she says.

Of course, Diehl recognizes that working in an area that you love can also mean it's sometimes harder to divorce work from the rest of your life.

"If I'm out shopping on a Saturday and I see something that's not right, I'm getting it out there, and I get a response. And that's because we all have the passion around animals, so we live it and breathe it," she says. "I try not to send emails at 10 o'clock at night, but there are often other people who are responding, and that's really because of the love."

5. Use your experiences

Sue Walker, cybersecurity manager at RWE, is an experienced IT professional who draws on her knowledge to ensure her team stays calm and collected.

"People can rush in and think they need to do things now," she says. "And no, you need to plan it, you need to test it, and you need to do it again. I've been doing this job a long time. I've made some mistakes -- and I've learned from them."

Working in IT security can involve intense periods of work, but Walker -- who's kept busy outside of work by her grandchildren -- says it's important to avoid overdoing it.

Also: 4 ways to secure your remote work setup

"I tell my team all the time, 'Do not be work late into the night and don't send an email," she says to ZDNET in an interview at the recent SailPoint Navigate event in London.

"If you get a problem out of hours, the team is not there to support you. If you come up against a problem, the best way to deal with it is to speak to somebody," Walker said. She advises other professionals to use your experience to your advantage. 

"If you're working together, and you're doing a good job, there's no reason to have sleepless nights," she says. "So, enjoy your life. I'm a very calm person -- and that's because I don't spend my evenings worrying about everything that might happen."

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